New partnership to mount Easter open-air production of The York Passion in April

New partnership: York Festival Trust, York Minster and York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust to present The York Passion at Easter

YORK’S new theatre partnership is seeking a director for The York Passion, an outdoor staging planned for Easter Saturday and Monday.

For the first time, York Festival Trust, York Minster and York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust are working together to present an Easter production, performed on two or possibly three static pageant waggons on the hard standing in front of the Minster School, opposite York Minster.

Three performances per day will be staged on April 2 and 4; tickets will be sold for a nominal charge to ensure appropriate Covid-secure distancing arrangements are applied.

The director will be required to create a single play – no more than 70 minutes straight through – from the pageants in the original York Mystery Plays.

The director’s vision must embrace elements from the Crucifixion, the Death of Christ and the Resurrection, possibly starting with the Road to Calvary and ending with the Appearance of Christ to Mary Magdalene.

Tom Straszewski, artistic director of the 2018 York Mystery Plays’ waggon production and 2022 Lincoln Mystery Plays, has produced a working script that can be adapted to meet the director’s requirements, including cutting and modernising the original text.

Cast and crew will be drawn from open auditions from the York community: a tradition of the York Mystery Plays since mediaeval times. Auditions and rehearsals will be conducted virtually, in accordance with Government Coronavirus measures.

Tom Straszewski: Working script that can be adapted to meet the director’s requirements

Linda Terry, chair of York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust, says: “Despite the current dark times, we felt that it was right to look forward and create an opportunity for people to participate in, and enjoy, a theatrical production that fulfilled our aim of keeping York’s Medieval Mystery Play heritage alive in a format that could be enjoyed safely.

“With the country now in its third lockdown, it is unclear what public health measures will be in place during the rehearsal phase and indeed it is quite possible that we may have to cancel or postpone the production, but any such decision will be taken jointly by the partnership and the director.”

For the Easter production, The Passion Trust – a charity focused on performances of Passion plays, including community events, around Britain – has provided funding specifically for live screening a performance to be uploaded subsequently to YouTube.

Roger Lee, York Festival Trust’s chair, highlights the new partnership’s extensive experience: “All three partners have mounted productions of the York Mystery Plays over the past five to 30 years,” he says.

“With the exception of York Minster, the organisations are not exclusively Christian, but the Festival Trust has directed community groups in producing sections of the cycle on waggons every four years since 2002, but this will be the first time the Crucifixion and Resurrection pageants are staged together as a single play.”

Applicants for the director’s role should provide a CV and a proposal for their vision for the open-air production on one side of A4 by midnight on January 30 2021.

A special director information pack is available. Shortlisted candidates will be invited for discussion by Zoom. Applications and enquiries should be emailed to: linda.terry@ympst.co.uk

Artistic director sought for York Mystery Plays’ spring Passion Play production

Tom Straszewski: Writing an hour-long script for this spring’s Passion Play, presented by the York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust, York Minster and York Festival Trust

AN artistic director is being sought for the York Mystery Plays’ outdoor community production of The Passion and Death of Christ at Easter.

The director will be expected to audition and rehearse in York, possibly virtually in the early stages, and then indoors and outdoors as Covid restrictions permit.

Applicants are asked to submit a one-page initial idea for the Passion Play production, along with a CV. Interest should be registered by emailing York Festival Trust chairman Roger Lee at: roger@yorkmysteryplays.co.uk. More details can be found at: bit.ly/YorkPassionPlay#yorkmysteryplays#york#theatre@YorkFestTrust

Tom Straszewski, director of the 2018 production on York’s streets, is developing an hour-long script for staging on waggons in the grounds of the Minster School, Minster Yard, Deangate, York.

Three performances a day will take place on Saturday, April 3 and Monday, April 5, mounted by a three-way partnership of York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust, York Minster and York Festival Trust.

Funding for the spring production will come from York Festival Trust and York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust, boosted by a £2,000 grant received already from The Passion Plays Trust. Audience members will pay a nominal sum for tickets to enable the organisers to safely manage numbers, access and distancing, if Covid restrictions still apply.

There will be opportunity for involvement in all aspects of the production. Watch this space for updates.

York stags and hens, racecourse revellers and gargoyles, all through the eye of Dan Cimmermann at Art Of Protest Gallery

Trout, by Dan Cimmermann, from his new Oy! Oy! collection at the Art Of Protest Gallery, York

POCKLINGTON School art master Dan Cimmermann will be painting live from 11am until darkness at tomorrow’s Art Of Protest Gallery launch of his Oy! Oy! solo show in York.

“Join us for a glass of festive fizz and check out this collection of originals based on the streets of York,” says gallery founder and owner Craig Humble, extending an invitation to a timely exhibition that merges York’s past and present.

Put bluntly, “St William’s Window versus Stags, Hens and Racecourse Revellers”. “This exhibition uses art’s first role – to make us look – as a means to encourage our thoughts about what’s important for the living vibrant reality of York today,” he contends.

“We can respect the layers of history that make our city so attractive, while embracing those who use our city for celebrating birthdays, hen dos and globally important sporting events.” 

