John Fox’s presentation at THE GREAT OUTDOORS, 9 October 2012.

Members of Mission Control attended The Great Outdoors on 12 &13th Oct, at the Centre for Alternative Technology, Machynlleth.

As part of the Conference we were fortunate to greet John Fox’s presentation, here’s the text of John’s speech (Thank you John) for your enjoyment.

THE GREAT OUTDOORS                                            9 October 2012.

Words in red indicate slides (not reproduced here )

This is my third visit to Machynlleth. In 1972 CAT the Centre for Alternative Technology, were embarking on their visionary journey.

Their chosen site was an awesome mountain of slate . Five weeks ago I returned here to create the opening and closing ceremonies for the Emergence Conference. I was amazed to see how CAT’s early vision has become a huge and influential catalyst.

I guess that’s how change happens. Welfare State International began about the same time and a few of our prototypes have been effective. The lesson is, that even with vision these big movements can take decades.  We have to be persistent and although there has been a seismic shift in favour of “Outdoor Arts” there is still a big journey ahead.

When I was here in Machynlleth in September I stayed in town and was surprised that people left their doors unlocked. It’s the safest place someone said.  So when April Jones was abducted it was an appalling shock. I am not surprised that Articulture considered cancelling. But I am pleased they didn’t.

In 1991 on Sue and I were in Australia Sue stage managing and me writing an anthem for our friend Neil Cameron’s fireshow which had become a New Years Eve  tradition of the Woodford Folk Festival. Celebratory art, and lanterns are a perfect import for the Australian landscape and climate.

Suddenly, on the day before the show opened, a young boy accidentally drowned in a swimming hole on the edge of the site. How were we to mark this in the context of a big spectacle ? Eventually after consultation I wrote this commentary instead of a song.

In Festivals energies spiral together. New meetings and old re unions. Partings, wonders, sadnesses and death. As participants in a temporary community our event helps us focus on both the fragility of our existence and the sharing we need. Lost in a babble of materialist greed we may build from sadness, grow and celebrate together.

 We need beauty to confront the brutal.

And this I think is the essence of why we do this work and why our journey must continue.  We are winning. Many people here can prove it. Just 2 examples are Emergency Exit which started in 1988 Walk the Plank 1991.

Also in 1991 I wrote a paper for the Arts Council England’s National Arts and Media Strategy. I argued for a new evaluation of the place of the artist in contemporary culture advocating a return to vernacular traditions and a re-examination of work and leisure.  I was indebted to Clarke Mackay. Random Acts of Culture. Pub Between the Lines Press. Toronto 2011

I asked. “Where is carnival, new circus, cross over arts and funerary furniture ?”

Now 21 years later all these are funded. Except for funerary furniture. Recently we as Dead Good Guides tick boxed the grant forms to apply tp ACENW to design bio-degradable funeral urns for the dispersal of cremated human remains in Morecambe Bay. Our junior relationship manager whom we have never met, reported there was no interest in this kind of work, it had no regional significance, no place in ACE strategy and little artistic merit. In face of such incomprehension you/we have to persist. One day in ACE. there will be a department of Applied Anthropology. I am a Pathological Optimist Signage on WSI Leyland Truck

Her are some pictures from our doorstep: Running over the whole of Cumbria between May and September Lakes Alive is a four year programme of street and outdoor arts work. Over our lakes these days many French women in Crinolines regularly hang off cranes . Thanks to the French arts subsidy system which as been supporting such work for twice as long as in the UK. Minfest in Kendal is Lakes Alive’s Flagship event Courtesy of The Banquets this is a Dodgy Fox probably my alter ego vivaciously persuading punters that Street Art will change their lives.

