A silver lining for HeckmondLIGHT this year

“How many clouds will we be making?” asks one of the students.

“Maybe seven, eight, maybe even nine,” says Tilen. “Some big and some small. We’re only limited by the size of the door. But first we’ll make a prototype.”

I’m in Brigantia again, Creative Scene’s versatile space on the top floor of a Dewsbury office block. Beyond the partition wall are half a dozen beautiful paper lantern sculptures ready for the annual HeckmondLIGHT festival on Saturday.

On this side, in front of a table strewn with electrical components, is Slovenian-born Tilen Sepič, a multi-disciplinary designer and artist. Tilen has been invited to West Yorkshire to work with Batley School of Art students and artists from the recent Make it Happen school.

Together they’re making LED ‘clouds’ that will be strung up in Green Park for the light festival and for a month afterwards.

Festival director Simon Thirkill has been instrumental in bringing Tilen and his work to HeckmondLIGHT. Back in January he was part of a Creative Scene delegation to Athens where he shared ideas with other artists in the Tandem Europe project.

“I got to know about Tilen’s work when a visiting artist from the project came to see what we were doing in Heckmondwike,” he explains this morning. “With this workshop element, and Tilen’s sharing ethos, it’s a perfect fit for us.”

This residency is funded by Creative Europe and is the first artist exchange in a European-wide project called LUCity.

Marker pen in hand, Tilen is now talking about soft and hard light, why sunlight changes colour throughout the day and why diffused light is more pleasing to the eye. “It’s making me feel all Christmassy,” says Donna.

“We’ll mix warm and cool colours so it creates a natural effect,” he explains, threading an LED light strip into a cloud-shaped cage of wire mesh. “If you look at a cloud, one side is lit from the sun and the other by the sky. One is yellowish and one blueish, that’s what we’re trying to re-create here.”

As the participants get stuck in, cutting mesh and covering it with diffusing material, I put my tape recorder in front of one of the diploma foundation students. “What interests you about this sort of thing?” I ask.

“I usually stick to 2D animation,” says Marcus, “so this is really out of the box for me, something very different, and that’s why I’ve come.”

“It’s really interesting,” chips in his mate Cameron. “I like the idea of the two different light sources. That’s really cool.”

“He’s given us a lot of knowledge already,” adds Marcus. “To be honest, I didn’t think it’d be this interesting.”

The prototype is coming along. Tilen is now glueing polystyrene fibre – the sort that fills pillows and duvets – onto the mesh cage. “Who wants to have a go?”

Cameron and Marcus step forward, don gloves and masks, and start glueing. “We’re going to end up with cloud hands,” says Cameron, as they slowly add sticky fibres to the cloud shape. And they do.

As everyone work on their own clouds Tilen tells me how – as a supporter of ‘open source culture’ – he’s keen for his design knowledge to be shared with others. “If more things were modular and we could easily upgrade our own products it would be better for us all in the long term.

“With open source design you’d have thousands of designers working on a product over its lifespan. That’s thousands of minds trying to make things better.”

The clouds are being installed on Friday and will be one of several bespoke installations for this year’s festival. The town’s bandstand will become an illuminated tribute to the famous Frontier Club and an audio piece created by Simon from local people’s memories will be staged throughout the park.

“Let’s make one that’s bigger than that one,” says Tilen, pointing to the completed wire mesh cloud frames.

“Bigger than which one?” asks Donna. “The big one or the little one?”

“Bigger than the big one.”

See the clouds – big and small – and much more at HeckmondLIGHT this Saturday, 25th November in Green Park, Heckmondwike, 5.00-8.00pm.

Artists put Dewsbury back on the map

“I’m procession manager and assistant creative director,” Corrie tells me as she gathers everyone together outside the butcher’s for the rehearsal.

“Wow. It’s like The Apprentice.”

“That’s what we said. But rather than being competitive, we’re all working together brilliantly.” And then, at the top of her voice, “Can everyone listen please? At the front of the procession is going to be the musician, then comes Shoddy and Mungo…”

It’s the big day, the culmination of Creative Scene’s Make It Happen course. Working with outdoor art specialists Walk The Plank, 25 artists have been learning about staging an outdoor spectacle in the best way possible… by doing one themselves.

