Robert Pacitti unleashes a big friendly beast for 2016 Spill Festival

Portrait of Robert Pacitti outside the Think Tank.

Portrait of Robert Pacitti outside the Think Tank. - Credit: Gregg Brown

This year’s attention-grabbing Spill Festival of Performance will be unleashed across Ipswich next week with more than 100 events being staged across Suffolk’s county town, stretching from Christchurch Park to The Waterfront.

Portrait of Robert Pacitti outside the Think Tank.

Portrait of Robert Pacitti outside the Think Tank. - Credit: Gregg Brown

It will also include a Spill Dome, situated by the Willis Building in Cromwell Square, which will be offering free family events, daily coffee mornings, spoken word performances and late-night music. Spill is all about breadth and diversity – embracing everything from ground-breaking performance art, a Spill Symposium at the University of Suffolk on politicised performance to late-night music and children’s events on The Waterfront.

Festival founder and curator Robert Pacitti says the theme for this year’s festival is En Masse and he would love the people of Suffolk, of all ages and walks of life, to get involved. This year’s festival includes three themed strands of work designed to attract a wider audience. These are: Sound + Music; Kids + Families; and Heritage + Place with performance maker Mem Morrison offering the opportunity for local performers to be involved in the world premiere of his new show Luminous which is performed inside the iconic Willis Building.

Local people will also be offered an opportunity to get a sneak peak at some of the festival offerings in advance of the official opening on Wednesday, October 26.

SoundHide, by Mike Challis, is a special sound installation, made for Christchurch Park, from recordings made in the green spaces of Ipswich. It’s designed to connect people with their environment in an immersing, safe place. Local people can experience SoundHide on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (10am to 5pm) before the festival opens. Meanwhile, Public Record by Justin Hopper and Ipswich composer Scanner offer a recorded audio tour of Ipswich Museum, which Robert describes as “releasing the language of the past so that it might haunt us with a vision of the future”. These are available to local audiences on Tuesday and Wednesday (10am to 5pm) and both of these events are free.

Latai Taumoepeau is presenting Ocean Island Mine as part of the 2016 Spill Festival in Ipswich

Latai Taumoepeau is presenting Ocean Island Mine as part of the 2016 Spill Festival in Ipswich - Credit: Archant


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This is the eighth Spill Festival Robert has curated and in recent years he has been staging Spill in both London and Ipswich. From this year Spill will become an entirely Ipswich-based event and represents Robert’s continuing commitment to his home town. “When I first started making Spill in 2007, it never occurred to me that I would ever be making it in Ipswich. Spill is all about making high visibility, high quality, high impact performance for areas of practice which struggle to find traction. This is slowly changing and there are now more performance festivals around the country and I think we have had a hand in that.

“In 2012, as part of the On Landguard Point project, in which we created a film which brought out the fact that Suffolk was the gateway to Britain, it became really obvious to me that I couldn’t just talk about coming back home and being based locally but actually had to do something about it.

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“You have to earn the trust, loyalty and support of Suffolk people. You can’t just expect it, so we set about really putting down roots. The Think Tank building next to Ipswich Museum was part of that process and the first Spill Festival in Ipswich was a trial run and looking back now was probably one of the most radical things I had done with the festival.”

He says that with the third Spill Festival in Ipswich there is a sense that Spill has come of age. He fights shy of saying that there is a sense of confidence about the programme (“Pride comes before a fall,” he observes) but he is pleased that Spill in Ipswich now has a sense of its own identity.

Lone Twin is staging Beastie as part of the 2016 Spill Festival in Ipswich

Lone Twin is staging Beastie as part of the 2016 Spill Festival in Ipswich - Credit: Archant

He is delighted that several projects have involved community groups creating work that reflects the make-up and interests of the town. “For example, I commissioned Shabnam Shabazi to work on a project involving Ipswich Museum. She is an artist I have worked with a lot. I have presented her work at the National Theatre. About a year ago we, in collaboration with Ipswich Museum, we invited her to come up with a world premiere for the Spill Festival involving the museum and the people of Ipswich. She has been working with the Commission for Racial Equality to reach people whose heritage is African, Middle Eastern, Asian and get them to respond to the world collections in the museum, creating a living museum, which will take place during the festival.

“It’s a really big project, involving loads of people, over an extended period of time but it is only on for one night. However, the work involved has taken place on site and at different spaces across the town in a really high octane way for a long time and I feel it’s a tremendous example of how we are making Spill ‘in and of Ipswich’.”

Robert says festivals work best when they are born out of the community they serve. They should be part and parcel of the life of the town. “Festivals are temporary. They are moments of celebration where people come together to unleash energy, reshape something and rethink how we interact with the world. For me, festivals are about future citizenship and social justice and quality community art.

“An example of that can be found in the fact that we are putting up the Spill Dome in the Cromwell Street car park, which has been generously leant to us by Eastern Angles, and is an attempt to engage with people who may not cross the threshold of an arts building – that’s not to be negative because we have great culture buildings in Ipswich – but that’s not where everyone would necessarily get their fix of art or culture. Perhaps some people engage in art and culture but not think of it as art. So I thought: ‘How can we maximise the potential to get people to bump into each other in really brilliant ways, so the Dome is a five-day programme consisting of coffee mornings, then a kids’ programme in the afternoons, then local music in the evenings and DJs into the night – and it’s all free.

