What use is Fierce Festival 2019, in this political moment? Our Artistic Director Aaron Wright (pictured) shares his thoughts on why this year’s festival programme is more important than ever.
Suppose you had the revolution you are talking and dreaming about. Suppose your side had won, and you had the kind of society that you wanted. How would you live, you personally, in that society? Start living that way now! – Paul Goodman (anarchist philosopher)
With a world in crisis what use is an arts festival, really?
This is the question I have asked myself on a daily basis whilst putting together the Fierce Festival 2019 programme.
What can art really achieve in the context of creeping fascism, mass anxiety and the ever looming threat of the extinction of the human race?
Should Fierce be making political statements? Secretly channelling all our money to Extinction Rebellion? Only funding artists to make work about Trump. The Environment or Brexit? Or perhaps ignoring it all completely to help people escape from things for a little while? To be honest, none of the above sounds like the makings of a particularly interesting festival.
Whilst I might not have come up with any miracle solutions, I do think the Fierce Festival 2019 programme can be boiled down to four elements that feel more vital than ever: communion, empathy, resistance and joy. These four things can guide us through the dark times offering a little hope.
For six days this October I invite you to come and converge with us in Birmingham and experience the performances of some brilliant artists from all over the world – and they come bearing propositions.
Come and congregate: spend time with strangers. Relate. Consider different perspectives. Think differently, imagine alternatives (and bring a friend along too). Feel connected to the world, enjoy the sensations and emotions it provokes. Be confused, be unsure, be curious… just be there.
At Fierce Festival 2019 you can take part in participatory event In Many Hands, a moving and meditative experience for a group of strangers. You can get into bed with an artist for BINGE and recharge with the boxset. In Voicing Pieces you’re invited to encounter yourself as a stranger in an intimate installation for one. You can see how the movement of gender is constructed in pop culture, porn, fashion and yoga in Private: Wear a mask when you talk to me or understand the exhausting daily fetishisation of being Asian in the Western world Make Banana Cry. Search for the meaning of life in iFeel2 and be put in a trance by The Ghost Writer and the Broken Hand, wonder about ethics in Working with Children and travel the “universal A E I O U” in The Gloop Show.
As is Fierce tradition, we are excited to present the UK debut performances from a number of highly acclaimed international artists, surprisingly overlooked in the UK until now. This year we boast a particularly illustrious list including New York based singer and writer Joseph Keckler, witty Italo-Swiss choreographer Marco Berrettini, acclaimed Australian theatre-maker Nicola Gunn (who will join us part of a host of debut UK dates around the country), bold physical theatre maker Davy Pieters, installation maker Begüm Erciyas and the long overdue main stage debut of Miet Warlop.
We are also excited to welcome a wave of younger talent, bursting onto the international performance scene with the UK debut performances from bold new voices including Mariana Valencia, Justin Shoulder, Ariah Lester, James Batchelor & Zander Porter and Ellen Furey (in a collaboration with Fierce alumni Malik Nashad Sharpe), alongside new Fierce commissions from the UK’s own Lucy McCormick and Gillie Kleiman and & Greg Wohead.
We also welcome a host of internationally revered names to Fierce including Austrian techno lover Doris Uhlich, gender confuser Alexander Bachzetsis, the peerless Julia Bardsley and return of Fierce favourites Tania El Khoury, Kate McIntosh, Brian Lobel and Andrew Tay & Stephen Thompson.
It wouldn’t be Fierce if we didn’t celebrate significant figures from the world of performance art. This year there are new works from key Irish performance artists Nigel Rolfe and Sandra Johnston, the always intriguing Yann Marussich in a particularly taxing situation as well as a younger generation of performance artists including Keijaun Thomas, Selina Bonelli and Whiskey Chow. We are excited to welcome them all to our brilliant city.
But the question still remains, what can any of this do? Will the performances contained within these pages convince British Petroleum to move their focus to renewable energy? No. Will the performances contained within these pages get an anti-austerity government into Downing Street? Seems unlikely. Will the performances contained within these pages bring about the demise of neo liberalism and the white supermacist patriarchy as we know it? Not any time soon.
So what’s the use then?
I am reminded of a quote from writer Rebecca Solnit’s book “Hope in the Dark”:
Ideas at first considered outrageous or ridiculous or extreme gradually become what people think they’ve always believed. How the transformation happened is rarely remastered, in part because it’s uncompromising: it recalls the mainstream when the mainstream was, say, rabidly homophobic or racist in a way it no longer is; and it recalls that power comes from the shadows and the margins, that our hope is the dark around the edges, not the limelight of center stage. Our hope and often our power.
Countless times over the years Fierce has been called “outrageous”, “ridiculous” and “extreme”, and you’ll find some of that again this year (they’re badges we’ve always worn proudly). For me, Fierce is the dark around the edges that Solnit talks about, in the margins of both artform and society.
In 2019 more than ever we need propositions not opposition. The Fierce Festival 2019 programme is full of artists living as if the revolution has happened, all of them making propositions… naughty, joyous, sexy propositions.
I really hope you’ll step into the darkness with us this October.
Tickets for Fierce Festival 2019 are available now.