When art bonds with science and cycling meets pollution head on, a frontier-pushing exhibition results at Blossom Street Gallery

Art science interface at Blossom Street Gallery: Artist Clare Nattress and scientist Dr Daniel Bryant stand either side of her pollution-marked bicycle. Picture: Matt Waudby

ARE people really aware of the dangers of polluted air close to home in York, ask arts researcher, educator and cyclist Clare Nattress and atmosphere scientist Dr Daniel Bryant?

Their studies are the subject of a collaborative exhibition under the title of The Art Science Interface: Making York’s Air Pollution Visible, on show at Blossom Street Gallery, York, with project support from the National Environmental Research Council.

“The work shines a light on the air pollution experienced in York while cycling with the objective of making the invisible, visible,” says conceptual artist and University of York St John graphic design lecturer Clare, whose white-painted, pollution-splattered, unwashed bike forms the exhibition centrepiece.

The same Bombtrack Beyond +1 German bike on which Clare had cycled around six countries – Norway, Germany, Spain, then Nepal, and onwards to Australia and New Zealand – in ten months in 2018 when taking a break from work and study as she approached 30.

“Pollution is a hot topic at the minute and a pressing global issue. Air pollution causes serious health risks and costs to the NHS could reach £5.3 billion,” she says.

“Recently I was in the company of air pollution activist campaigner Rosamund Kissi Debrah, who lost her daughter to asthma, the first registered UK resident to have air pollution as her cause of death.” 

One of Clare Nattress’s rides on a bus route in York. Picture: Matt Waudby

Airborne particulate species less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, known as PM2.5, are considered to be the most deadly form of air pollution, contributing to millions of premature deaths per year globally.

“However, due to the small size of these damaging airborne particulate species, drawing public attention to the issue is challenging,” says Daniel, from the University of York’s Wolfson Atmospheric Chemistry Laboratories, who has worked alongside Professor Jacqui Hamilton. “Our study aims to increase public awareness of PM2.5 through our art-science collaboration.”

Clare has used her bicycle as a performative tool to pedal on low and high infrastructure routes around the City of York – where the roads around the circumference of the University of York and York St John University are highly polluted areas often blighted by heavy congestion – to investigate if there are striking differences in air pollution levels and chemical composition, depending on the routes.

Clare’s bicycle was equipped with a miniature aerosol sampler and air quality sensor to gather street-level data over the course of three months as she cycled up to five hours per ride in urban and rural locations within York and the surrounding areas with a focus on six commuter/bus routes to and from the universities.

The filters collected were extracted and analysed by Daniel through an established method used for PM2.5 filter samples, using ultra-high-performance liquid chromatography, high-resolution mass spectrometry to identify known compounds within the samples.

The process of collection and extraction were documented, and the filters also photographed and investigated under a microscope by Daniel.

Clare Nattress on her bike on one of her five-hour rides around York. Picture: Matt Waudby

The data and information gathered have been incorporated onto a digital map of York to reveal collection locations and routes, as well as pollution concentrations and compounds present within filter samples.

“Combining this data with photographs and video snapshots of each performance ride will improve the public’s ability to see for themselves pollution within their city,” says Clare, whose work forms part of her own Digital Smog project, hence the involvement of her partner, Matt Waudby, as photographer and videographer.

His photography, by the way, featured in an exhibition at Cycle Heaven, where he works, during the 2021 York Design Week.

“As an artist, I’m interested in the embodied experience of bicycling using theories of performativity and materiality,” says Clare. “The body becomes a site for academic enquiry. How does the body attune to air pollution? Can we smell it and can we taste it? How does it interact with our bodies while cycling? This other than human collaborator is interconnected with our bodies; we are intertwined.”

Clare and Daniel’s interdisciplinary, frontier-pushing partnership has increased their understanding of environmental hazards that face cyclists and the benefits of a healthier environment through improved infrastructure.

“This study has been beneficial to help monitor and creatively disseminate exactly what cyclists and the public are exposed to and will help to inform effective solutions,” says Clare.

Clare Nattress: Ride 4. Picture: Matt Waudby

“Despite ongoing evidence that suggests art enhances our understanding of science and data, there’s still much to analyse regarding impact and personal realisation for action.

“This research project and resulting exhibition provide initial evidence that the public engages with creative and visual outcomes that aim to make the invisible, visible.”

Clare and Daniel’s research project comes against the backdrop of between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths every year in the UK being attributed to human-made air pollution.

“But it’s very difficult to pinpoint because everyone is subjected to it,” says Daniel. “It’s like how you could smoke all your life and not die from cancer, or you could smoke only one cigarette but die from cancer.

“The whole point of the project is to highlight pollution visually, especially to make you think if you’re travelling in a car.”

Clare points out: “Pollution is worse if you’re sitting in a car in traffic, whereas a cyclist or pedestrian is not exposed in the same way because they’re on the move. In a car, you’re in a hot box for pollution.”

Clare Nattress: Ride 10. Picture: Matt Waudby

Daniel rejoins: “Pollution levels vary, depending on the weather, the temperature, the time of year, the day of the week, the density of traffic. What we do know is that idling in traffic is a big issue in a small city like York where you have to stop a lot, deal with the one-way systems, and everyone trundles along Gillygate, for example.”

Clare adds: “In terms of smelling it, Rougier Street is the worst, the most pungent. That’s because it’s ‘bus central’.

“Look at what’s happening in York. In Gillygate, where Wackers [fish and chips restaurant] is being turned into flats, they’ve been told to keep windows shut…because of the air pollution.”

Clare’s cycling is powering her PhD studies in the School of Art at Leeds Beckett University. Here is the snappy thesis title: “How can cycling be a performative methodology to investigate, reveal and disseminate the problem of air pollution?” As Freddie Mercury once exclaimed, the answer is: “Get on your bikes and ride”.