Woo! Woo!, by Dan Cimmermann, newly on show at the Art Of Protest Gallery

Craig, who has re-located his ever-provocative gallery to No. 11, Walmgate, this autumn, continues: “Dan’s show is another example of the Art Of Protest showing the contemporary side of this ancient city. Dan is a Yorkshire artist whose work is predominantly shown in London and Tokyo, so, as an art master at the 16th century Pocklington School, it’s nice to be able to show his work a little nearer home.”

Dan’s Oy! Oy! collection has emerged from his countless visits to York. Living nearby, he enjoys the city’s shops and restaurants, making cultural visits and a day at the races. As a keen photographer as well as a painter, he often takes snaps of scenes and events that catch his eye.

Over the years, he has come to ask himself, “What is it about a city with such a heritage that attracts such gatherings of hedonism and partying?”.

“When I was looking through my photos and sketches, I was struck with the contrast between the stoic architecture, layers of history and the revellers that drive the city’s economy today,” Dan says. 

Dan Cimmermann’s studio with his works Woo! Woo! and Museum Gardens

“Whether they be the stags and hens meeting centrally from across the country, or the landed gentry celebrating a coup at the races, York is filled every weekend with drunken forms and faces finding their way around the streets and alleys.

“I kept imagining the Minster’s gargoyles looking down and wondering about how their world view had changed over the millennia”.

Reflecting on the exhibition’s timing in the shadow of the pestilent pandemic, Craig says: “To put on this show after York has seen the quietest year in its history, regarding visitor numbers at least, is the sort of juxtaposition that tweaks the interest of an artist and a gallery, now in a new location. 

“Many a local has lamented the city being overrun every weekend, but this staccato year has reminded us all that the city has the restaurants, museums, pubs and cultural investment because of the people attracted to come for whatever reason.”

To mark tomorrow’s exhibition launch, Dan will paint a mural in the backyard of Art Of Protest’s new Walmgate home. Oy! Oy! will then run until January 16 2021.

Dan Cimmermann, pictured when exhibiting at The Biscuit Factory in Newcastle

Chapter House Choir’s Carols By Candlelight goes online on December 16

Going virtual: Chapter House Choir members assembled via home recordings for the 2020 Carols By Candlelight concert. Picture: Kat Young

THE Chapter House Choir will release an online version of its ever-popular Carols By Candlelight concert as part of York Minster’s Christmas programme.

After the Coronavirus pandemic snuffed out the usual Carols By Candlelight format, the chamber choir’s 30-minute video performance will be go live next Wednesday (16/12/2020) at 7.30pm, free to view via yorkminster.org./whats-on and on the choir’s social-media channels.

Created by choir members performing individually from home, the virtual recordings will be set against footage of York Minster’s 13th-century Chapter House in candlelight. Christmas carols both old and new will be complemented by festive music performed by the Handbell Ringers of the Chapter House Choir.

Highlights of Carols By Candlelight concerts from past years will feature too, taken from performances in 2012 under Stephen Williams and 1999 under Jane Sturmheit.

The choir’s musical director, Ben Morris, says: “Each year, people say to me that Christmas starts for them with Carols By Candlelight in York Minster’s atmospheric Chapter House. At the end of this year, which has seen so much hardship, when choirs have been silenced and singing has been so missed, we felt it was more important than ever to create a version of this special tradition, so that people far and wide could join us virtually and share in a few minutes of festive music in the run-up to Christmas.”

New footage of the York Minster Chapter House by David Rose will feature in the virtual Carols By Candlelight concert. Picture: David Rose

The film has been edited by audio and visual engineer Kat Young, at present a research associate at the University of York’s AudioLab, and includes new footage of the Chapter House by videographer and sound specialist David Rose. 

Formed in 1965 to raise funds for the York Minster Appeal, the Chapter House Choir is a progressive and dynamic ensemble that presents beautiful yet challenging programmes from the full range of the choral repertoire.

The chamber choir regularly commissions new music, such as Everyone Sang by Roderick Williams, premiered with The King’s Singers; Song Cycle: Vive la Vélorution by Alexander L’Estrange, for the Tour de France Grand Depart in Yorkshire, and Arcadia by Judith Bingham, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War.

New pieces by Gabriel Jackson, Bob Chilcott, Paul Mottram, Lillie Harris and the choir’s founder conductor, Andrew Carter, have been premiered too.

Coming next? Wait and see. The choir’s latest Coronavirus update, posted on its website on November 22, says: “We currently have no live concerts planned, but we look forward to returning to live performances as soon as we can.”

McGee responds to Lockdown 2 with Richard Barnes window shopping launch

York artist Richard Barnes making his socially distanced delivery of his new York and North York Moors works to According To McGee. Standing in the doorway is gallery co-director Ails McGee

ACCORDING To McGee is still putting art in the shop window despite the here-we-go-again impact of Lockdown 2.

“Culture is in quarantine, but collecting great art continues,” says Greg McGee, co-director of the distinctive yellow-fronted gallery in Tower Street, York.