The artists have been mentored over six days by a team of specialists in shadow puppetry, fire-drawing design, lantern making and production management. And today it all comes together.

Curious passers-by are handed leaflets and encouraged to return later. “They’ll be lanterns, fireworks and shadow puppetry. This fire drawing will get attached to the scaffold and set alight. You must come back at 6.30.”

I catch up with landscape artist Waheeda Kothdiwala. “Last time I saw you, you were burning things in the park,” I say. “What’s your role for this evening?”

“I’m producer of the lantern parade and I’m terrified,” she says frankly. “But we’ve all been encouraged to step out of our comfort zones and that’s exactly what I’m doing. It’s terrifying and exciting at the same time.”

Dewsbury artist Jax Lovelock is helping to add lengths of inflammable rope to a wire frame. “What are you doing now?” I ask, trying to keep my tape recorder in front of her.

“We’re idiot-checking,” she says, “making sure everything connects together so it all burns.”

“What do you think you’ve learnt these last few weeks?”

“There’s not enough time to tell you everything,” she says, twisting a metal tie, “but I have learnt to understand that not all the ideas come at once, sometimes they take time to grow. And ideas change at the last minute but, if we’re all calm, it all comes together.”

“And what will you do with what you have learnt?”

“Oh, gosh, absolutely loads of stuff. I can’t even begin to think about it now.”

“Okay, that’s enough. Perfect answer. Thank you.”

In Brigantia – Creative Scene’s pop up  studio space on the fifth floor of nearby Empire House – final shadow puppet rehearsals are in full swing. Performers are made up and don their costumes.

“Half an hour to go,” someone shouts.

By 6.30 the town square is fizzing with expectation. Freshly-briefed stewards are in place, fire cans lit, and performers gather again in front of the butcher’s. Someone mentions the crowd has hit 400.

Corrie has one hand on her earpiece, waiting for the nod. “Okay,” she says to the clarinetist, “hit it!”

During the next 45 minutes, as lanterns dance and children gawp, you can almost feel the self esteem of the town grow just that little bit. It’s as if there’s a collective, “Wow, this is happening in Dewsbury!” coming from everyone in the crowd.

“It was wonderful,” says Keisha who opened her beauty salon business in the square two days ago, and kindly loaned a power supply for the event,  “very exciting. You kids all enjoyed it didn’t you?”

“It was epic!” one shouts.

“For Dewsbury this is very unusual,” she says. “I’ve never seen so many people here. Let’s hope it continues.”

“We are all different, but still have much in common.”

“After our presentations we’ll ask everyone to get together and make a shelter – a sanctuary – from the twigs we’ve brought back from the Yorkshire Sculpture Park,” says Kim to the circle of Poles, Serbs, Italians, Syrians, Ukrainians and more.

This is the return leg of the European tour by 6 million+ that I wrote about earlier this year. The Kirklees-based charity has partnered with groups in Poland, Italy and Serbia to remember the Holocaust and other genocides and make connections with present day events.

Now some from those groups are visiting rainy West Yorkshire for a few days and together planning activities for next year’s Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD). We’ve been invited to host tonight’s event in ‘Brigantia’, Creative Scene’s pop up studio space in Dewsbury.

“In a while we’ll be joined by our invited guests,” explains project co-ordinator Kim Strickson, “some of whom are refugees themselves now living in our community.”

The circle breaks up to give everyone time to prepare. Two huge ‘Weeping Sister’ puppets made for last year’s HMD event are carefully unpacked.

“Poor Kitty, her nose looks a bit bashed,” says Joanne who, with her daughter Iris, helped to make the puppets. “She needs some tlc.”

Each of the participants have been asked to make a ‘creative response’ to their involvement in the project. And it’s some of these responses which are being presented tonight.

“I’ve made a tree from buttons,” says Kate, a volunteer guide at Majdanek concentration camp in Lublin, Poland, “which was inspired by the workshop Kim and her team brought to us.

“The roots represent the shared history that we can’t forget and the branches represent a new generation, new friendships and new futures. All the buttons are different – we are all different – but we still have much in common.”

As the local guests arrive, introductions are made and conversations spring up naturally in shared languages.