In practical terms, Clare has learned: “There are cheap, affordable sensors that you can buy to attach to your cycle or backpack to record your exposure, and I now choose my cycling routes more carefully, going on longer routes to avoid pollution,” she says.

York likes to portray itself as the city of cycling. “York is lucky that it has the two rivers [the Ouse and the Foss], with all those cycle paths, but if you took the rivers out of York, it wouldn’t really be a cycling city, with all that heavy traffic,” says Clare bluntly.

Pollution, as captured on a Clare Nattress bicycle ride

Looking at the art and science interface from the artistic perspective, she welcomes the chance to make her Blossom Street Gallery debut with conceptual work that “sits differently to the art it’s positioned alongside, so hopefully it brings a new audience there”.

To prove the point, invitations to the opening private view were extended to the cycling community, scientists and lecturers interested in air pollution, as well as York’s creative network and artists.

Daniel has welcomed the opportunity for collaboration between different disciplines at York’s universities. “Before this work, I would never have thought of doing a project like this. If I just did it for a journal, no-one in the wider public would see it, but the Blossom Street Gallery exhibition makes that possible,” he says.

“We’re now looking for further funding to expand the interface. If we get it, we would look to purchase sensors to make them available for commuters and hobby cyclists to get a breadth of pollution research material and then upload the data.”

Clare adds: “We would also look to run workshops, getting people together from different industries to really look at where pollution is worst in York and what can we do about it.”

The Art Science Interface: Making York’s Air Pollution Visible runs at Blossom Street Gallery, York, until June 30.

Lab work for the Art Science Interface

The science bit:

Particulate Matter 1, 2.5 & 10. (PM1, PM2.5 & PM10) 
PMs are small solid particles that can penetrate into the lungs with the finest ones even binding to blood vessels. PM10 refers to particles smaller than 10 microns in diameter or a tenth of the width of a human hair. PM2.5 are those smaller than 2.5 microns.

PMs can come from road traffic, energy consumption and natural phenomenons such as volcanic eruptions. PMs can change according to wind speed, weather and temperature, often settling in locations with a lack of wind. 

Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) 
NO2 is a suffocating gaseous air pollutant formed when fossil fuels such as coal, oil, gas or diesel are burned at high temperatures. 50 per cent of NO2 emissions are due to traffic. 

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) 
VOCs are a combination of gases and odours emitted from many different toxins and chemicals found in everyday products. These can include household paint, new furniture, candles, cooking, cleaning and craft products as well as beauty products and cosmetics. They can also be emitted by traffic and industries. Some VOCs are classified as carcinogenic.  (Plume Labs, 2022). 

The funding bit:

THE Art Science Interface: Making York’s Air Pollution Visible is one of three projects to share a £76,000 grant from the NERC Discipline Hopping for Environmental Solutions grant awards.

Did you know?

YORK has the highest rate of bicycle thefts in England.

Clare Nattress and Dr Daniel Bryant looking at a book compiled from their research project. Picture: Matt Waudby

Meet the Bolshee trio, the York company behind female-driven creative projects

Driving forces: Bolshee’s Lizzy Whynes, left, at the wheel, Megan Bailey, back seat, and Paula Clark, co-driver

BOLSHEE, the York company for creative projects set up by theatre practitioners Paula Clark, Megan Bailey and Lizzy Whynes, will be performing at Green Shoots tonight and tomorrow at York Theatre Royal.

One of 20 new commissions from York professional artists, Boss B***h will “explore the infamous statement made by influencer Molly-Mae Hague and ‘celebrity nightmare’ Kim Kardashian that we all have the same 24 hours in a day as Beyonce”.

“Let’s challenge the toxic boss bitch narrative,” proclaim the Bolshee trio, who will deliver five minutes of female voices, beats and moves.

“We set up Bolshee creative projects in lockdown after I decided to leave my job at York Theatre Royal,” says Paula, who is now a freelance creative director and artist and runs Paula Clark Co-Creative Projects.  

“There were loads of reasons why I left, but it’s important to say I’m still good friends with YTR! It’s where Megan, Lizzy and I all met and we still have a lot of love for it.

“But it was time for me to move on. Over that decade, I’d been a youth theatre practitioner, director (when cover for maternity leave), creative skills promoter, overseeing the TakeOver festival, and outreach director.

“There’s always a glass ceiling,” says Paula Clark after 20 years of working in theatre

“I found I enjoyed my job in the pandemic because I could do more than I would normally do, but there’s always a glass ceiling, and that’s not unique to York Theatre Royal. It’s across arts buildings.”

Coincidentally, Megan had left her job and so had Lizzy. “It wasn’t connected, but there were lots of similarities about our negative experiences of the arts industry,” says Paula.

“We’ve all experienced profound sexism in the arts industry and I’ve struggled, being from a working-class background, to make headway, be heard and create change in the way I wanted.

“It feels like there’s a holding on to power by people who are worried about a disruption of power, a sharing of power across the industry and all the talk of wider representation. People are frightened, so they’re holding on to the old way. It’s not a level playing field.”

Paula recalls “starting to feel like a tick box”. “I was tired of being called ‘authentic’ by patronising old men on boards. I wanted to be in charge of my own creative direction, and I want to do more for social justice,” she says.

Cue the arrival of Bolshee. “I have over 20 years’ experience in theatre and community arts and my dream is that Bolshee creates projects that promote social justice, lift people up and include everyone in a creative industry environment that still doesn’t value women enough,” says Paula.

“We have something to offer that isn’t quite like anyone else in York because we are not afraid to be Bolshie,” says Paula Clark, left, of her Bolshee partnership with Megan Bailey, centre, and Lizzy Whynes. Picture: Matthew Jopling

“It’s important that as a company we particularly support and encourage working-class women and girls. That’s why I’ve teamed up with Megan and Lizzy, both extremely talented young women. We feel like we have something to offer that isn’t quite like anyone else in York because we are not afraid to be Bolshie!”