”And if the doors have to close then we’ll use our window to sell our paintings. It’s opposite Clifford’s Tower – we get a lot of footfall – and it’s huge.”

Lockdown: The Sequel has prompted Greg and co-director Ails McGee to launch the Window Shopping series of exhibitions, kicking off with According To McGee’s biggest-selling artist, Richard Barnes, former head of art at Bootham School.

York Minster: A perennial subject matter for York artist Richard Barnes, featuring once more in his Window Shopping exhibition

“Famed for his man-sized portraits of York, Richard’s latest collection, York And God’s Own County, has some of the largest cityscapes and landmarks he has ever produced,” says a delighted Greg.

Window Shopping’s modus operandi addresses the necessity of locked-down galleries displaying their wares explicitly in the window space and making as much use of the wall space viewable from that vantage point as possible.

“I don’t think it’s a skill taught in curatorial lessons at art college, but these are strange times. ” says co-director Ails. “I organised with Richard a socially distanced drop-off of 15 new paintings, created at his garden studio.

“I was blown away by the quality of the new collection. He has always had a muscular, mischievous approach to composition and colour schemes, but these are stand-out works that show him at the top of his game.

According To McGee co-director Ails McGee with a panoply of new Richard Barnes paintings on display in the Tower Street gallery window opposite the reflected Clifford’s Tower, York

“I have filled the front gallery with his work, from floor to ceiling, and we have already made pre-exhibition sales. Not very minimal or a traditional art gallery approach, but the energy is unmistakable. Window shopping works.”

Richard, who lives in Huntington Road, had done some “window showmanship” of his own in the lead-up to this show. “The paintings I love most hit me in the gut and hit me in my soul,” he says.

“During [the first] lockdown, I exhibited the paintings I was making on the back of my studio, so people using the river path opposite could see them. Somehow the job of making paintings that might hit someone somewhere, or even just give them a bit of pleasure, seemed very worthwhile.

“The new set of paintings at According To McGee are those that people commented on most during those tense lockdown months.”

York artist Richard Barnes, caught up in a riot of colour in his paintings for an earlier show at According To McGee

Richard also became involved in a project to create a huge painting for the new mental health hospital for York being built a little further along the Foss river path [the now opened Foss Bank Hospital in Haxby Road].

“The smaller landscapes in the new exhibition are experiments with light and space that I used to inspire the largest landscape I have ever painted and am still working on,” he says.

Barnes’s work has been a building block of According To McGee ever since the gallery launched 16 years ago. “It is especially pertinent this winter,” says Greg. “I’m  honoured to act as the art advisor for the internationally well-regarded poetry zine,  Dream Catcher, whose December issue features the art of Richard Barnes exclusively, so this show chimes with that nicely.”

Casting an eye over the new works, Ails says: “Richard has always painted with the risk-taking energy of an excellent painter in his 20s, but there’s a stronger, fiercer element to this collection.

North Yorks Moors, as portrayed by Richard Barnes in his new God’s Own County series

“Maybe he has rediscovered a latent aggression, or mischief, or maybe it’s Lockdown. Either way, these paintings depict York as a modern city and the North York Moors as a location for contemporary landscapes better than any collection on the market. Come look through our gallery window and see for yourself.”

It is no secret that Richard, who has painted ceaselessly since the 1980s, will be bidding farewell York in the months ahead, selling both his studio and house. “Although I am leaving York and Yorkshire, I really hope I will continue my relationship with painting York and According To McGee,” he says.

“I want to thank Greg and Ails for supporting me and many other northern artists. What I have loved most about working with them is their attitude of ‘Why not?’.”

Watch out for news of his York Farewell Show at According To McGee in 2021. In the meantime, whether out exercising or shopping, take a breather in Tower Street to peruse Window Shopping: Richard Barnes, York and God’s Own County; expansive, bold and inviting eye contact behind glass until December 1.

More, more Moor: How do you like it? Another of Richard Barnes’s moorland Yorkshire paintings on sale in According To McGee’s debut Window Shopping show

REVIEW: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Brass in Leeds…but brassed off in York

Conductor Simon Wright

REVIEW: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Brass (and other thoughts), Leeds Town Hall, October 24

TWELVE heroes from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – ten brass players and two percussionists – travelled to Leeds on Saturday to play before an audience of around five dozen.

Simon Wright conducted them in a stimulating mixed bag of music from the last 130 years, plus an early interjection from Giovanni Gabrieli.

Harmless though this may sound, the event was hugely significant. Locally based groups, notably from Opera North, have been appearing at the Town Hall since late August. But this was the first time that a professional ensemble from further afield had appeared there since lockdown.

Later this week, there will be two lunchtime events and three evening lieder recitals, all given by musicians of international standing. And that’s just on the classical side. So, it can be done, all within the regulations: distanced seating, masks worn by the audience, no interval or refreshments. But these are small privations compared to the thrill of live music returning. Leeds Playhouse has been equally adventurous.

In other cities, the silence continues to be deafening. Take York, for example, normally a bastion of classical performance. The Minster, the Barbican, University of York’s Central Hall, all are large venues well suited to music and easily adaptable to the new conditions.

