Take Me Somewhere 2021: Innovation Online
The programme for Take Me Somewhere this year is just as eclectic online as it usually is off. Festival Director LJ Findlay-Walsh and participating artists Cade & MacAskill and Cindy Islam explain how they're pushing boundaries beyond the computer screen
Take Me Somewhere, Glasgow's annual festival of contemporary, international performance, has a reputation for committing to the cutting edge. This year's programme is no different, despite the fact the majority of the works will be online. Scheduled performances include an exercise class that doubles as a critical whiteness lecture, a meditation session with an artist and her dog and a piece that involves talking to a stranger on the phone from New York's 600 Highwaymen. We may all be thoroughly screen-fatigued by this point, but the team behind Take Me Somewhere have worked hard to curate a digital line-up that is anything but boring.
"When we engaged with online performance at the start of the pandemic, I think we realised that whether the work viewed was live, as in happening in real time, or pre-recorded and streamed was less important in fostering that feeling you get when you attend performance," explains festival director LJ Findlay-Walsh. "What was important was the sense of event and assembly, knowing others have gathered to witness the same thing at the same time." To help create this feeling of festival togetherness, Take Me Somewhere shows will take place once, at scheduled times, rather than being available on demand. There will also be 'a digital foyer', where audiences can gather between events, to experience DJ sets and 'visual mix-tapes' and chat about what they've seen.
Since its formation in 2016 following the closure of the Arches – Glasgow's legendary nightclub and experimental theatre venue of lore – Take Me Somewhere has always had a sense of possibility at heart, programming work that could be staged everywhere from venues and nightclubs to churches and gardens. Findlay-Walsh reasons that Take Me Somewhere's tendency towards the eclectic boded well in terms of working within today's restrictions. "The artists we tend to work with create across forms rather than sitting rigidly in any genre," she says. "As much as it's been tough, we've found that artists have used the current conditions as artistic provocation and really leaned into new configurations."
One such artist is Cindy Islam, whose piece Bedroom Frequencies replicates the one safe space she had growing up. Caught between a "hostile home" and a racist outside world, Islam often retreated to her bedroom. "My parents were racially targeted. My mother wore a hijab, which was ripped off her on numerous occasions," says Islam, who uses different pseudonyms for different projects – partly to play on "the idea that we are always changing," and partly because her family do not know she makes art. "I come from an Iraqi, migrant family and my parents wanted to be British so much but were still considered 'Other'. Unfortunately, this made quite a hostile home for me." In her bedroom, Islam, who wasn't allowed to go out, would "imagine dancing, bumping and grinding." It was also where she "found the beauty in my culture, the beauty in my otherness."
The idea for Bedroom Frequencies had been on her mind "for a while," but making it during the pandemic gave it a new kind of "relativity": "people could understand what it was like growing up in a space where the outside wasn't safe." The need to go digital meant she explored VR as a way to blur the lines in the piece between "what's real and what's imagined and which formed what."
"Did the power of being able to create an imaginative space save me?" she reflects. "Even now, in this pandemic, all we have is our confined spaces and our imagination, which can transcend all sorts – walls, bodies. Can we use dreaming as a way to survive?"
Cade & MacAskill
Another piece in the programme that probes at ideas about imagination and confined space is Rosana Cade & Ivor MacAskill's The Making of Pinocchio, which examines the narrative of the gendered body as something confined and limited. Following MacAskill's gender transition, the pair, who are also a couple, began to think about the story of Pinocchio as an "imperfect trans narrative."
"Obviously it focuses on a puppet who is well known for being a liar but who wants to be a real boy, and has to prove himself to be magically turned into one," says Cade. "Through Pinocchio, we can ask – what do you mean by this term 'real'?"
"As part of the transition process – because I was seeking to medically transition, and access hormones and surgery – there is a lot of trying to convince these doctors who are usually cis-gendered and haven't had that experience," adds MacAskill. "You have to get two psychiatrists to give you a diagnosis even if you don't feel like you are unwell. I recognise that in the work I make I'm always trying to avoid a neat narrative or story so it's quite strange to try and present yourself as a worthy candidate for this support."
The relationship between MacAskill and Cade is very much at the heart of the show. "Through Ivor changing... that allowed me to change as well," says Cade, who, during the creative and personal process, began to ask questions about their own gender identity. "That's a microcosm of what the trans movement can do in society. Rather than trans and non-binary people having to change to fit in, perhaps them living how they want to live can be a gift to society – and other people can change around them."
Like Islam, Cade & MacAskill are aiming to "trouble the binary between real and not real." The show in its current state – a medium with aspects of film and live performance – has given them plenty of scope to do that. "We're having a lot of fun using all kinds of techniques that people use in theatre and film," says Cade. Using a camera and a live feed in the show was an idea they had at the beginning that they have expanded on. "The idea of framing conceptually is really useful for the work," enthuses MacAskill. "We're looking at, how do you frame your identities? We've all been on Zoom all the time, and it's restrictive... but how do you play with that?"
Islam, Cade and MacAskill all express that they want their shows to be performed live someday, but in the process, they've created work that sums up what Take Me Somewhere is all about. It isn't easily defined. Findlay-Walsh says it best: "the artists and the work drive the festival. It's our job to keep up."
Take Me Somewhere Festival 2021, 21 May-5 Jun, Glasgow & everywhere