“There’s a big conversation going on between our four countries,” says Kim by way of introduction. “What leads to genocide? How can we all take responsibility for avoiding it? How do we treat people who are escaping persecution and seeking sanctuary in our own countries? It’s about all of that.

“We’re trying to do it creatively and so we’re going to share a few of those responses with you tonight.”

Joanne bounces to the front to tell of her and her daughter’s experiences of helping to make the Kitty figure last year. “Iris then invited Kim into her school – Batley Girls – to talk about the project and now the school is going to get involved in Holocaust Memorial Day next year, so that’s a result.”

After we’ve watched a moving video of last year’s HMD event the group take turns to introduce each other’s contributions.

“This is Naomi’s response to a visit to the concentration camps,” says Assef, holding up a textile piece which Naomi rotates the right way up.

“That visit had a profound effect on me and I found this piece difficult to do,” explains the Yorkshire-based textile artist, before introducing Assef.

“He’s a Syrian refugee who’s lived with his family in Poland for the last four years where he teaches Philosophy. He’s an excellent musician and tonight will play a piece he’s written, based on the sounds of war in Syria.”

We next hear about Kate’s button tree and see an extract of a film made in Reggo Emilia, Italy presented by Dzvina; Stefan plays the Roma national anthem on his violin before introducing Raf from the UK group, who’s made exquisite, tiny, felted shoes, having seen the shoes in the Polish concentration camp.

The European visitors will be back in West Yorkshire in January when their artwork will contribute towards the HMD activities. In the meantime another two Weeping Sisters – representing Kurdish and Roma atrocities – will be made. Joanne and Iris are keen to help out and, no doubt, more connections and friendships will follow.

“If any of you are interested in helping make the puppets,” says Kim, “please do let us know. We’d love for you to be involved.

“Our final activity has been inspired by the Alfredo Jaar exhibition we saw at the Sculpture Park. He’s used 100 trees to represent sanctuary but also isolation in our world.”

Next everyone – every nation, every religion – gets stuck in together with the twigs and tape. It’s good to see.

“We can use creative events to bring the town back up again”

“Stand where you think we should site our fire drawings,” says Carrie English, our workshop leader, as a couple of dozen artists disperse around the adventure playground.

“Okay, that’s good,” she says when they’ve reached a consensus.

This is the third – and much anticipated – day of Make It Happen, an intensive outdoor arts training school for creative practitioners. Born out of feedback from local artists, the course has been commissioned by Creative Scene and is being run by the acclaimed outdoor arts specialists, Walk the Plank.

Already this week the artists have heard talks on production, budgeting, event management as well as getting stuck in with lantern-making and shadow puppetry. In Dewsbury’s Crow Nest Park this afternoon they’re going to be making fire drawings which they’ll set alight at dusk.

“It’s all about teaching new skills and increasing the creative capacity for these artists,” explains Danielle Chinn from Walk the Plank, “and collaborations will certainly flow from that.”

This seven day course will culminate in The Togethering, an outdoor show in Dewsbury town centre on Wednesday, 25th October. Creative Scene have initiated the event as a way to show what the  community can do to present the town in a positive light, and hope it’s the start of a new annual event that will grow much bigger.

The artists unload scaffolding poles, ropes, boxes and steel frames from the back of the van before laying tarpaulins out in the indoor play area.

There are some familiar faces – stalwarts whose artistic journeys are being shaped by their connection with Creative Scene – and lots of new people too.

Waheeda Kothdiwala is an award-winning landscape designer from Dewsbury who is already sparking with ideas about how to incorporate shadow puppetry and fire sculpture into her work; and video storyteller Imram Azam from Mirfield says he is enjoying working with other artists from different disciplines.

“We all had a go at sketching out a design,” says Katie Jones from Bradford who’s poring over a line drawing, “and we voted for our favourite.”

“Okay,” shouts Carrie, “if each team would like to grab a can of paint and start drawing out your design on the grid.”

Soon lengths of rope are being cut and soaked in a paraffin mixture ready to be attached to the grid. I drag another participant away for a quick interview.

Dewsbury artist Jax Lovelock tells me her work is about devised performance and getting people to create artwork for themselves. “I’m Dewsbury born and bred,” she says, “but moved away for a while. When I came back I was surprised how much the town had nose-dived.

