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ArtWorks Fellowship: Barbican Pit Lab

Published 18 December 2017 - By Rufus Mufasa
So Louise and I applied for a Barbican Pit Lab- we got it! I wanted some space to create. I invited some of the most talented, socially conscious creatives from London and Wales. There was no set brief, no aims, no objectives, other than we were given a space, a beautiful space, all to ourselves, for one week, and all we have to do is be ourselves. Some embraced it, no questions asked. Some felt out of their depths at the freedom, but we were soon all on the same page.

I guess it was hard to believe that we were being given a theatre space, a support network, amazing accommodation and meals included all week. The only starting point I had was that everyone needed to bring something to add to the mood board/thoughts washing line/creative wall. Absolutely anything; a quote, an article, an image, a story… I explain my method and madness- my scrapbooking approach to my practice and how my house is a creativity canvas that aids my writing and process, and infuriates my mother every time she visits.

 

Day One:

London. The sun is shining, the birds are singing far stronger than the sound of traffic. I am reunited with my beautiful concrete palace, the grey towers sitting so stunningly in the clear blue skies. Louise Richards, Elkie Barton, Ethan Fforde and I meet at the theatre stage doors. We meet Dominique Dunne who will be supporting us for the week. We are introduced to the Pit Theatre! Wawzers! A stunning space, all ours. We start to set up our mood board. Elkie has brought fairy lights, and we start sharing our ideas and getting creative. We bless the space, starting with intensive yoga, led by Ethan, and everything feels just right. We lunch in the Green Room, filled with posters of previous shows and newspaper articles in bold frames and an abundance of colourful, big paper lanterns enchant us. We spend the afternoon exploring the buoyant building and gorgeous grounds, accessing galleries and exhibitions. The final exhibition “The Familiar and the Strange” explores life in Britain, from the 1930’s to present day, looking at the social, cultural and political threads, as seen through the eyes of international photographers. It is uncanny that the first photographer’s work I spot is that of Shinro Ohtake, a Japanese cross art form/mixed  media artist, who is a world famous “scrapbooker”, his scraps documenting urban culture, his work work based primarily around cutting and pasting, and his books like beautiful sculptures within their own right. Oh my days, I am not alone! I am not crazy! The exhibition in its entirety is spellbinding and included so many photos of Wales. One of my favourites was a colour photo of a young boy, pushing a pram, with a teddy and a doll wearing a pink dress sitting inside, scenes of industry in the background, terraced houses with white laundry drying on the line. It is a photograph by Bruce Davidson, from Wales, 1965. My own mother would have been 15 years old, sporting peroxide blond hair and miniskirts.

We break from the exhibitions and sit at the water fountains and just “be”. Ethan is inside them, and the mother voice in my head shouts “your feet are soaking”, but then I see me, nineteen years old in NYC, when the heavy rain fell and the crowd around me scuttled like cockroaches and I just danced and embraced the drenching, shaking my braids everywhere, without care or consequence. I see my mother, sat on the beach in Mexico, in awe of the coconut sized rain drops thudding down. I think of my daughter, and her total sense and understanding of ‘now’, a world without deadlines, or worry. Ethan sits with a big crew of pigeons, embracing them individually, treating them as our equals.

Jamey P and Jake Crofts join us. We introduce them to the space and they get hands on familiarising themselves with the equipment. We get everyone settled in to their accommodation, and then we head out, play ping pong and catch up by St Paul’s Cathedral, cross the bridge, find the river, the Globe Theatre, and enjoy beautiful tapas.

 

Day Two:

Another gorgeous sunny day. We are joined by Joelle Taylor, Efa Supertramp, Naga MC, Aisling Fahey. We all add to the board. We get stuck in with introductions, where we’re at in our ‘practice’ and our activism for a better future for all.

“The Arts have been cut, but that just means that we keep going”.

“Extremism in any form is dangerous”.

“Capitalism isn’t going to disappear overnight, but we’ve got to be ready, collectively”.

Now, I’ve got the upper hand, as I already know how talented my Pit Lab crew are, but they don’t know it’s about to go offfff! I open up the ceremonies, with Jamey P, then Elkie Barton blesses us with her sweetness and ukulele… nobody was ready for Efa Supertramp and I can see them all plotting how they could fit her in their pockets… Joelle Taylor’s performance made us all question our very existence and blew every poem we’d ever heard or witnessed into a million pieces, never ever to be put back together again. Louise Richards, as well as being Community Participation Manager, Literature Wales is also an exceptionally talented illustrator. She is already documenting the process in her sketch book.

