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Q&A: Andy Field on Little Intimacies and Big Catastrophes

Artist, writer, and co-director of Forest Fringe, Andy Field makes performance work that invites interaction and introspection. His current project, Lookout, is being performed as part of 2 Degrees Festival, Artsadmin’s biannual festival of art that engages with climate change. The work introduces participants to a new generation, and asks them to imagine the future of their city. You can see an introduction to the project at the end of the interview, below.

Eli Goldstone: Hi Andy - your new project Lookout introduces one adult audience member to a child performer of primary-school age. Are the ideas about the future cities scripted for the children or improvised?

Andy Field: Each place the project is created we work with a different group of local children who create the ideas for these future cities themselves, so you could say it’s improvised. Really, they write, draw, improvise and argue these future cities into existence. I wanted to ensure that the children have agency within the piece, that their ideas and imaginings are at its centre, rather than them serving as convenient vessels for my own ideas about what the future should be.

Eli: What do you hope participants take away from the encounter?

Andy: I hope the piece creates a space for exchange. A meeting of two people who would otherwise not meet. What anyone takes away from that encounter changes from conversation to conversation and person to person. I think some people find it very hopeful, whilst others find it bleak. I know people for whom it has actually been quite life changing, in the sense that they have learnt things that have changed the way they thought about the world, or made decisions that have changed the way they live their life as a consequence of their experience. For other people it’s just a nice a twenty minute chat with a 9 year old. So it really varies a lot, and I like that. I’m happy to leave outcomes of that encounter up to the participants themselves.

Eli: You have specialised in theatre as micro-encounters. What is gained from the smallness of this sort of performance?

Andy: I’m interested in how the intimacy of these encounters can reorganise our experience of the world on a micro level, by rewriting our relationships to the people and spaces around us. I think these kind of micro-encounters are uniquely capable of doing this – they are small enough to get into the wiring of how we see and relate to the world around us.

Eli: 2Degrees festival is a celebration of art inspired by climate change, and many of your recent works have had some form of natural disaster or profound urban adjustment at the heart of them – are the topics of climate change and global unrest what predominately concern you, personally, as an artist?

Andy: I don’t know, I would like to appear super noble and say ‘yes absolutely, it’s been the predominant concern of my work for many years’ but if I’m honest I think the catastrophes in a lot of my earlier work were just a kind of easy, shallow millennialism – a fantasy of the end of the world that is seductive to people like me who grew up in the West after the fall of the Berlin Wall because for a long time any other kind of change felt impossible. As Frederick Jameson said, ‘it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism’. But I think Lookout is partly about asking the harder question of what happens when the world doesn’t end, how do we find new strategies for making society fairer, making the world better, and how do we include in that conversation people for whom making things better is a far more pressing concern than it is for us.

Eli: Do you think artists have a duty to engage with these topics?

Andy:I would not like to say what it is any artist’s duty to do. But certainly for me, I am trying to reconfigure my relationship to issue of climate change so that I don’t feel so sick and helpless all the time.

Eli: Your use of the recorded human voice interests me as it feels like a very contained, intimate way of hearing from a performer – you literally hold them, focussed entirely on what they have to say. Do you think this is an experience made particularly distinctive by our noisy, digital lives?

Andy:That is a really nice way of looking at it! I like this idea that the piece creates a situation of care, in which the audience is taking care over the performer (literally cradling their voice in their hands) and equally, the young performer is taking care of the audience member, guiding them through the encounter. We could certainly do with taking a little more care over things and each other.

Eli: How do you think is the best way to engage those who might not usually seek out, or feel comfortable with, theatre in general?

Andy: I think theatre could be more plural, more diverse. Not simply in terms of the backgrounds or ethnicities of the people that make theatre (though that is important) but also in terms of the ways there are for people to engage with it, the purposes it can serve in people’s lives. I think theatre can and should be more than something that people go and watch on a night out, and perhaps if it were then fewer people would think it wasn’t for them.

Eli: Finally; do you have a favourite perspective from which to view a city – either London or elsewhere?

Andy: Well, I went to university in Edinburgh, so I’ve always loved the idea of having an absolutely enormous hill in the middle of your city – this unavoidable intrusion of nature into what can otherwise feel like a totalising human environment. From the top of Arthur’s Seat you are not only looking out on the city, you are also looking into it from an entirely different kind of environment, which I like very much. 

Lookout

16-17 June

Central/East London location tba


Lookout | an introduction from Andy Field on Vimeo.