Justin Hopper and Scanner Public Record - part of the Spill Festival in Ipswich

Justin Hopper and Scanner Public Record - part of the Spill Festival in Ipswich - Credit: Archant

“We will be having different types of music, from different parts of the world – it’s not the Mela, it’s not World Music Day – it’s really different from that. It’s about offering people something else, something that they can stumble across and find that it speaks to them.”

He says that Spill is about engaging with people. More than a third of all events are free, tickets to paid events are either £5 or £10. There are also festival passes which provide discounts spread over a number of events.

“Across five days, starting on Wednesday, we are unleashing a big friendly beast of a programme - over 100 events spanning live performance, installation, gigs, film, discussions, parties and more. You don’t have to be an art expert to enjoy Spill, and it’s super easy to get involved.

“In addition to making it genuinely for the people of Ipswich and not shipping in people from outside the area, we are still very much concerned with presenting a programme of work by artists from 17 countries which will attract important cultural tourists which will continue to reaffirm that Ipswich is a growing cultural centre.”

Shaun Caton is staging rainschemes for insomniacs as part of the Spill Festival

Shaun Caton is staging rainschemes for insomniacs as part of the Spill Festival - Credit: Archant

He said that he was particularly pleased with the Kids + Families and Heritage + Place strands as these opened up the festival to new audiences. “Heritage + Place involves two projects in Ipswich Museum and three projects in Christchurch Park which will bring people into different areas and we have a series of walking tours but the real delight is a Kids + Families programme.

“In 2012 we did a project at DanceEast called Home Sweet Home where kids came along and designed a town, a community, and it’s one of my favourite projects with Spill and we’ve made hundreds, maybe over a thousand projects, across all the festivals and it provided me with a way of balancing the two sides of what I wanted to do. I wanted to keep the hardcore, meaningful Spill Commissions and the National Platform performance work that we have always done but I also wanted to reach out to kids and families to do something which spoke to them in an appropriate way.”

One of the standout performances is called Beastie, designed for six- to ten-year-olds. “The youngsters meet an adult at DanceEast and gradually in front of them become costumed in a giant Beast costume which was made with animatronics, developed by the Jim Henson Workshops, the people who made The Muppets. The kids adopt this creature and go on a journey along the Waterfront and they have to look after Beastie because he knows nothing of the outside world. It’s about caring and compassion.”

Robert says that this year’s Spill Festival is the most exciting and wide-ranging that he has yet devised and puts Ipswich at the heart of the nation’s cultural agenda.

The 2016 Spill Festival of Performance runs from October 26-30. For further information on the Spill Festival events go to www.spillfestival.com

Spill Festival 2016: Highlights

Shaun Caton: rainschemes for insomniacs

Thursday October 27 – Saturday October 29: Ipswich Art School Gallery

In rainschemes for insomniacs, using items loaned from Ipswich Museum collections, Caton evokes dark, supernatural, fractured histories through an experimental approach to shadow play.

Mem Morrison: Luminous

Friday 28 October: Willis Building

Built around an album of original songs that explores our fundamental relationship to the moon; this immersive 3D spatial soundscape combines atmospheric electronics with traditional instruments, arresting visuals and live performance created in collaboration with a host of local people.

Martin O’Brien and Sheree Rose: Sanctuary Ring

Sunday October 30: Ipswich Arts Centre

In this durational site specific performance at St Clement’s Church, Martin O’Brien and Sheree Rose create their own sanctuary of sickness. This is a place for freaks, monsters and weirdos. Take cover from the chaos of the outside world and let’s claim sanctuary together.

Elaine Mitchener: [NAMES]

Wednesday 26 October: Ipswich Unitarian Meeting House

In this representation of the work Mitchener focuses on the names enslaved Africans were forced to take. By removing their birth names this was a deliberately cruel and decisive effort to rob them of their identity and humanity. Taking a contemporary viewpoint on this period, [NAMES] tests and explores ways of confronting and feeling a past that continues to groan and shift restlessly in our present.

Latai Taumoepeau: Ocean Island Mine

Wednesday October 26: SPILL Dome

A woman, 500kg of ice, a shovel, and the steady walk from point A to point B. Back and forth, she works the open-cut mines of the past into the future of climate change; excavating the solid white rock into invisibility.

Elaine Mitchener, David Toop, Barry Lewis, Dam Van Huynh: Of Leonardo Da Vinci

Thursday October 27: Ipswich Town Hall

A contemporary opera that intricately melds music, sound art, image and movement to explore space inviting audiences into a unique and intimate realm of disturbing beauty.

Dead Rat Orchestra, She Shanties, Cath & Phil Tyler, Documents, Macgillivray: Work Songs & New Pastorals

Friday October 28: Ipswich Arts Centre

From unadorned voices to sonic rapture, join us at St. Clement’s Church for a night of musical magic. This event is presented in partnership with Colchester Arts Centre and programmed jointly by Stafford Glover, Robert Pacitti & Anthony Roberts.

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