Joelle leads a writing session. Jamey P chooses a random page from Joelle’s book, and we are given the line ‘such pretty ugly’ (a technique called bibliomancy). We pair up; Elkie and Naga, Efa and Jamey P, Louise and I, Jake and Ethan, Dom and Aisling. We are given minutes to free write, then memorise and freestyle our skills, using our unique style and approach. While we areworking, Joelle turns white as a sheet and says “I don’t want to freak you all out, but a man has walked into the theatre space”.

I wasn’t frightened one bit, and romanticised that it was our dear friend Toastie.

In such a short space of time we’d created magic, unbelievable magic. Our pieces unique to our pairs.

We lunch, then back to the exhibition.  I really wanted to give everyone the opportunity to see it, and this time I set a task, and from this we created pieces of poetry.

That evening, Elkie, Jake and Jamey P explore the city and make a music video.  Louise and I debrief, walking, crossing the bridge, sit at the river, people watch, chat. Louise always responds to my rambling brain with “Fab”. Louise is such a blessing, and understands me and my practice better than I understand it myself, and is always positive, and just totally gets it! Back at base I’m shattered, but wired, and just when I think I’m off to the land of nod, my 3am light bulb moment is in full effect. Jamey P is flat out snoring next to me. Bless him.

 

Day Three:

Everyone is buzzing! Elkie, Jamey and Jake are itching to record their track “Give me some space”, so we break into groups. I’m working with Efa, Ethan and Dominique. Efa plays us an idea, just a few lines, ‘Flowers will grow through the rubble’, and we somehow get onto the subject of Amy Winehouse and listen to ‘Tears Dry on Their Own’. We are struggling a bit, and look to the mood board for inspiration, but decide to step away from it. Then, sat in the performance space, theatrical lighting and bean bags, we get chatting. I talk about my dear friend Toastie, and Efa talks about our dear friend Ellie, and we realise that this is the first opportunity and ‘space’ that we’ve had to be together, and talk about the passing of our dear friends. It is all still so very fresh and raw. Others reveal their vulnerabilities. We cry. We hug. We then get back to work. And it’s there- Bang! Our song is born. We practice… the other group return and Jamey P is drawn to us and adds a rap that compliments.

I later apologise for crying, and my tutor, Jose, says “You must not apologise, it is paramount to the process”.

How could it not be?

I read the group a poem, about my friend, Toastie. I give Jake and Ethan a brief, to collect footage, inspired by lighting and beauty, to compliment the piece. Jake declines. I understand. I still suggest that he and Ethan collectively get creative with the cameras, which later becomes an amazing film for our play, of Ethan freerunning all over the Barbican and London, our very own London Eye.

After lunch, Elkie, Jamey P, Efa and I create a track called ‘Jammin’ with a Jazz Tin’, which initially just started as a mess about with a beans tin following our after food slump that turned into a very therapeutic jam.

That evening we attend an Outspoken event and see some of the most prestigious performance poets and musicians. The person who blew us all away was Gareth Essen. I pluck up the courage to ask him if he’s like to join us at the Pit Lab, and he agreed to try.

We drink at Amy Winehouse’s pub, The Hawley Arms, where we initially have some difficulty getting in as Ethan didn’t have I.D. I explain to the bouncer that “We are from the Barbican” and Efa says “we’ve got a guitar”… and somehow that worked. We meet the sweetest barmaid, like Amy’s blonde baby sister, without the beehive but with all the sweet sass.

We walk Efa to the tube and have to say goodbye. This is beyond emotional.

The rest of us giggle our way home, and I’d like to say I slept, but I had many light bulb moments, and was enthralled by the beautiful piece of organic theatre that was playing in my mind’s eye, that we would showcase on Friday.

 

Day Four:

Previously I had worried about how Ethan was going to fit in creatively, but today I have a participatory practice light bulb moment, where I understand it is how I respond to him, his energy, his movement, in essence, ‘his practice’. Ethan has rekindled my passion for Brecht, Grotesque Theatre, Theatre of the Absurd, and I see it with a clarity that was beyond my grasp at University. It is here, strong and I understand it, just like Louise understands me, and ‘my practice’. Through Ethan becoming my very own London Eye, and observing his relationship with space, gave me so many dimensions to explore, and questioned my own ability to understand space at all.

We joined Hip Hop Ed for an exciting academic discussion at London Metropolitan University, where we were given the question “Is Hip Hop nostalgia or legacy?”

Through my own practice I meet beatboxers in every class throughout the Welsh Valleys. Hip Hop is definitely a legacy. Grime in every school in Newport? Legacy! The power of a “Fist Bump” to break down barriers? Legacy!