Smaller but equally adaptable is the National Centre for Early Music and the university’s Lyons Concert Hall. All remain resolutely shut. Why? Hasn’t government (our) money been made available to keep such venues open?

Back to the brass. They opened with an ingenious arrangement of Elgar’s Cockaigne (In London Town) by one of their own, trombonist Matthew Knight. Given its complexity, it was a surprising choice as opener and took a while to settle.

But the main theme emerged triumphant on the trombones just in time for the accelerando towards the close. With the Town Hall so empty, and therefore even more resonant than usual, Gabrieli’s Canzon on the seventh tone had a regal clarity, comparable surely to St Mark’s Venice itself, as the two quartets bounced off another; it might have made a better curtain-raiser.

Imogen Holst’s Leiston Suite (1967) delivered five neatly concentrated miniatures, including a sparkling fanfare, a balletic jig and several flashes of her father’s spare harmony, all tastefully interwoven.

Eric Crees’ skilful arrangements of three Spanish dances by Granados were enchantingly idiomatic, rays of mediterranean sunshine. The colours in Duke Ellington’s bluesy Chelsea Bridge were more muted.

Hartlepool-born Jim Parker’s name may not be on everyone’s lips, but most of us have heard his music through his soundtracks for Midsomer Murders, Foyle’s War, Moll Flanders and any number of films. Why he has four BAFTAS to his name became clear in A Londoner In New York (1987), five attractive cameos of the city’s buzz, including steam engines at Grand Central, a romantic walk in Central Park, and the can-can chorus line at Radio City.

London came to Leeds here and we may all be grateful for the glimpse of normality.

Review by Martin Dreyer

York Mediale embraces city community to the max for second digital arts festival

People We Love: Video portraits focused on people filmed looking at a photograph of someone they love, at York Minster for York Mediale

EXIT York Mediale, the biennial festival launched in 2018. Re-enter York Mediale, recalibrated as a charity to create and deliver a year-round programme of digital arts events across the city.

What’s more, in response to the reaction to the debut programme two years ago, the international new media arts organisation will place a greater emphasis on working closely with York artists, young people and neighbourhoods.

In keeping with the wider arts industry, Covid-19 has had its killjoy impact on York Mediale 2020, although the festival retains its opening date of Wednesday, October 21.

“Prior to Covid, we were planning around 23 projects, but then the world changed,” says creative director Tom Higham. “We’ve had to re-structure our organisation and pivot how we go forward. We lost some funding and suddenly things that we had confirmed and things that were nearly over the line were off.

“We lost £70,000 straightaway, sponsor conversations were dead in the water and venues closed in the lockdown. But we did some speculating and reflecting, and we’ve managed to continue pursuing the small number of projects that would work for now.”

Tom Higham: Creative director of York Mediale

York Mediale 2.0 comprises six new commissions in the form of five world premieres and one UK premiere, in a festival now running from Wednesday into the New Year, whether in York neighbourhoods, online or at two cultural landmarks, York Minster and York Art Gallery.

By comparison, the first Mediale in 2018 was “the largest media arts festival in the UK”, drawing 65,000 people to cutting-edge events over ten days in celebration of York’s status as Britain’s first and only UNESCO Creative City of Media Arts.

Festival number one, being new, attracted the support of City of York Council, Make It York, Science City and both York universities. This time, the key funding has come from Arts Council England in a rise from £100,00 to £284,000.

“That is a vote of confidence, backing the second festival where we’ve had to create a new model to succeed in this new world,” says Tom, defining a festival that will feature artists’ installations and interactive performances, engaging audiences both in person and digitally.

“Initially, as the new kid on the block, it takes a while to build trust and make connections  and to get under the skin of the city,  but the projects that sought to connect with the communities, like the Inspired Youth film-making project, went very well.”

Rachel Goodyear’s Limina: “Offering a glimpse into the psyche and fragments of the unconscious”

Tom continues: “The projects where we engage with parts of the city are much more honest and not forced, so this time it will be a festival focusing on how we connect with our loved ones, our community, nature and culture: themes that are prevalent and poignant in society now after months of lockdown and isolation.

“We looked closely at the works already submitted and worked to develop the pieces that would most closely examine these extraordinary times, picking out the ones that were safe to do and that people would engage with.

“All of these projects resonated with us at the start of 2020 but we could never have imagined how they could develop to so beautifully reflect our worries, hopes and relationships to our communities.”

The possibilities may have narrowed for York Mediale 2020, but that has not dampened Tom’s enthusiasm for festival number two. “The way we can do it amid the pandemic is to develop projects that are outdoors or online…not in dark places with electronic music, like last time,” he says.

“The positive spin is that maybe the dramatic shutdown that has affected the arts allows for a re-set in terms of who makes it, who it’s for and what is possible. It’s a jolt of DIY-ness that’s good for creativity. It strips the ‘bull’ out of what you’re doing and why.

Kit Monkman: York artist and filmmaker bringing a passion project to fruition for York Mediale 2020

“I think people are looking to build on the possibilities of Zoom to do something more creative with what is possible, and York Mediale can do that.”