The name Bolshee is a reclaiming of that word, ‘bolshie’ (definition: deliberately combative or uncooperative). “Assertive women have always been told they are Bolshie. We want to cast off the negative connotations. We’re ready and proud to be Bolshee women!” says Paula.

Megan is delighted that Bolshee is up and running. “It’s been a long while in the pipeline,” she says. “In those two years during lockdown, we’d sit on Zoom thinking about what we could do to be our own bosses on projects.

“There’s an elite that doesn’t want to let younger, bolshie women challenge what they’ve been doing, sitting in their leadership roles for a long time, but we want to find our space.”

Lizzy points out how the working environment in the arts world has changed. “Now you’re only employed for six months, a year at most,” she says. “All the jobs I went for were for three months; all short-term contracts.”

Paula rejoins: “People are holding on to the idea of arts buildings, but I don’t want to work in that structure. There’s all sorts of forms that can be brought together to involve people in culture. What’s brought the three of us together is that we’re more than just theatre makers.”

“We want to find our space,” says Megan Bailey

Megan, for example, has a background in set design from her theatre degree days at the University of York and has worked on websites too. “I also did an MA at Leeds University in culture, creativity and entrepreneurship because you need to have business acumen to run theatre and arts organisations.

“I definitely feel that can be lacking, particularly in human resources structures, where these things can get forgotten but it’s important to make your workforce happy, and important to learn how to make the arts sustainable financially.

“Because I worked for so long in buildings, doing funding applications and strategies, I’m very aware of what’s needed.”

Paula, 40, feels lucky to be working in tandem with Lizzy, 29, and Megan, 25. “The landscape has changed, and younger people have their finger on the pulse, understanding how things work,” she says. “It’s harder for older people in theatre to understand that, but we have the right mixture: Lizzy and Megan with their finger on the pulse and me with 20 years of experience.

“We don’t need a building, but we have a good understanding of theatre in York and we know that partnerships are a good way to work.”

Lizzy adds: “We want to be collaborative, rather than competitive, bringing some fun, bringing some culture, through the art we make.” Just as she did when she was artistic director of York Theatre Royal’s TakeOver Festival at the National Railway Museum in October 2015, picking up two awards to boot.

“We want to be collaborative, rather than competitive, bringing some fun, bringing some culture, through the art we make,” says Bolshee’s Lizzy Whynes, left

Bolshee may have taken root when all three left their jobs at the time, “but I think it’s important to say, we all love the jobs we’re now doing,” says Paula. “I’ve worked on the York St John University Prison Partnership Project and also work with Stockton ARC as a freelance, as well as with the Listening Project for Pilot Theatre.”

Theatre maker, dance artist, director, movement director and facilitator Lizzy works for CAST’s youth theatre in Doncaster and as a freelance for York Dance Space and Phoenix Dance Theatre’s youth academy in Leeds.

Megan is a creative producer at Kaizen Arts Agency in York, working on York Design Week, the Drawsome Festival and the ArtBank at Spark:York. At the time of this interview, she had just been offered the job of community and participatory knowledge exchange co-ordinator at Leeds Arts University.

“One of the reasons why we think this makes us a little different is that we celebrate all the work we do in different areas,” says Paula. “That keeps us relevant and keeps us connected with different organisations, but Bolshee is what connects us all.”

Megan adds: “Bolshee empowers us in what we want to do and what we want to make, and I’m very much a believer that anyone can be an artist, from a child to someone who has retired and wants a new hobby. We want people to find their voices.

“It’s about wanting to celebrate who we are, what we do, in the city we love, with all the people we get to work with.”

“Because we have a diverse skill set, we can be varied in what we do,” says Lizzy Whynes

A feeling of wellbeing should be encouraged too, says Megan: “We believe in being kind to ourselves. That’s important at a time when we need to respect ourselves, when we all do jobs where contracts are short.”

Paula adds: “Our thing about championing women and girls is that it’s our time. I’m 40, and after all that grafting, I want to have some of the joy with people I like, sharing our imaginations.

“I was a young mum at 19, experienced childhood hardships on more than one occasion, things that make this artistic path a difficult one to choose, and because of that, I will work the hardest, stay the longest, always trying to prove to myself that if I work the hardest, I could be the next manager, working in that hierarchy…

“…but now I believe success is being comfortable with yourself, owning who you are and helping other people in similar circumstances see their opportunities come to fruition.”

Bolshee have already held a free workshop at Young Thugs Studios at the Drawsome Festival in York in May and have funding applications in place with universities, rather than Arts Council England, for future projects.

“Our work will be diverse,” says Lizzy. “It could be a Bolshee open-mic night; a participatory workshop in a school hall or a neighbourhood pop-up installation. You might find us working in a school with at-risk girls. Because we have a diverse skill set, we can be varied in what we do.”

Tuned in: Bolshee trio Paula Clark, left, Lizzy Whynes and Megan Bailey at Dance Dance Dance, A Damn Big Dance Party at At The Mill, Stillington Mill, near York

Paula adds: “We want everyone to feel they belong because everyone is invited. It’s not about stepping into a cultural place; it’s about joining in.”

Megan concurs: “It’s about that connection with people; making work in that space, not putting work on in conventional arts spaces, which won’t be our ambition.”

Paula rejoins: “We want people to feel safe. We want to talk about what matters to women; urgent things that need addressing.”

Lizzy loves taking projects out of theatres, whether in her TakeOver days at the National Railway Museum, or doing community work with young people in informal settings for Harrogate Theatre, or now for a CAST youth theatre production at Danum Gallery, Library and Museum and a York Dance Space project at York Art Gallery. “I have loads of experience of site-specific work and I’m all about getting people together to do amazing things,” she says.

