Ask LJ Findlay-Walsh what are some of the most important elements of Take Me Somewhere, the Glasgow-wide performance festival that opens its third edition this weekend, and a suitably expansive array of answers will tumble forth from the festival’s artistic director. These answers are about gender, race, sexuality, queerness, and all the other issues of identity politics currently at the fore of ongoing debates the world over.
Such deeply personal matters have always been at the heart of live art. While all are present and correct in Take Me Somewhere, the driving force at the centre of this year’s month-long extravaganza is Pop. This is the case be it through music, art and culture in its broadest rainbow-coloured forms.
“There’s a lot of interesting strands this year,” says Findlay-Walsh. “I’ve never wanted to have a theme, but themes emerge from the work that comes up which always seem to have something in common.”
This is the case with some of the festival’s twenty-four shows this year, which run at various venues alongside workshops, lunches and a symposium. Findlay-Walsh finds it hard to single out favourites, excitedly moving on to describe the next show while still singing the praises of another. Such urgent bite-size appraisals seem to fit with works such as Notorious, performed by The Famous Lauren Barri Holstein, Beige B*tch by Nima Sene and Cock Cock…Who’s There? by Samira Elagoz. Aa for pop, it’s everywhere.
“The Famous Lauren Barri Holstein is exploring stereotypes of the idea of the female monster,” says Findlay-Walsh, “and she does this through the figures of Medusa and Nicki Minaj, and uses lots of beguiling images to put the audience in this position of becoming voyeurs.”
The use of stereotypes is there too in Beige B*itch, in which Sene casts the audience as viewers of Beige Nation TV.
“The show is looking at issues of black cultural identity and white appropriation of that,” says Findlay-Walsh, who calls Sene “one of the most exciting artists working in Scotland just now.”
Elsewhere, 100% Pop finds American/Zimbabwean artist Nora Chipaumire mining the spirit of Grace Jones to create an ‘Afro-futuristic soundclash of dance and music’ to explore some of the contradictions at the heart of pop as arguably the most accessible of artforms in capitalist society.
Then there is Brownton Abbey, which pulls together a collective of queer artists of colour for a night of what Findlay-Walsh calls “a kaleidoscopic off-world temple,” that mixes club culture and live art for “a performance party that speaks of our moment.” As Findlay-Walsh observes, such a mash-up of forms with subversive intent taking place over one night at The Art School, “also harks back to the Arches.”
Ah, yes, the Arches, the now lost artistic playground next to Glasgow Central Station which, over its twenty-five-year existence, changed Glasgow’s cultural landscape. The thriving arts lab only closed its doors after Police Scotland recommended to Glasgow Licensing Board it should lose its late license, effectively strangling the venue’s main income stream.
Findlay-Walsh cut her producing and curating teeth there, as did the National Theatre of Scotland’s artistic director Jackie Wylie and artists such as Kieran Hurley. Hurley’s play about club culture, Beats, has just been adapted into a major feature film.
With the Arches, you never quite knew what you were going to get. So it is with Take Me Somewhere, which began as a nomadic reaction to the closure, and, with shows like Brownton Abbey, is keeping its artistic spirit alive.
“When we announced we were doing it we got tweets from clubbers saying how much it reminded them of the Arches,” says Findlay-Walsh with a hint of pride in her voice.
Beyond the performances themselves, Findlay-Walsh is conscious of Take Me Somewhere’s place in an often marginalised live art scene, and the need within that to bring artists together.
“There’s quite a big delegate strand this year," she says, “which is about facilitating conversations between Scottish and European artists. There’s a real conversation to be had as well about making the festival artist-focused, and to have conversations between artists which are normally done between curators and arts managers. We want to try and make sure artists are in the room for that.”
To this end, Take Me Somewhere has instigated Artist Constellation, a long-term inquiry of what future festivals might look like, s artists from Scotland act as delegates alongside producers, managers and curators from home and abroad with a view to developing international collaborations.
While infinitely more holistic, such ambitions aren’t that far away from the early days of Tramway, when major international artists brought their work to Scotland in a way that a younger generation of artists in Scotland could see it first-hand. With Findlay-Walsh now combining her artistic directorship of Take Me Somewhere with a new role as senior performance curator at Tramway, internationalism is at the core of both.
“We may well be sailing off in a wee raft soon,” she says in reference to the UK’s still forthcoming departure from Europe, “but making these international connections is really important. Take Me Somewhere isn’t just a festival. It’s about sustainability, and creating situations for work where artists can take risks and have a home.”
After three years, Take Me Somewhere looks set to evolve even more.
“It’s grown year on year,” says Findlay-Walsh, “and it will be really interesting to see where that goes. Right now, I’m really interested in outdoor work just now. I think doing a large scale spectacle that can attract a large audience might be something we try and develop for next year.”
Despite the apparent seriousness of some of the work in Take Me Somewhere, as with the pop world that sired it, there has always been fun to be had within it.
“It’s not all deeply political,” says Findlay-Walsh. “It’s joyous as well.”
Take Me Somewhere runs from May 11 to June 2 in various venues in and around Glasgow.
The Herald, May 8th 2019