Among those taking part in the festival will be Marshmallow Laser Feast, fresh from their show at the Saatchi Gallery in London; composer, musician and producer Elizabeth Bernholz, better known as Gazelle Twin, and Kit Monkman’s York arts collective, KMA, whose installations have transformed public spaces, from London’s Trafalgar Square to Shanghai’s Bund.

York Mediale 2020 audiences can discover how the human body is hardwired, synchronised and inextricably linked to nature; experiment with a new form of performance; and explore the invisible transaction between a person and a piece of art and how WhatsApp has shaped communities for the Covid generation at this year’s “diverse, digitally engaged and mentally stimulating” event.

Full details on Absent Sitters (October 21 to 25, online), Good Neighbours, in Layerthorpe, York (October 21 to 25), Human Nature’s triptych of installations at York Art Gallery (October 21 to January 24, York Art Gallery) and KMA’s People We Love, at York Minster (November 2 to 29) can be found at yorkmediale.com.

“Taking on fewer projects but with a longer shelf-life is the way forward for York Mediale, picking the right project, doing them rigorously, and then they can go on to other cities,” says Tom.

“Trying to develop projects like that is surely the longer-term vision for York Mediale, not being a receiving festival, not just inviting artists into the city, but doing something that’s in-depth, engaging with what’s already here and then taking it elsewhere too with the stamp of Made In York.

The York Mediale 2020 logo

“Our responsibility as a comparatively small, new festival structurally is to find ways to push boundaries of technology and art.

“Like it has for all of us, this year has been grim, but to be able to focus on what we think we’re good at, fitting in with pushing our vision of the city, has been positive. The opportunity to be a bit more truthful with ourselves, to go where the energy and projects are in the city, to do that with artists from York that share our belief, that is progress.”

York Mediale 2020 highlights

Absent Sitters, online, October 21 to 25

GAZELLE Twin, a vital contemporary voice in the UK electronic music scene, collaborates with York artist and filmmaker Kit Monkman and Ben Eyes and Jez Wells from the University of York music department to experiment with a new form of performance in Absent Sitters.

In this intimate, shared event, you will be guided by a “performer medium” to investigate what is live performance in 2020? The audience, participating via video call, will become part of an online audio-visual experience that examines the power of “collective imagination” and the importance of “presence/absence” in a live event. “Are we live? Can we connect? Who are you?” it asks.

“The culmination of Absent Sitters will take place on London’s South Bank in Summer 2021 at the Royal Festival Hall with the BBC Concert Orchestra,” reveals Tom Higham.

Good Neighbours, in Layerthorpe, York, October 21 to 25

Good Neighbours: Micro-politics of communities and a weirdly familiar fictional documentary walk. Picture: Kgabo Mametja and Koos Groenewald

GOOD Neighbours, from Amsterdam’s Affect Lab – interactive artist Klasien van de Zandschulp and researcher Natalie Dixon – is based on research into the micro-politics of communities and the increase in WhatsApp neighbourhood watch groups through lockdown.

Individual audience members will use their own mobile devices as they immerse themselves in a weirdly familiar fictional documentary walk alongside live performance, co-ordinated by Lydia Cottrell, in the Layerthorpe area of York.

“In this time of Black Lives Matter, living under lockdown and communities delivering to the vulnerable, Good Neighbours is a long-term study of how communities work,” says Tom. “It’s gone from village halls and pubs to WhatsApp neighbourhood watch groups.”

Absent Sitters: Online audio-visual experience that examines the power of “collective imagination”

Human Nature, at York Art Gallery, October 21 to January 24 2021

THIS triptych of installations under the banner of Human Nature is jointly curated by York Mediale and York Museums Trust, uniting for an ambitious show at York Art Gallery as a centrepiece of York Mediale 2020.

Embers And The Giants, a short film by Canadian media artist Kelly Richardson, makes its UK premiere, exploring human intervention through thousands of tiny drones mimicking a natural spectacle, suggesting a time when we will need to amplify nature in order to convince the public of its worth.

The Tides Within Us is a new commission from immersive art collective Marshmallow Laser Feast that looks at the journey of oxygen from lungs to the heart and body in a series of installations that echo the ecosystem within nature. 

Fine artist Rachel Goodyear continues her exploration of animation-based work with Limina, a series of animations supported by her intricate drawings, each responding to an untitled sculpture from York Art Gallery’s collection; all offering a glimpse into the psyche and fragments of the unconscious.

Seeing, by Rachel Goodyear, inspired by the York Art Gallery collection

People We Love, at York Minster, November 2 to 29

THIS  new commission from Kit Monkman’s York creative collective KMA will be positioned in the York Minster Nave, where a new temporary “congregation” will be made up of a collection of five large high-definition screens, showing video portraits focused on people that have been filmed looking at a photograph of someone they love.

The viewer will not know who is being looked at but will experience the emotion on the face projected on screen before them, interpreting each unspoken story in People We Love

Visitors can add their story to the installation as a pop-up booth will be on-site, ready to capture the love stories of the city without the need for words.