Exit “Bolshie” women; here comes Bolshee. “Being called ‘bolshie’ implies women don’t have a right to be assertive,” says Megan. “But it’s our prerogative to be how we want to be, and we want to be Bolshee,” says Paula.

Bolshee perform Boss B***h at Green Shoots, York Theatre, Royal, tonight and tomorrow, 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

The logo for York creative projects trio Bolshee

Badapple Theatre are back at York Theatre Royal after a decade tonight with the haunted dance hall comedy Elephant Rock

Haunted happenings: Jessica Woodward, left, Robert Wade and Stephanie Hutchinson in Badapple Theatre Company’s Elephant Rock

GREEN Hammerton theatre-on-your-doorstep purveyors Badapple Theatre Company return to York Theatre Royal for the first time in a decade tonight (10/5/2022).

At the invitation of TakeOver 2022, the arts festival run by York St John University, Kate Bramley’s travelling troupe will be presenting Elephant Rock, a “lighthearted comedy about finding your place in the world” set against the backdrop of environmental change.

“We were last at the Theatre Royal with Back To The Land Girls roughly ten years ago and it feels very exciting to be back. We’re delighted,” says writer-director Kate. “It’s come about through the York St John performing arts students, who, as part of their final-year work, have the chance to put together a week of performances in a festival.

“They came to us and asked if we could do Elephant Rock, so we juggled things around a bit on the tour, and here we are, on the main stage, which is lovely for us, having the chance to use more than the five lanterns we take on tour for the lighting!”

Badapple Theatre Company artistic director Kate Bramley: Delighted to be returning to York Theatre Royal

Set in a storm-battered seaside village, Kate’s upbeat play with original music and songs by Jez Lowe follows the fortunes of a family trying desperately to keep the struggling pier-front Palace Theatre open, come hell or high water.

“The heyday of the great British seaside holiday may have gone but the memories remain,” says Kate. “So too does the old Palace Theatre, once perched proudly on the pier in sight of the mighty Elephant Rock, and boasting its own fabulous attraction, The Amazing Mechanical Elephant.

“But the relentless tides have chipped away at the coast, and Elephant Rock and its mechanical counterpart are long gone, as if instinct and longing have lured them off to the land of their ancestors.

“Amid the comic yet heartfelt attempts of the mismatched team who are determined that the Palace doors stay open, they discover a surprising family history that stretches across a hundred years and five thousand miles, from the rocky coast of England to the sweeping grasslands of Sri Lanka.”

Jessica Woodward: Pink dress, pink umbrella, in Catherine Dawn’s typically colourful design for Elephant Rock

Elephant Rock’s subject matter was prompted by a family visit to Withernsea, the East Riding resort noted for its Pier Towers, sandy beach, Valley Gardens and lighthouse. “A few years back, we were staying there, and where there used to be a road, now there was just a drop with a sign saying ‘End’,” says Kate.

“It was partly that observation that set me thinking about erosion, and we’d also heard the story of the Elephant Rock, just off the coast at Hartlepool, standing there for many years and then ‘wandering off’, disappearing into the sea – though we’ve had sightings of ‘Elephant Rocks’ elsewhere: one was in Iceland and another off the Vietnamese coast.

“It seems to be a phenomenon to do with coastal erosion that leaves rock in the shape of an animal.”

While the Elephant Rock story was a “bit of trivia”, Kate noted how coastal communities were being hit by climate change and the impact of erosion. “I thought about how people need to move and migrate, and I wondered whether people had to come from a place to call it ‘home’, when the coast plays host to a fluctuating community, such as carnival troupes that come and go.”

Entertainment on the pier: Robert Wade and Stephanie Hutchinson in the vintage dance hall in Elephant Rock

Elephant Rock is set in the present day while harking back to the past. “The three principal characters are stuck in a dance hall where these comedic hauntings happen to them as they try to decide what to do with a magical box,” explains Kate.

Those roles and no doubt more besides are played by Jessica Woodward, Robert Wade and Stephanie Hutchinson. “They’re a lovely bunch, all Yorkshire actors – quite by chance it’s fallen that way – and they’re having a lovely time together on what is our ‘comeback tour’ to full-scale touring after these past two years. Thankfully all these venues have stayed loyal to us,” says Kate.

“Robert worked with us in The Carlton Colliers and The Last Station Keeper before we lost him to Northern Broadsides and the West End, but now we’ve tempted him back to the north!

“Jess graduated from ALRA [Academy of Live and Recorded Arts] a couple of years ago and this is her first long tour. She’s a whiz, a classic ALRA all-rounder. Stephanie is a lovely actor from Leeds, who’s done some rural touring and telly and does the bulk of the singing in the show.”

Look out for new compositions by Jez Lowe that are set within the action of the play, recounting what happened to Elephant Rock, and he has delivered some fun Fifties’ jive numbers too.

Stephanie Hutchinson: Making her Badapple Theatre Company debut

Kate has been delighted at the response to the show that opened on April 22 and will be on the road until June 19 in Badapple’s 24th year of touring original productions with professional actors to the “most unexpected of places”: the smallest and hardest-to-reach rural venues and village halls in Yorkshire and beyond.

“It seems people are resting more easily around the Covid situation, and it feels like a transitional show, reminding people that they can go out,” she says. “We’ve had people saying ‘I’ve really missed it’ – and that is our role, to go out there on rural tours, bringing joy to communities.

“There’s still some generation caution about going out, with older people proving to be more cautious, but that said, equally some people feel far safer going to their village hall than going into town to see a show.”