The boys are amazed that they are in a room full of academics discussing Hip Hop. I remind them that the work they are doing is very important to academics and Hip Hop.

It is here that we meet Solomon, a talented artist and “Krumper”. Krumping is a highly energetic, highly expressive form of dance. We ask him to show us, we love it and I invite him to join us at the Pit Lab.

 

Day Five:

Joelle returns. We have so much to share with her, our films, poems, songs, theatre ideas…

We start a writing exercise, then get a shout saying that Gareth Essenis at the stage door! Amazing. He is sad because of Prince’s death. We share our new writing and he shares some of his new or unheard work.  We discuss his approaches to song writing and then jump in the deep end and jam.  We create two beautiful songs.  Gareth said it was worth coming just to hear our poetry.

I get bossy after lunch to get everyone ready for the showcase.  Joelle opens the ceremony with some first class poetry, and dear Solomon turned up and blessed the space with some wise words and Krumping. The show is a success and has given us a strong blueprint for further development.

The mood board is full and it is amazing how it organically seeped in to our creative consciousness.  I feel sad pulling it down, but even sadder to just leave it there, or worse, put it in the bin. I pack it all into a box, and it will become a scrapbook, documentation of our process.

A  week filled with film, poetry, theatre, song, rap, jazz, guitars, ukuleles, loop pedals, yoga, laughter, laughter yoga, tears, mics, each other… with creativity and space being key ingredients… give me some space so I can create…

 

Poems

The Familiar and the Strange.

In this space we call home,

a lusting we don’t understand.

Jam tarts, brown paper bags, cruel temptation and undefeated craftsmanship.

If we had a roof, love would raise it.

Smiles beneath rubble, nurture knocks doors off hinges.

We expose our children to the very beams we hide our own eyes from.

Black hats crossing white stripes, floating dogs and flooded streets,

dyspraxia, dis/ease.

Shift patters of black men boxed in,

conveyer belts charge in, fate defying

but never destiny dodging.

Rolling rocks, wise clouds, pipe dreams, silver locket, wise eyes…

Worn window sills where plants grow and love letters transpire…

Complacency is created through love and dedication, that tickles fancies and takes the milk in.

Education is not white

Education is not male

Education is not charged!

I will put my daughter in cute bathers without worry, and let her kick footballs, and bang her head

and wear odd shoes, if she wants to.

Multiculturism, turned from destination, to white wash operation

where money buys your identity…

Outnumbered

Stray dogs- save stray dogs

and it’s the turning point that interests me.

Propaganda porn, we act like it’s not there, it’s everywhere,

in the familiar and the strange.

We hold the heads of our broken men, sat on skulls disguised as quaint pebbles,

while you watch us through glass panes.

Buggies too big for business as usual.

I take comfort in kittens I don’t know how to love yet.

Brides choke in the smoke of hope and children visit graves in vain anticipation.

LOOK. WAIT. READ. HUG. LOVE. GET HIGH!

War is not healthy.

Dress up, strip down, shout, expose, stop!

SYNCHRONISE SOUND SYSTEMS, viable vigilance.

How shall we escape if we neglect?

Don’t spit on me and tell me it’s raining!

I’d watch my own father’s legacy rot and make mud pies for my enemies

And make them wash it down with warm milk from my dead neighbour’s doorstep

while the buoyant bunting blows in the wind.

Toffee apples filled with poison, shadows, spears, beer gardens,

one year guarantees but no part exchange in this cultural extinction.

King size mop heads, create the look, pose, gesture, clothing not worthy of focused attention.

Titillating t bone, veins beyond your years, free for all flesh, hair barely there clouded perfection.

Broken boy before he’s begun,

purple ticket looms in the background,

taunting.

Booze begging, taunting.

Bubbles- the only colour.

Bonnie babies with toy buggies- the only colour.

Be a lover, be a fighter.

Revolution- the only colour.

 

The Polluted Promise.

I will always wait for you behind this smoke screen.

It’s the only time I ever sit still, shadows my only company.

 

Love is such a let-down waiting on these steps,

Wasting all my time on you is my biggest regret.

 

Pointlessly picking at paint, dust my only delight.

The door, torn between slams, and hope ajar lullabies.

 

With pride I pick out my own splinters, learnt how to ride my own bike.

I’ve named every brick in the wall, none of them polite.

 

Birthdays come and go, Christmas is a £*#t

I do not beg my pardon, when reality’s just as blunt.

ArtWorks Fellowship