5 Arts Aloud Reasons to visit Deptford X

About 2 years ago, on a rainy Saturday afternoon stroll with the family, I chanced upon the APT studios in Deptford; a modern exhibition space, exhibiting (at that time) an impressive installation piece called Unlucky by Sarah Kate Wilson. Approaching the gallery with my toddler, I was keen to head inside, but I had to think very quickly about how I was going to keep her away from the array of open umbrellas in the window. Especially if I had any hope of avoiding a ‘toddler-meets-art-installation’ disaster.

Proof itself that the best works of art can challenge even the strongest preconception, to my disbelief, and contrary to its name, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Unlucky was actually a fun and interactive installation, which actively encouraged the viewer to touch and move the umbrellas as much as they wished, providing they followed the commands of the three corresponding wall-mounted lights behind them.

This piece was my first ever experience of child-friendly installation art, and my first of Deptford X, and every year since then I have vowed to champion this fantastic local arts festival, a festival which massively undersells itself, year after year.

Established in 1998, Deptford X’s mission has always been clear: to bring the crème de la crème of artistic talent to Deptford (both home-grown and international), and to celebrate it with the widest possible audience.

Although the festival website lacks any depth of information around many items featured, I continue in support of my mission, by bringing you an Arts Aloud view of what should make this year’s festival unmissable:

1. Deptford
Deptford X is as much about showcasing the potential of the area, as it is about celebrating the extent of contributors, so it’s only fitting that Deptford itself be reason number one to attend. From the fascinating street market to trendy hipster bars (Little Nan’s), from quirky independent shops (DAGE) to restaurants housed in retro buses (The Big Red Pizza Bus). Deptford is home to businesses that have been in families for generations, and has the creativity and vision to revive and reimagine those businesses that have moved on (The Job Centre). Like the very fabric of London, it’s gritty and it’s grimy, but it has something for everyone. When you add in a host of Victorian properties and improving nearby transport links, even the most unfamiliar outsider should begin to understand its emerging position as the so-called ‘Shoreditch of south London’.

2. Bob and Roberta Smith
If you weren’t aware that Bob and Roberta Smith is actually a pseudonym for one person; (artist, writer and author Patrick Brill), then you might at least be familiar with the colourful, conversational and thought-provoking style of ‘slogan’ art that has been exhibited at galleries all over the world. Deptford X has managed something of a coup this year in securing Bob and Roberta Smith as lead artist-in-residence. Keeping the agenda inclusive, expect to get involved in the festival’s very own Art Party. Alongside sign-painting and badge-making, there will be screen-printing demonstrations by Art Hub and local live music. This is also your big chance to be part of Deptford’s art history-in-the-making, as events culminate with the March for Art on Sunday 5th October.

3. The Orchestrated Waste Procession
If Mr.Maker has taught us anything, it’s that kids love collecting, painting and repurposing rubbish, right? If you agree, then like me, you’ll expect them to love this participatory walk taking place on Saturday 27th September. The brainchild of art student Margaret Jennings (already responsible for a library of found materials at Goldsmiths), the procession will leave the MMX Gallery at 11.45am, making its way through Deptford Market stopping at various skips en route (including a rubbish trading point and Jennings’ very own Living Library market stall). The challenge by 2pm is to transform everything collected into something new. Recycling, up-cycling, whatever you choose to call it, the aim is to have a bit of fun, and spare a thought for all the things that we throw away, which we might actually still need.

4. Deptford X Fringe
The footprint of Deptford X, reaches far beyond the main venues, and into the surrounding streets, and from the programme it appears that much of the work featured here should have some appeal among families. For mini-scribblers, Adding Value at Noah’s Ark on Deptford High Street (26-29th September, 12-6pm), is inviting audiences to contribute to a large public drawing that will be documented by film. For nature-lovers, Mini Meadows (St.Nicholas Church, 1-5th October, 12-6pm) sees artist Jane Higginbottom working with earth, clay and seeds to explore the link between environmental and evolutionary change. If you can’t explain that concept to the kids, then just pay the £1 and take away a seedbomb of wildflowers to continue the guerrilla gardening project elsewhere. And finally, although the website description has left me none the wiser, the Creekside Centre’s Bug Hotel (weekends, 12-6pm) has surely got to be worth a look?

5. Open Studios
Similar to those hosted in Brockley (which I have so tirelessly championed), Open Studios is your chance to nose around the plethora of local artist studios, and if you’re lucky enough, see and meet the artists at work. For me, this element of the festival embodies the spirit of the festival itself: if you are brave enough to venture in, with very little prior information and a lack of certainty around what you might see, then the joy of discovery will be even richer! With the scale and variety of work on show, these spaces are hugely fascinating for children, but if you aren’t feeling adventurous enough, the ACME Open Studio & Foundry Gallery have decided this year to devise their own Family Trail (165 Childers Street, 4-5th October, 11-6pm), especially for visitors with little ones in tow. So go forth and discover, and if you like it; tell them Arts Aloud sent you.