Should you miss tonight’s 7.30pm show, Badapple’s spring and summer tour has plenty more performances in the York vicinity: May 17, Green Hammerton Village Hall (box office, 01423 331304); May 18, Terrington Village Hall, 8pm (01653 648394); May 20, Sutton upon Derwent Village Hall (01904 608524); June 10, Low Catton Village Hall (07837 330421); June 12, Skipsea Village Hall (01262 469714), and June 15, Galtres Centre, Easingwold (01347 822472, Monday to Friday, 9am, to 5pm). Shows start at 7.30pm unless stated otherwise.

Tickets for tonight and all the TakeOver 2022 festival events are on sale on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

More Things To Do in and around York, from B-movie art attacks to silent Indian cinema. List No. 81, courtesy of The Press, York

Swapping New York for York: King Kong clambers onto York Minster in Lincoln Lightfoot’s exhibition, Revelation, at Fossgate Social and Micklegate Social

AS not only tourists and stag and hen parties invade York, but so do UFOs, dinosaurs, even King Kong, Charles Hutchinson plots an escape route to other delights.

Exhibition launch of the week: Lincoln Lightfoot’s Revelation, Micklegate Social and Fossgate Social, York, today until July 7

SOUTH Bank surrealist Lincoln Lightfoot is letting his gloriously ridiculous B-movie nightmares loose on unsuspecting York at the Micklegate Social and Fossgate Social cafe bars from this weekend.

For two months, past meets present and a forewarned future both in retro art style and subject matter in Revelation, his humorously absurdist depictions of surreal encounters with beasts and creatures as they take over landmark locations.

On show in Micklegate Social from this evening’s 6pm to 10pm launch will be the first release of Lincoln’s larger, compelling paintings, 150 by 100cm in size, complemented by giclee prints of those new works at Fossgate Social. All works are for sale.

Spiffing chaps Morgan & West in Unbelievable Science at York Theatre Royal

Here comes the science bit: Morgan & West in Unbelievable Science, York Theatre Royal, today, 2pm

GREAT Yorkshire Fringe festival favourites Morgan & West return to York to present their new show Unbelievable Science, full of captivating chemistry, phenomenal physics and bonkers biology.

Spiffing chaps Rhys Morgan and Robert West combine their trademark showmanship and silliness from their decade of magic shows with genuine scientific knowledge and a lifelong love of learning to create a fun science extravaganza for all ages.

Fires, explosions, lightning on stage, optical illusions, mass audience experiments and 3D shadow puppets await all those “wily enough to come along to be intrigued by science”. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Howzat for cricket stories: Test Match Special chat with Tuffers & Agnew at York Barbican

Not just cricket: Test Match Special Live with Agnew & Tuffers, York Barbican, tonight, 7.30pm

PHIL Tufnell and BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew take you inside the Beeb’s famous TMS commentary box to share memories from their playing careers and beyond the boundary.

What was it like facing Shane Warne in his prime? Which member of the TMS team never buys dinner? What really happened the night after the 2005 Ashes triumph? Enjoy never-before-seen footage of iconic commentary moments and discover what life is really like watching England from the finest seat in the house. Special guest will be TMS statistics guru and BBC Radio 4 comedy presenter Andy Zaltzman. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Badapple Theatre’s Jess Woodward, Robert Wade and Stephanie Hutchinson in Elephant Rock, part of the TakeOver festival at York Theatre Royal

Festival of the week: TakeOver, York Theatre Royal, Tuesday to Saturday

THIS week-long arts festival is organised and run entirely by final-year York St John University students. Unveiling hidden worlds of the unspoken to curious minds of any age, the event combines local and personal stories with an exploration of the wider world through a combination of theatre, memory and art.

Among those taking part will be Green Hammerton company Badapple Theatre performing artistic director Kate Bramley’s Elephant Rock on Tuesday at 7.30pm in their first Theatre Royal visit in a decade. For the full programme, go to yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Seeta Devi, one of the early stars of Indian silent cinema, in the role of Sunita in A Throw Dice

Film event of the week: Yorkshire Silent Film Festival presents A Throw Of Dice (PG), National Centre for Early Music, York, Tuesday, 7.30pm

A THROW Of Dice, an Indian box-office hit from 1929, rivals Cecil B De Mille for screen spectacle in its lavishly romantic story of rival Indian kings – one good, one bad – who fall in love with the same woman.

Based on an episode from The Mahabarata and filmed in India with 10,000 extras, 1,000 horses, 50 elephants and an all-Indian cast, this silent classic will be accompanied by a live score, improvised by Indian pianist Utsav Lal. Box office: 01904 658338 or ncem.co.uk.

Karen Ilsley, as Dorothy Nettle, and Stuart Leeming, as Jefferson Steel, in rehearsal for the Stockton Foresters’ production of A Bunch Of Amateurs

Play of the week: The Stockton Foresters in A Bunch Of Amateurs, Stockton on the Forest Village Hall, near York, May 12 to 14, 7.30pm

THE Stockton Foresters’ first full-scale production post-lockdown is Ian Hislop and Nick Newman’s A Bunch Of Amateurs, the story of an amateur dramatic group’s determination to overcome all odds to stave off closure.

Written by two of the original Spitting Image writers, this fast-paced, sharp-edged comedy is performed frequently on the amateur circuit, on this occasion by Louisa Littler’s cast of Stuart Leeming, Karen Ilsley, Holly Smith, Russell Dowson, Jane Palmer, Peter Keen and Lynne Edwards. Box office: 01904 400583.

Shed Seven: Chasing winners and Chasing Rainbows at Doncaster Racecourse

Outdoor gig of the week: Shed Seven, Doncaster Racecourse Live After Racing, May 14

SHED Seven’s live-after-racing gig at Doncaster Racecourse will come under starter’s orders for a third time next Saturday after two false starts.