“People We Love is a passion project for Kit that he’s been talking about for ten years,” says Tom. “It’s a love letter to the citizens of York by the best media artist in the city. It’s for the people of York, by the people of York, but I think it’s a project that will continue to travel the world after York.  

“I’ve been talking to Kit since 2016 about the seeds of what he’d like to do next, as KMA had not done a project for a few years and this was the one he wanted to do and then take to the world.”

More people from People We Love: On show at York Minster in November

Photographer Duncan Lomax makes snap decision to open Holgate Gallery at home

York Minster: An abstract work from Duncan Lomax’s photographic portfolio

“IT’S a strange and challenging time to be opening a business,” admits York commercial photographer Duncan Lomax after turning his front room into Holgate Gallery.

“Why now? I think people are looking for some good news,” reasons Duncan. “People are stimulated by visual art, perhaps now more than ever.They’ve been stuck at home in lockdown, observing their walls on Zoom, and they’re now more aware of their homes, so in that sense maybe it’s a good time to set up a gallery.

“People are looking for a connection with what they put on their walls or in their rooms, so why would you buy three stones with a white stripe for your mantelpiece?

“That’s why, at Holgate Gallery, it’s not just pretty pictures of York, though there’ll always be a demand for that, but I’d like to think that we can challenge people more. With the creative photography I do, it’s deliberately imperfect and more abstract than the commercial work, which has to be perfect and generally done to someone else’s brief.”

A member of staff in PPE at St Leonard’s Hospice, by Duncan Lomax

The gallery address is 53, Holgate Road, a Grade 2-listed building that previously housed Bridge Pianos before Duncan and his wife Tracy moved in, turning the frontage from white to a deeply satisfying blue.

Holgate Gallery becomes only the second contemporary photographic art-space to be set up in York since the much-missed, pioneering Impressions Gallery deserted Castlegate for Bradford’s Centenary Square in 2007.

Since July 2013, fellow commercial photographer Chris Ceaser has run Chris Ceaser Photography in early 15th century, Grade 2-listed, timber-framed premises at 89 Micklegate, focusing on his own landscape photographs of York, Yorkshire and beyond.

By comparison, Duncan will complement his commercial and abstract photographs and humorous faux Penguin Book cover prints with a regularly changing stock of work by other artists “who might not otherwise have the space to exhibit”.

United We Stand, by Duncan Lomax

Mostly they will be local, but in the first instance, the spotlight falls on Cold War Steve, the alias of Birmingham digital-collage political satirist Christopher Spencer, with his 250,000 followers on Twitter for his classical painting pastiches and predilection for incorporating EastEnders’ Steve “Phil Mitchell” McFadden alongside the Westminster double act of Johnson and Cummings at every opportunity.

“You don’t have to look too far to see which side he’s on,” says Duncan. “It’s putting two fingers up to the Establishment, and not everyone will like it, but he’s just been awarded a Doctor of Arts honorary degree at Wolverhampton University, so he’s now Dr Cold War Steve!”

You can sense Duncan’s enthusiasm for stretching his wings beyond running Ravage Productions Photography. “Doing commercial photography, you spend three hours ‘in the field’ and then just as much time doing the editing, marketing and updating the website. I’ve always thought that feels like time wasted, though it’s not, because it’s part of the job, but I most enjoy being behind a camera.

“So, I thought, is there a way of being creative while also doing the [commercial] job? When we bought the piano shop, it needed everything doing to it, but I could see it being a gallery, shop and editing facility for me as well as a home, so rather than being on my own when I’m working, it becomes a more social experience and another string to the bow related to the commercial photography, while it keeps pushing me on the creative side.

In the red corner: York Central MP Rachael Maskell, whose Labour Party office is nearby, conducts the opening ceremony at Holgate Gallery. Photographer, owner and curator Duncan Lomax keeps his social distance

“I might find there’s no interest in photography in York, but I’m pretty certain there is, and not just for my work, so this gallery is not an ego trip.”

Duncan has been the official photographer for York Minster for several years, notably for the 2016 York Mystery Plays, and has shot portraits, marketing images and PR material for all manner of businesses both in the city and at large.

He also has taught photography to degree level and his pictures have appeared many times in the local and national press, from The Press and YorkMix to the Yorkshire Post, the BBC and The Times.

Born on the Wirral and brought up in Warrington, Duncan played guitar in early Nineties’ Widnes “baggy wannabees” and two-time John Peel Session band 35 Summers, but he was just as likely to be holding a camera as a guitar.

Conference speaker Ian Donaghy: a business portrait by Duncan Lomax

“I’ve always had a camera; I’ve always been interested in photography,” says Duncan, who gives talks to camera clubs to give a different slant on taking pictures beyond landscapes and wildlife.

“I went to see Echo & The Bunnymen in 1982, when they were playing this secret gig where no-one knew where it would be when they bought a ticket. I got right to the front with my mum’s thin Instamatic camera, and there were no press photographers, but there I was, leaning on the stage, with all this dry ice everywhere, hiding the camera away because you weren’t supposed to be taking pictures. The next day I sold the photos at school, so that lit the spark for me.”