This year Mintfest attracted over 25000 visitors many from overseas with 70 acts from 12 countries. 57.000 attended Lakes Alive events and the total net impact on the Cumbrian economy was in the region of £2.4 million. Artichoke claim that the Elephant brought a public spend of £29.7 Million. Thanks to Angela Chappell (ACENW) I can report that in terms of grants for the arts investment from 2003 to 2012 nearly £ 10% of total Gfta funding went to carnival, cultural festivals circus, street and public art. As this excludes RFO’ and NPO”. the total is probably15%.

Apart from such economic growth this work is self evidently good for us: it is local, populist, connected, community building, visceral, non-elitist, fun, accessible, necessary, sensual, skill based, thrilling, interactive, site specific, participatory often with process before product and it can be singularly democratic and occasionally poetic.

However although, in two decades, there has been a sea change, that 15% figure for our sector is still only a moderate step in the right direction.

As Angela Chappell indicates, quite fairly, “for an art form specialism,  which by definition hasn’t traditionally existed that long, this is a very positive picture .“ In one time scale this is absolutely true but within the vast range and history of out door work we are on the energetic wave and  continuing  current  of a very ancient tradition indeed, a people’s tradition entwined with a radical art tradition that encompasses a multitude of styles, companies , artists and events.

To name but a few Punch and Judy, Lentern Carnivales ,Mummers. Artaud, Russian Constructivists, Meyhold, Dada, American Happenings, Archaos ,La Fuera dels Baus, El Commediants, Doeg Troep  and many more.

Such wild creativity is however underfunded and, not surprisingly, hampered  by our huge institutionalised, bureaucratised funding system, It is a massive fossilised rock in the path of our river. In this system it is increasingly difficult for radical artists, particularly young ones. to acquire a basic wage and unless you are an administrator a pension is unthinkable.

The old guardians of taste are still there Michael Billington rubbished the Sultan’s Elephant as “appealing to the mood of infantilism that seems to be taking over and a spectacular irrelevance to the business of theatre’.

Two weeks ago Howard Barker complained on Front Row that now the Arts council are obsessed with audiences the words he hated most were “accessible, collaborate and celebrate”!

However our collaborative and celebratory movement is unstoppable. The networks and cross fertilization are astounding and generous.

eg  Macnas, Public Dreams (Vancouver) Ulverston Lantern Parades

( started in 1983)…up to Liverpool Lantern Company. Mention forthcoming Machynlleth lantern parade .We’ll get there but we do have to think generations and lifetimes.


Here are 7 final images to pose a question: “How do we maintain a provocateur stance with a political edge and still retain popular appeal?”

1. Bread and Puppet. Always challenging with powerful and beautiful original mythology. Their work critical of the Vietnam War in Nottinghill in 1965 inspired me to start  WSI.

2. WSI Houses of Parliament. Catford 1981  Directed by Boris Howarth

3. WSI Raising The Titanic Limehouse 1983 An anti Thatcher carnival allegory and parable about western arrogance towards nature.

4. WSI. The Hooray Henry’s launch the Golden Submarine. Barrow 1990.

“For every war we create a fortune will be made”

Queen and James Bond leaping out of a helicopter at the opening of the Olympics to reinforce outmoded cold war propaganda. Do we have to link our fate with a spy and a licence to kill?

With one or two exceptions Outdoor Work now avoids political content

Now that you can get a degree in it has it become anesthetised and academised ? Have the political questions been left to UK Uncut, Occupy, Platform, Clown armies and Climate Camps. Before your very eyes witness the process of anaesthetisation.

Elephant in Barrow. 1987 Originally Queen Victoria’s gun carriage. Now an ossified and anesthetised  as an image in our local papers calendar of memories

Ambush Submarine Lantem Ulverston Lantern Parade 2012 What are these people saluting?  A beautiful submarine or a beautiful lantern?

And a final CODA.

What are DEAD GOOD GUIDES doing now? Building secular sacred spaces for ceremonies. See After the Storm. The Arboreal Cloister in Falkland, Fife. Article and images on our website

… end …

Posted in Street Arts Articles

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