Private Viewing: Spill festival brings national arts focus back to Suffolk

The Earth Will Absolve Me by The Ahhhness of Things which is part of the Spill Festival 2014

The Earth Will Absolve Me by The Ahhhness of Things which is part of the Spill Festival 2014 - Credit: Archant

Arts Editor Andrew Clarke looks at this year’s Spill Festival and says it’s good to be shocked or surprised

Robert Pacitti curator of the SPILLFestival being held in, Ipswich

Robert Pacitti curator of the SPILLFestival being held in, Ipswich

The sixth Spill Festival, the nation’s foremost performance art showcase, was launched in Ipswich this week. Spill is a performance festival with an international reputation attracting artists and audiences from more than 60 countries. For five days at the end of October, performers from the UK, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, India, Iran, Turkey, Italy, United Arab Emirates, Romania. Serbia, Israel and the USA will be arriving in Ipswich to stage one of the largest and most prestigious performance arts events in the world. It’s the second time that Spill has been staged in the town. It is the brainchild of Suffolk-based Robert Pacitti who returned to his home town in 2011 and brought his festival with him. He started Spill in London five years ago because there was nowhere in Britain that provided a focus for performance art. He struck up a relationship with both The Barbican and the National Theatre Studio and almost overnight Spill became an important landmark on the country’s cultural agenda.

Robert, who continues to curate the festival, was honoured for his work promoting performance art in the UK by being declared one of the Hospital Club 100, a list of the most influential, innovative and interesting people working in the creative industries across the UK. It’s a huge feather in both Ipswich and Suffolk’s cap that such a prestigious festival is held here and it’s an important addition to our cultural economy and our artistic creditability. It sits very comfortably alongside events with a national profile such as The Aldeburgh Festival, HighTide, the work of Gecko, DanceEast and the New Wolsey Theatre.

But, it’s not an easy festival to get to grips with. Its very nature makes it hard to categorise. It’s very hard to predict what is going to happen. Some events are family friendly but many are not. Some are not for the faint-hearted nor the squeamish. Blood and bodily fluids are frequently central to many events. But, not always.

Spill is a festival of ideas. It’s an event dedicated to overturning perceptions, to challenging society’s norms – or what some regard as norms. They are frequently shown not to be so. In his opening speech Robert said: “This festival amplifies its contempt for our increasingly homogenised world.”

Dowry by Stephanie Elaine Black which is part of the Spill Festival 2014

Dowry by Stephanie Elaine Black which is part of the Spill Festival 2014 - Credit: Archant


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Robert understandably makes no apology for presenting a collection of work that he describes as uncompromising, innovative, radical and highly experimental. This year’s theme is the notion of Surrender: “be it physical surrender, surrender to law, sex, power, death, religion, economics or the impact of mass culture. With an outstandingly talented group of artists from across the world, over five days, Spill will allow us to address the way we interact with art in the present-day.”

I would be lying if I said I understood all of this. But, that’s not the point of Spill. It’s really about allowing ourselves the opportunity to be surprised, shocked, entertained or repulsed. It’s giving ourselves permission to walk on the wild side, to push our boundaries, to take a chance and experience something different.

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It’s a world where there are no right answers, where thoughts, ideas and discussions are everything. It’s okay not to like something. In fact a discussion about your reactions to something could be an important part of the evening. Go in a group. Talk about what you have seen.

But, there is such a wide variety of performances on offer – more than 100 this year – that there is bound to be something that will just blow you away – something that will stay with you for weeks, months, even years afterwards. The most frustratingly, annoyingly brilliant thing about it is that you are unlikely to be able to identify it from the Pacitti company’s sumptuous Spill Festival brochure. This maybe a work of art in its own right but, as all the artworks are created as intimate performance pieces either on the day or just before hand, then the brochure can only offer the slightest hint of what may lay in store. You shouldn’t treat it as theatre.

Douze by Xnthony, part of SPILL Festival 2014. Photo: Conor Clinch

Douze by Xnthony, part of SPILL Festival 2014. Photo: Conor Clinch - Credit: Archant

My advice, based on my experience of the 2012 Festival, is just pick a few events, don’t try and second guess what will happen, turn up, and just lose yourself in the moment. You may be pleasantly surprised. In any event there will be plenty of talk about and think about afterwards.

The Spill Festival will be happening from October 29 to November 2 across Ipswich.

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