Duncan went on to work in PR, but as a writer. “I was always jealous of the photographers,” he recalls. So jealous that the camera would eventually win out because he thinks like a photographer at all times.

“You are constantly looking at the light, checking it, looking outside, and then you see this mackerel sky, and you know you have to stop and go and get the camera,” he says.

The former Terry’s chocolate factory, by Duncan Lomax

“Sometimes, with a photograph, it’s about pre-visualising…but then accidents can happen. That’s serendipity, but more normally, nine times out of ten those circumstances don’t come together.

“You almost know the shot before you take it, but whether you’re able to get it is another thing; whether you can manipulate it and be in control of the camera. Everything has to come together, not only technically but also emotionally. That’s where you get the story.”

He highlights a distinction between the amateur and the professional. “When I was giving a club talk, I remember asking, ‘Who’s shot a landscape photo of Robin Hood’s Bay?’. All the hands went up, but then I said: ‘Hands up, who’s shot a portrait one?’ and no hands stayed up…whereas I’m always thinking of where the headline can go on the picture,” says Duncan.

The photographer’s eye enables him to “show something that you can see that someone else can’t in that situation”, by using such a technique as underexposure.

Light and shade and grand ceremony at York Minster, by Duncan Lomax

“But what you don’t do in either commercial or press photography is let the camera lie,” Duncan says. “Though if you’re doing a commercial shot and you notice there’s a fag end on the floor, you do take it out of the picture.”

Among Duncan’s most memorable photographic work is his remarkable portfolio for the 2016 York Mystery Plays, especially those capturing actors in character, but neither on stage nor posed. “I did those 15 seconds after they came off stage. They weren’t meant to be ‘nice’ pictures, but pictures while they were still in the moment, which is different from portraiture,” he says.

The relationship between photographer and subject is one of trust, requiring skills of communication and connection. “What puts them at ease, I think – and I say this to everyone – is that I tell them, ‘I’m not trying to catch you out’, which is different from some press photographers, whose job is to do exactly that,” says Duncan.

“I’ll ask them, ‘what are you looking for from this photograph?’, as it’s about gaining their trust. That’s the bit I really enjoy; getting that interaction, even if I’m there to photograph a building, I’ll interact with the site manager.”

Toby Gordon as Lucifer, on stage in the 2016 York Mystery Plays at York Minster, by Duncan Lomax

Duncan’s work spans commercial, portrait, event, PR, creative, architectural and travel photography. Can he ever switch off? “If you come across me on a rare day off, I’ll still have my camera with me, so when we go on a walk, my wife hates it as we’ll take three times as long as we otherwise would!” he says.

“Like when we went to Cuba earlier this year, I just had to film the textures of the walls as they tell a story in their amazing colours: they give such a sense of place to Cuba.”

Those Cuban colours are now framed in Pantone style and for sale at Holgate Gallery, the new calling card for Nineties’ guitarist, ace photographer and now gallery owner and curator Duncan Lomax.

More good news has just come his way too: he has been selected to participate for the first time in York Open Studios next April.

Holgate Gallery’s opening times will vary but will be updated regularly at www.holgategallery.co.uk and on Facebook. Visits also can be arranged by appointment via duncan@ravageproductions.co.uk

Cuban Colours, by Duncan Lomax

Will you dig it all as York Mediale, the digital media arts festival, seeks a cutting edge?

“We want to explore how we connect with loved ones, with our community, with nature and with our culture,” says Tom Higham, York Mediale’s creative director

YORK Mediale returns next month to deliver ambitious and cutting-edge digital arts projects inspired by and reacting to 2020.

For its second iteration, the international new media arts organisation has lined up six new commissions, five being world premieres, the other, a UK premiere.

Running from October 21 into the New Year, the programme of events will take place in York neighbourhoods, online and at two cultural landmarks, York Minster and York Art Gallery.

The first York Mediale in 2018 was the largest media arts festival in Britain, drawing an audience of 65,000 to diverse digital-rooted events over ten days, celebrating York as the UK’s first and only UNESCO Creative City of Media Arts.

The Coronavirus pandemic has led York Mediale to forego the original 2020 festival dates of October 21 to 25, instead “pivoting from a biennial festival to a charity creating and delivering a year-round programme of exceptional digital arts events, embedded in and enriching the creative life of the city of York and beyond”.

In a progression from the 2018 debut, this will involve working closely with York artists, young people and neighbourhoods.

Themes of love, nature and community – particularly poignant at this time following months of lockdown and isolation – will run through artists’ installations and interactive performance, engaging audiences both in person and digitally.

Leading artists in their field from across the world have created work for York, such as Marshmallow Laser Feast, fresh from their show at the Saatchi Gallery in London; composer, musician and producer Elizabeth Bernholz, otherwise known as the artist Gazelle Twin, and arts collective KMA, whose installations have transformed numerous public spaces, from London’s Trafalgar Square to Shanghai’s Bund.

The York community is being encouraged to take part, so today the Mediale team is launching two calls for participation. Firstly, Mediale is calling out for 50 members of the public to feature in a piece that will serve as a memento for the times we live in.