Deptford X
contemporary arts festival runs at various venues across Deptford from 26th September to 5th October 2014

Disclaimer: Activities featured in this article have been compiled based on face-value and have not been road-tested by Arts Aloud. No responsibility can be taken for items that do not live up to their billing, or are cancelled or modified at late notice by the event organisers.

Talking Statues: No baby babble, just a chat with a cat

These days, I spend most of my time getting back-chat from a pre-schooler, so I welcomed the idea of London statues having their say, in a brand new live art project known as Talking Statues. Masterminded by Sing London, an arts organisation making it their mission to lift public spirits, Talking Statues aims to combat the apathy felt every day, as we hurry past hundreds of statues, some very famous, on the streets of our capital.

By commissioning a host of celebrated writers, actors and comedians to create monologues for more than 20 statues in London (and Manchester), Sing London hope to set free some of the voices from our past. A chance for people to pause and contemplate their stories, even learn a thing or two.

The project really captured my imagination. It forced me to think about how much time I spend highlighting points of interest on the streets of London, yet I couldn’t remember the last time that I had singled out a statue.

Using the map available on the Talking Statues website, I devised a small walking tour for myself and the girls, a short 2-3 mile round-route from Cannon Street station, through the heart of the City. We aimed to seek out at least 4 of the statues, only one of which I knew anything about.

My story, of course, had to be far more convoluted than the mission intended by Sing London. I decided to tell the girls that the Mayor of London (yes, Boris) was so tired of everyone ignoring his beautiful statues, that he cast a spell on them, bringing them to life with voices to capture attention as people pass by. In fact, I was so sold on this story myself, that by the time we reached our first stop: Rowland Hill, on King Edward Street, I had actually forgotten the real mechanic involved in activating the voices. Suddenly the swiping or scanning of my mobile device (or typing in the URL) didn’t quite have the same appeal, but I went with it. The disconnect between this action and my story was soon rescued, however, by the excitement of the statue calling us back!

Sadly the excitement was short-lived. Either the noise levels were too high on this busy junction, or we were experiencing a technical glitch, but nothing. Poor old Rowland Hill, famous teacher, inventor and social reformer was still silent. We moved on.

Before long, we were in amongst some of the most fascinating streets of London, a lower rise London, where giant clocks clung to the side of ancient buildings and it felt as if the spire of St. Paul’s was there to greet us, whichever direction we turned. Even more exciting was the secret passageway and winding alley that we followed to reach the beautiful setting of Gough Square, home to our next stop: Hodge the Cat.

A talking cat? Yes! A talking cat. The excitement had reached fever pitch. Voiced by Nicholas Parsons, the tales of Samuel Johnson’s famous cat filled this atmospheric square and the girls listened intently to the monologue. When he stopped, we all felt that we shared something really magical. Exactly the sentiment that I’m sure this project was meant to achieve. We gave lovely Hodge a pat on the head, before reluctantly moving on to nearby Fetter Lane.

Next on the list and standing tall as we bounded up the road, was John Wilkes, advocate of free press, journalist and politician, very suitably voiced by Jeremy Paxman. It was a strong start, with the self-proclaimed “ugliest man in London” drawing a few giggles from us all. Sadly however, our comedic encounter was cut short by the nearby road works, snatching John’s voice away with the sudden drone of a steam-roller.

We decided to make our way back to Blackfriars, stopping of course to lend Queen Victoria an ear as the last in our whistle-stop tour. Prunella Scales had done a sterling job, bringing the complex personality of such a memorable monarch to life, but unfortunately for me, my tired companions were no longer amused. .

Talking Statues, in my view, is a truly wonderful initiative. In the right location with the right set of conditions, I believe it whole-heartedly achieves what it set out to do. We learned quite a bit today. We learned to listen, we learned to look up and we learned to appreciate the things that we walk past every day. Most of all, however, just as we did today, we learned that the sheer pace of our beloved (but noisy) London, is probably one of the biggest reasons that we don’t appreciate these cast-metal fellows more often.

Talking Statues is a year-long project, live on the streets of London and Manchester until August 2015.
Download the map of statue sites in London and Manchester here.

Teaming up with Audible.co.uk, Sing London is also offering budding writers the chance to find voices for 4 more statues in London and Manchester. Full details are available on the Talking Statues website. Max 400 word monologues. Deadline 17th October 2014.