The York band’s outdoor Donny debut had to be scrapped twice, first booked for August 15 2020, then May 15 last spring, but each show was declared a non-runner under the Government’s pandemic lockdown restrictions.

To book, go to: doncaster-racecourse.co.uk/whats-on/music-live-featuring-shed-seven.

Sara Pascoe: Success Story tour will visit York and Harrogate

Tour announcement of the week: Sara Pascoe, Success Story, York Barbican, November 24; Harrogate Royal Hall, April 21 2023

AFTER contemplating the positive aspects of self-imposed celibacy in LadsLadsLads, Success Story finds comedian Sara Pascoe, a few years later, happily married with a beautiful baby son.

In her new show, she will examine what it is to be successful, how we define it and how it feels when what we want eludes us. Expect jokes about status, celebrities, plus Sara’s new fancy lifestyle versus infertility, her multiple therapists and career failures. Box office: York, yorkbarbican.co.uk; Harrogate, 01423 502116 or harrogatetheatre.co.uk.

Three generations of proud African women connect across two continents, time and space in Here’s What She Said To Me

Lola May as daughter Aramide, Oyi Oriya as mother Omotola and Anni Domingo as grandmother Agbeke in Here’s What She Said To Me

YORK ST John University graduate Mojisola Elufowoju directs Utopia Theatre in Here’s What She Said To Me in her return to York Theatre Royal tonight and tomorrow.

The Sheffield company’s first show since the pandemic lockdown in March 2020 was conceived by Mojisola, who graduated in 2011 with first class honours in theatre and directing.

 “I found almost that I’d found myself when I did that particular course,” she says. “I knew what I wanted to do. You just try your hand at something, and you just know that something about it feels within the skills you’ve already got.”

Mojisola won the York Theatre Royal Graduate Prize in her final year at York St John, a prize that gave her mentoring opportunities and the experience needed to set up Utopia Theatre in 2012. Her African theatre company is now resident at Sheffield Crucible Theatre, with Mojisola in charge as both CEO and artistic director.

Here’s What She Said To Me was written by Oladipo Agboluaje after conversations with Mojisola about her relationship with her mother and daughter. The resulting play combines drama with music, poetry and movement to tell a moving story of daughters and mothers in the world of migrations and shifting identities, braving life with an undying hope, optimism and resilience.

Meet Agbeke, Omotola and Aramide, three generations of proud African women that connect with each other across two continents, time and space. Together they share their struggles, their joys, tragedies and broken dreams in order to find healing in the present.

Mojisola’s production features Lola May as daughter Aramide, Oyi Oriya as mother Omotola and Anni Domingo as grandmother Agbeke, with music performed by Alan De First. 

The play was first staged at the Crucible Theatre as part of Sheffield Theatres’ Together Season in 2020. Cut short by the second national lockdown, the production found a new life online through livestreaming. In late-2021, the production returned as one half of a double bill at Hackney’s Arcola Theatre, featuring in their Today I’m Wiser Festival.

Mojisola says: “We’re so excited to finally be able to take our production of Here’s What She Said To Me on tour. Since its first staging in 2020, we always intended to bring the production to audiences across the country. 

“This is our most ambitious tour to date. Not only will this be the most venues we’ve ever included on a tour, but we’re also continuing to utilise our online streaming site to allow our work to be accessible to audiences across the UK and in our international community. 

“After the challenges of the past 18 months, it feels particularly special to be taking a production across the UK, including rural venues. We’re hoping that the scale and length of the tour allows us to develop a touring model in order to build a sustainable future for touring our work and thereby increase representation on our stages.”

Utopia Theatre in Here’s What She Said To Me, York Theatre Royal, March 17 and 18, 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

More Things To Do in and around York for Grayson Perry’s ‘normal people’. List No. 47, courtesy of The Press, York

What’s up Duck? The Dead Ducks sketch comedy troupe head for Theatre@41 Monkgate, York

CLOWNS, ominous things, Grayson, James, tango, chamber music, horrible British history and watercolours in teamwork add up to shows aplenty for Charles Hutchinson and normal people alike to check out.

Sketch comedy show of the week: The Dead Ducks: Ducks Out Of Water, Theatre@41 Monkgate, York, tomorrow (3/9/2021), 8pm

UNIVERSITY of York Comedy Society sketch troupe The Dead Ducks make their Theatre@41 debut with Ducks Out Of Water as a cast of five serves up fun scenes that range from the relatable to the ridiculous.

Be prepared for completely original content in a humorous mix of parody and farce with a delectable side order of top-notch acting.

Look out for pirates, cowboys, clowns and assorted animals, alongside Winnie the Pooh, Sherlock Holmes and Mickey Mouse “like you have never seen them before”. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk/events/.

Sunset Gazing, by Suzanne McQuade, on show at Village Gallery, Colliergate, York

Exhibition of the week: Suzanne McQuade, Touch Of Tranquillity, Village Gallery, Colliergate, York, until Octoger 23; open Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 4pm

LEEDS watercolourist Suzanne McQuade quit her long-standing customer service job five years ago to take the plunge and become a full-time artist.

“Using watercolours is like teamwork; I have to allow the watercolour to move and merge, and utilise the patterns it creates,” says Suzanne, who loves how this medium’s translucency enables light to flood into her landscapes and seascapes.

Drawing inspiration from the British countryside and coastline, she paints what she finds captivating, from a dramatic sky to underwater rocks. “I try to make the scene in front of me to be as beautiful as possible,” she says.

Alexander Wright: Performing Small, Small Ominous Things with Megan Drury at Theatre At The Mill, Stillington

Open-air theatre show of the week: Small Small Ominous Things, Theatre At The Mill, Stillington Mill, near York, Saturday, 8pm

LOOK out for a tiny red gun hidden in the grass; a picture of a puppy eating a toy dinosaur; a dull feeling in the pit of your stomach; a bug burrowing into your skin.