Secondly, in collaboration with York’s Guild of Media Arts and nine other UNESCO Creative Cities of Media Arts, Mediale is launching a call-out to York artists, worth £2,500.

Tom Higham, York Mediale’s creative director for the  2018 festival and now the 2020 one too, says: “York Mediale is a place where, through digital arts, we can explore, challenge and reflect on our lives.

“Plans for this year’s Mediale were well underway as the pandemic took hold. That we’re able to work with artists and producers to create an event at all is something we’re really proud of.”

Mediale planned “as best it could” for what it knew would be a different type of event. “We looked closely at the works already submitted and worked to develop the pieces that would most closely examine these extraordinary times,” says Tom.

“We wanted to explore how we connect with loved ones, with our community, with nature and with our culture. We have been developing projects around those themes, and we’re excited to now present a series of works.

“All of these projects resonated with us at the start of 2020 but we could never have imagined how they could develop to so beautifully reflect our worries, hopes and relationships to our communities.”

York artist and filmmaker Kit Monkman: Collaborating with Gazelle Twin and University of York Music Department for Absent Sitters, an online event at York Mediale 2020

York Mediale audiences will discover how the human body is hardwired, synchronised and inextricably linked to nature; experiment with a new form of performance, and explore the invisible transaction between a person and a piece of art and how WhatsApp has shaped communities for the COVID generation at this year’s “diverse, digitally engaged and mentally stimulating event”.

What digital delights are upcoming in York Mediale 2020-2021?

People We Love, November 2 to 29 at York MInster

THIS commission from creative collective KMA will be positioned in the Minster nave, where a new temporary “congregation” will be made up of a collection of five large high-definition screens, showing a series of video portraits focused on people that have been filmed looking at a photograph of someone they love.

The viewer will not know who is being looked at but will experience the emotion on the face projected on screen before them, interpreting each unspoken story.  

Visitors can add their story to the installation as a pop-up booth will be on-site, ready to capture the love stories of the city without the need for words.

Human Nature, October 21 to January 24 2021 at York Art Gallery

A TRIPTYCH of installations under the banner of Human Nature, curated by York Mediale and York Museums Trust, comes together as a centrepiece of York Mediale 2020 in a “hugely ambitious show”.

Embers And The Giants, a short film by Canadian media artist Kelly Richardson, makes its UK premiere, exploring human intervention through thousands of tiny drones mimicking a natural spectacle, suggesting a time when we will need to amplify nature in order to convince the public of its worth.

The Tides Within Us, a commission from immersive art collective Marshmallow Laser East, looks at the journey of oxygen from lungs to the heart and body in a series of installations that echoes the ecosystem within nature. 

Fine artist Rachel Goodyear presents Limina, a series of animations supported by her intricate drawings, in response to an untitled sculpture from York Art Gallery’s collection; all offering a glimpse into the psyche and fragments of the unconscious.

Absent Sitters, October 21 to 25, online

GAZELLE Twin, billed as “one of the UK’s most vital contemporary voices in electronic music”,  collaborates with York artist and filmmaker Kit Monkman and the University of York Music Department to experiment with a new form of performance.

In this intimate, shared event, you will be guided by a “performer medium” to investigate what is live performance in 2020? The audience, contributing via video call, will become part of an online audio-visual experience that examines the power of “collective imagination” and the importance of “presence/absence” in a live event. Are we live? Can we connect? Who are you? Questions, questions, questions.

Good Neighbours, October 21 to 25, The Groves, York

GOOD Neighbours, from Amsterdam’s affect lab – interactive artist Klasien van de Zandschulp and researcher Natalie Dixon – is based on research into the micro-politics of communities and the increase in WhatsApp neighbourhood watch groups through lockdown.

Individual audience members will use their own mobile devices as they immerse themselves in a weirdly familiar fictional documentary walk alongside live performance, taking place in The Groves area of York.

What exactly is York Mediale?

York Mediale is an international media arts organisation that celebrates York as the UK’s first and only UNESCO Creative City of Media Arts.  The independent arts charity was founded in 2014 to mark that designation.

As well as bringing new commissions from leading artists to the city for each festival, Mediale provides opportunities for the best emerging talents to showcase their art. Through incorporating technologies into their works, artists of all kinds will challenge, provoke, interrogate and celebrate our cities, our landscapes, our lives.

When a concert is postponed, not cancelled….

York Musical Society in the days before Covid-19

YORK Musical Society’s glorious celebration of Baroque music at York Minster tonight is postponed rather than cancelled.

“We are classing it as ‘postponed’ as we do plan to incorporate this fabulous repertoire at some point in the future when we are allowed to sing together again,” says YMS’s Lesley Peatfield..


“We are still rehearsing the lovely Handel anthems and the Gloria via Zoom for those members of YMS who have been taking part this term and plan to sing each piece through online in the ‘splendour’ of our own homes instead.”

Lesley adds: “With the future of choirs and singing in groups a big subject for debate, we are planning to rehearse and enjoy Handel’s Messiah for the autumn term via the Zoom platform. Keep singing and stay safe.”