On Landguard Point by Pacitti Company is as an East of England adventure in real life and film. The project is a series of live performances and mass participation activities taking place this year, in advance of becoming a feature film that will premiere in 2012.
It is one of 12 Artists taking the lead commissions taking place across the UK as part of London 2012, and is funded by Arts Council England. Here artist Robert Pacitti talks about the project.
On Languard Point explores notions of home. How did the focus for this exploration come about?
A few years ago I started to think about making a work that explored the area I grew up in, which is Suffolk. My work has always had an autobiographical component, and so when artists taking the lead was advertised, inviting artists to makes something responding to place, there was an instantly clear fit with my ambitions. As I started to put together the ideas for On Landguard Point I knew that the project needed to be much more than simply my own personal take on ‘home’, and so a region wide project was born.
This celebration of the East of England includes many large scale public events but they all have a very intimate feel with a number asking the participants to actually make the work (own food for An Edible Compass/digging their own gardens in Dig & Sow). Is this partly because of ideas of ownership of the work or simply to make it possible to do the widest reaching projects possible?
The people of the east of England really are the stars of this work. Whether it be sharing a much loved family recipe, or digging in their own gardens searching for traces of what has stood there before, everything is about sharing our collective notions of home. But there is also something else at stake across all of these activities, and that is enabling everyone to be expert in something, on their own terms. An example of this is the entries that folk are submitting to our People’s Encyclopedia of The East, a mass of shared knowledge, information, or personal reminiscences. Collectively they form a mass public research into what home might mean for lots of different people. To be technical about it for a moment: we are devolving where expertise sits in cultural activity, in order to challenge head on the art market, and audit what community art might be in the 21st century. The trick is retaining high quality at all times – that’s the thrilling bit.
A lot of the large pieces in the programme have quite a folksy/craft feel to them, was this ‘homegrown’ feel one you were actively pursuing?
I am interested in the warmth of domestic human responses to the notion of home. The art world can be quite brutal sometimes, and whilst this project needs to remain credible in cultural terms it also needs to appeal to my mum, kids, young people, and a massively diverse arc of non-art attendees. So yes, I embrace the homegrown.
Making challenging artistic work that is accessible is a core aim with your company but a mission which must involve compromise. How much preparation work have you done with members of the public and what have the challenges been so far?
I wouldn’t say there has been much compromise at all actually. I feel very clear that the work I curate and present biannually at the SPILL Festival of Performance is not necessarily going to appeal to a mass audience, and so have adjusted the form and content of On Landguard Point accordingly.
I don’t feel bound to just one way of working, presenting, or sharing ideas. We spent two years building the project’s shape and that included going out and speaking with hundreds of people, directly and at open public meetings, liaising with community leaders, schools and colleges, and people that convene all sorts of groups, to then put in place plans that hopefully offer all of them an easy to understand invitation to engage. We’re not watering anything down, but are framing what we do slightly differently. And of course not all of it will appeal to everybody, which is why there are lots of different ways to get involved and claim a stake.
Have the community been resistant in anyway and how much of it’s content has come from them?
One group of people in one area of the region were sensitive to our proposals, which explores ideas of memorial. We meant this in relation to a lost herring trade, and coastal erosion, but they read it as being about death and dying. So that required us to explain ourselves further, but in turn led to a more in depth exchange and greater shared understanding. As for content, the Encyclopedia is writing the film, so the bulk of it is coming directly from the region.
Also on the theme of resistance have you encountered any from potential collaborators with On Languard Point because it is under the umbrella of the Cultural Olympiad?
Michael Nyman is doing the soundtrack for your film with text by yourself and Sheila Ghelani and indeed you often commission work under the company’s banner – how much of your role as artistic director of The Robert Pacitti Company is curator and how much is creator? Does there have to be a distinction?
My practice spans creation, curation, producing, performing, commissioning, live forms, online projects, publishing, sound work, exhibitions and gallery projects, and now feature film making. For me there is no distinction between any of it, in so far as I take money from the public purse, and so see my job as one of being in public service.
On Languard Point will be turned into a film, how important is it for you to have a record of the kind of devised temporal work/one off experience?
To understand On Landguard Point properly it is important to recognise that it’s major formal outcome is cinematic, not simply documentation. However, the project is undoubtedly going to stand as a record of this time, the people and places that are here right now, and the contemporary concerns of our age for the people make it.