Welcome to a late-night mix of stories, tales and unsettling considerations from partners Megan Drury and Alexander Wright, Australian actor, writer and creative artist and North Yorkshire writer, theatre-maker and visionary facilitator respectively.

Gather around the fire as they collaborate for the first time live At The Mill, bringing small, small ominous things out into late-summer’s fading light. Box office: tickettailor.com/events/atthemill/

Making a splash: The new Normal for artist Grayson Perry, performing on tour at York Barbican

Who-knows-what-to-expect gig of the week: Grayson Perry: A Show For Normal People, York Barbican, Monday, 7.30pm

IN his own words, despite being an award-winning artist, Bafta-winning TV presenter, Reith lecturer and best-selling author, Grayson Perry is a normal person – and just like other normal people, he is “marginally aware that we’re all going to die”.

Cue Grayson Perry: A Show For Normal People, where Grayson takes you through an enlightening, eye-watering evening wherein this kind of existentialism descends from worthiness to silliness. “You’ll leave safe and warm in the knowledge that nothing really matters anyway,” his show patter promises.

Grayson asks, and possibly answers, these big questions in a show “sure to distract you from the very meaninglessness of life in the way only a man in a dress can.” Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Home, James? Briefly, yes, when rehearsing at Broughton Hall, near Skipton. Scarborough Open Air Theatre awaits. Picture: Lewis Knaggs

Gig of the week outside York: James, Scarborough Open Air Theatre, September 9, gates open at 6pm

WHERE better for James to play a summer show in the wake of releasing their 2021 single Beautiful Beaches than at Scarborough Open Air Theatre.

The Manchester legends will be combining myriad anthemic favourites with selections from their “sweet 16th” album, All The Colours Of You, released in June.

Fronted by Clifford-born Tim Booth, James are completing a hattrick of Scarborough OAT visits after shows in May 2015 and August 18. Box office: scarboroughopenairtheatre.com

Prima Vocal Ensemble artistic director Ewa Salecka with Misatango composer Martin Palmeri

Well worth the wait: Misatango: Prima’s Tenth Anniversary Celebration, Temple Hall, York St John University, Lord Mayor’s Walk, York, September 11, 7.30pm

AFTER a year’s delay, Prima Vocal Ensemble director Ewa Salecka is thrilled to be holding the York choir’s tenth anniversary concert at last at a socially distanced Temple Hall.

At the concert’s core will be “the fabulous Misa a Buenos Aires, Misatango, an exhilarating fusion of Tango and Latin Mass”, by Argentinian composer Martín Palmeri, performed with the Mowbray Orchestra string quartet, bandoneon virtuoso Julian Rowlands, pianist Greg Birch and mezzo-soprano soloist Lucy Jubb. Box office: primavocalensemble.com.

Tim Lowe: York Chamber Music Festival director and cellist

Festival of the month: York Chamber Music Festival, September 16 to 18

CANADIAN pianist Angela Hewitt plays YCMF’s opening recital on September 16 and joins fellow festival artists Anthony Marwood and Pablo Hernan, violins, Lilli Maijala, viola, and Tim Lowe, cellist, for the closing gala concert on September 18, both at the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York.

Marwood, Hernan, Maijala and Lowe play string quartets by Haydn, Mendelssohn and Schumann at the NCEM on September 17.

Festival director Lowe joins pianist John Paul Ekins for the first 1pm concert at the Unitarian Chapel, St Saviourgate, on September 17; on the next lunchtime, Ekins plays works that connect Beethoven and Liszt. Box office: tickets@ncem.co.uk.

The Horrible Histories poke fun at Barmy Britain at the Grand Opera House, York, in October

History in the re-making: The Horrible Histories in Barmy Britain, Grand Opera House, York, October 21 to 24

CAN you beat battling Boudicca? What if a Viking moved in next door? Would you lose your heart or head to horrible Henry VIII? Can evil Elizabeth entertain England?

Will Parliament survive gunpowder Guy? Dare you stand and deliver to dastardly Dick Turpin? Escape the clutches of Burke and Hare and move to the groove with party Queen Victoria?

So many questions for The Horrible Histories’ Live On Stage team to answer with the aid of the 3D illusions of Bogglevision as skulls hover, dams burst and missiles fly into the family audience. For tickets for Birmingham Stage Company’s eye-popping, gruesome, scary and unbelievable trip through British history, go to atgtickets.com/york.

Bite-sized Q & A with…Ashleigh J Mills on their Love Bites piece at York Theatre Royal

Ashleigh J Mills: Exploring and digesting lived experience of life on the margins

THE Love Season will soon set hearts pulsing at York Theatre Royal, where the Step 3 reopening will make its mark with Love Bites: a love letter to live performance and a toast to the city’s creative talent.

More than 200 artists from a variety of art forms applied for £1,000 love-letter commissions to be staged on May 17 – the first day that theatres can reopen after restrictions are lifted – and May 18.

The 22 short pieces selected will be performed each night at 8pm under the overall direction of Theatre Royal creative director Juliet Forster. Each “bite” will take hold for five minutes.

In the fifth in a series of CharlesHutchPress Q&As, Ashleigh J Mills [they/them] has five minutes to discuss their  Love Bite, In Progress.

ASHLEIGH [they/them] is a Black, non-binary and unapologetically autistic creator, calling themselves Angry Black Changeling on their Twitter account. Politically and poetically minded, their work seeks to explore and digest their lived experience of life on the margins. They believe that within resistance lies creation. They are a work in progress.

How did you hear about Love Bites, Ashleigh?

“Henry Raby, York’s resident punk poet, tagged me in the call out on Twitter. As someone who dips in and out of York’s poetry scene, he probably recognised that it’d be definitely something I’d be interested in! And I was!”