“So I just rolled my sleeves up and got on with it. This,” – she looks around – “is about getting up and doing things and that ties in with my work around the town so it’s really good.”

“And what will this allow you to do?”

“I can use this to help local people take part in activities that will bring all parts of the community together. That’s what Dewsbury needs at the minute. We can use creative events to bring the town back up again.”

Once now inflammable ropes have been laid out into fire drawings Carrie recruits a ‘scaff team’. “Let’s decide on the final orientation of the scaffold tower,” she says. “Which way is the wind blowing?”

Three of the group point in three different directions. Someone else throws up a sodden leaf which immediately falls directly to the ground.

The position is decided and the scaffold tower is swiftly built as the artists carry the first fire drawing out of their temporary workshop.

“Brilliant, well done,” says Carrie. “Now we just have to wait until it gets dark.”

The Togethering happens at Market Place, off Northgate, Dewsbury on Wednesday, 25th October 6.30-7.15. It’s free.

Newcomers rock up for a ‘turn’

“This is the first time we’ve gone public,” says Parveen as platters of sandwiches and samosas are laid out in preparation, “so I’m really excited about that.”

It’s Friday night and yet again we’re at Sensory World in Dewsbury for the fourth edition of Creative Scene’s spoken word event.

Up until now organiser Parveen has invited local writing groups and poets first hand. “For tonight’s event we had some postcards printed and I put them in libraries, in the railway station and around the pubs that I know do open mic events. Let’s see who rocks up.

“This is tonight’s host,” says Parveen introducing me to a man rubbing the front of his T-shirt. “I’ve just been for something to eat,” says Phil Pearce, “and got mango chutney all down me.”

Phil and I find a quiet corner for a quick interview. “What did you make of it when Parveen asked you to compere this evening?”

“I wrote my first ever poem and performed it on stage last October, so all this is very new to me,” he says, “and this is the first time I’ve been asked to host. It’s brilliant.”

Phil tells me he started to write when he was in prison. “In 2013 I was convinced for drug offences – I’d been addicted for 10 years – and the first poem I’m going to read tonight is about my addiction.”

More people arrive, most are regulars but I spot a couple of faces I haven’t seen before. “I work at Dewsbury Library,” says Katie. “And this is Ash.”

“Do you write and perform?” I ask Katie’s friend.

“I’m in a band and write music,” says Ash, “but no, we’re just observing tonight.”

“Well, last time a young woman was so inspired by what she heard in the first set that she wrote a piece in the break and performed it in the second half,” I say. “So you never know. Have you got a pen?”

After a brief welcome from Parveen, Phil is on his feet and, by way of introduction, apologises for the chutney stain.

His poem about drugs – “Hello, my name’s Phil and I’m an addict” – is followed by a very personal one about cancer and a third about knife crime.

“Let’s get all the heavy stuff out of the way in the first half,” he jokes, “so we can lighten things up after the break.”

One performer follows another. There are pieces about dementia, loneliness, volunteering, NHS privatisation, community unity and a lament for the passing of the X33 bus.

While we all tuck into the sandwiches and samosas at half time I notice we’ve been joined by a group of five young woman.

Maariya tells me she’s been writing a blog for a couple of years now and she heard about tonight’s event at the library. “What’s your blog about?” I ask.

“Contemporary topics about Indian life,” she says. “I write about marriage, friendship, forgiveness, the future, ego, that sort of thing. But I’ve never read anything in front of a group before.”

“Are you nervous?” Maariya holds her hand flat above her head.

“You’ll be fine. They’re a friendly and supportive bunch.”

Before the second half kicks off I catch up with Katie and Ash again. “Written anything yet?” I ask Ash.

“No, but, to be fair, it’s been very inspiring. It has actually made me want to give it a go. Maybe for the next one.”

“Wow, brilliant,” I say genuinely. “And Katie, I’ve just been chatting to Maariya.”

“Yes, she was talking to a colleague about her blog and I gave her one of the postcards Parveen had left. And yeah, she’s come along tonight.”

“Okay,” shouts Phil, “Are we ready for the second half?”

For details of the next It’s a Word Thing, keep an eye on Creative Scene’s website or email parveen@creativescene.org.uk