The email crossed the Atlantic on 9th June 2015. My iPhone chimed its arrival into a gloriously sunny North Yorkshire afternoon, and into a conversation with friends and colleagues in the lowering sun.
Congratulations! Your project ‘Congregation’ was selected and recognized in the recent Americans for the Arts 2015 Public Art Network Year in Review. The project was selected by jurors Peggy Kendellen, Laurie Jo Reynolds, and Ernst C. Wong and will be publicly presented on Thursday, June 11th at the 2015 Public Art & Placemaking Preconference in Chicago…” etc, etc.
It came as a complete surprise. Congregation in Pittsburgh during Americans for the Arts' Annual Convention was a distant, though delightful, memory, and the categorically imprecise creative practice from which it developed had been placed aside in the intervening months, apart from a brief but extraordinary New Years’ foray to Sardinia (Congregation heralded the first snowfall in Cagliari for thirty years..!).
It had been placed aside primarily for the development of a new adaptation of Macbeth, which we were filming in a rural, tumbledown, studio complex in the village of Bubwith when the news arrived during a tea-time break in the middle of a particularly intensive day of shooting. I was in mid-conversation with Dai Bradley (the kid from the seminal British film Kes, and now, many years later, our Porter in Macbeth), Tom Wexler (of KMA and the co-creator of Congregation), and our film’s producer, Tom Mattinson (one of the inaugural explorers of Flock, our first large-scale installation performed in Trafalgar Square, London, back in 2007).
The news made a huge impact on me. Despite our present focus being elsewhere, Tom and I have always believed that Congregation is an exciting and interesting new work that raises important questions about performance, inclusion, and authorship. It raises them, at least in part, by sitting outside existing genres and categories. It’s part public art, part theatre, part digital artwork, part performance art piece, and part something else, as yet undefined. Fine art, film, music and theatre (all genres that Tom and I have worked in together) have established networks that promote, and discuss, the field. New voices are widely recognized. For Congregation this is only just beginning.
So this recognition from PAN mattered, and I’m grateful for it. It’s strengthened our resolve to develop new works in this emerging genre and also reminded me just how wonderful an introduction to the USA the Annual Convention in Pittsburgh was both for KMA and for Congregation and how much we’d like to come back. It also offered succor in the bleaker moments of Macbeth…
Pittsburgh’s reaction to Congregation reflected the warmth, open-mindedness and adventurous spirit that we found characteristic of the people we met in the city. The location, physical surroundings, and even acoustic qualities of the Market Square site offered up a near perfect impromptu theatrical space that was populated by a wide and diverse audience. The atmospheres that were generated ranged from the intimate to the exuberant. Congregation is a catalyst for human interaction, and every culture, group and individual bring their own approach and interpretation. For our first American show, we were blessed to find such an ideal location and delighted that it has received such welcome recognition.
New ideas are brewing.