What is your connection with York?

“I moved to York almost eight years ago now. Initially for university, I’ve attended both York St John and the Uni of York in the past. But really, I’ve made my home there. I’ve got partners and a cat and everything!”

What will feature in your Love Bite, In Progress, and why? 

“In Progress is a poem I’ve created as a love letter to words and to the complex and tricksy process of learning who you are and who you’re going to be. I’ve kept a Good Words List for over four years now: a list of words I don’t know, learn and don’t want to forget. Using those words, I’ve created a piece about lockdown-inflicted self-reflections.”

You believe that “within resistance lies creation”.  Discuss further…

“We live in a world of oppressive power structures. I’m a person who is Black, queer, trans, autistic, and disabled. As such, my existence will always function as a form of resistance – whether or not I opt into that.
“I think there are a myriad of ways to navigate straddling so many intersections, but for me, poetry and art is my primary outlet and communication tool. It helps me filter and process my own experiences and find similar community, which is an endlesssly important thing when any one of those facets of my identity can implicitly result in isolation. I believe, as Audre Lorde once wrote, “poetry is not a luxury”.

In lockdown, what have you missed most about theatre?

“I’ve been quite privileged in terms of lockdown and theatre. I’m studying a professional acting MA at ALRA North [Academy of Live and Recorded Arts, in Wigan, Manchester]. While lockdown has undoubtedly impacted us, it’s also been sprinkled with times I’ve been able to get into a (Covid-safe) room and create with my small cohort. It’s been a relief, an adventure and a very stressful time all in one!

“I’ve missed being able to explore new places and theatres and see new experimental and exciting ways of working! However, I’m pleased that accessibility within theatre has come into the mainstream awareness and contention.

“I hope the trend for more accessible theatre continues as more venues begin to reopen their doors. Like poetry, theatre and art should not be a luxury! I hope the future holds a new way of doing things that doesn’t negate the widened access lockdown has inspired!”

What’s coming next for you?

“I’m heading into my final seven months of my actor training. So hopefully I’ll finish that and get a certificate to prove it!

“More seriously, I hope to unearth a way of making art that I can access holistically. I often receive feedback that I’m too intellectual or academic. But really, I feel that this is a symptom of existing as I do. When your existence is politicised, people often assume that when you speak from experience, you’re trying to root a social theory or make it accessible. I’m not. I’m just expressing myself as best I know how.

“In summary, I want to work with new people and find new ways of accessing creativity. I want to act. I want to write. I want to continue exploring this new-found joy of play. There’s much I want to do! So we shall see what the future holds when we get to it.”

What would be the best way to spend five minutes if you had a choice?

“My dream five minutes would be being inside on a rainy Sunday afternoon, with my cat, Franklin, on my lap. I’d have a coffee from the local fancy coffee shop, soft music would play in the background, and I’d be able to just sit, and be, and read a book from my books-to-read shelf without thinking about work, or deadlines, or ‘being productive’.”

Tickets cost Pay What You Feel at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or on 01904 623568.

What’s in store for 2021? “Aliens, man, definitely aliens,” warns York Open Studios artist and B-movie buff Lincoln Lightfoot

Day Of The Dinosaurs, oil painting, work in progress, by Lincoln Lightfoot

INFLUENCED by the gloriously ridiculous B-movie imagery of the Fifties and Sixties, York artist Lincoln Lightfoot questions what might be in store for 2021.

You can see his humorously absurdist answers when 28-year-old Lincoln makes his York Open Studios debut this summer, after the 20th anniversary show was moved from April to July 10/11 and 17/18.

His digital-print images and oil paintings take the broad theme of surreal encounters with beasts that appear in recognisable locations: not so much King Kong climbing the Empire State Building in New York as a tentacled dayglo Creature From The Bottom Of The Ouse attacking a bridge in York.

Born in Hartlepool in 1992, the son of a school head of art & design, Lincoln was always fascinated by art, heading to York St John University to study Fine Art, whereupon the city became the centre of his work for those three years.

It continues to occupy that top spot in his art chart, his digital prints and paintings stalking York’s streets and passageways, our heritage resonating in the present.

Here, Lincoln discusses his name, his art, B-movies, 21st century Surrealism and his love of York with CharlesHutchPress.

York artist Lincoln Lightfoot: Making his York Open Studios debut in July

How did your wonderfully alliterative name Lincoln Lightfoot come about?
I have an American mother from Chicago, which people are often quick to assume is the reason for my name (Abe Lincoln). However, it was my father who came up with it.

“‘Lincoln’ is Old English, meaning ‘the place by the pool’, and I was born in Hartlepool, which has the same meaning. My Dad loves to explain this…and gets an eye roll from me!”

What were your first artistic steps?
“When I was very young, as a family we would go to the beach and this would normally mean one thing: sandcastle building. We would build these embarrassingly big sandcastles with huge trenches around them.

“I was always fascinated by art. I loved to create and still do. My Dad was the head of art & design at my secondary school in Middlesbrough. This often meant staying late in the art department with my younger brother, creating and developing our GCSE and A-level Fine Art coursework. We’d make fantasy towers and giant killer plants. Exciting topics devised by my father.”

Describe those facilities…

“It was a large art department with four purpose-built art classrooms and a vast variety of exciting materials with exciting visual stimuli. There were masks from different cultures, stained-glass panels, tapestries, machine bits, musical instruments, giant shells, tropical plants and stuffed animals. No wall was left bare.”

“I’m in awe of York Minster, the intricate beauty of the architecture and our overwhelming insignificance next to it,” says Lincoln Lightfoot. This work is entitled Minster Flypast

What was your first experience of York?
“My grandparents used to take me and my brother on caravan trips. I remember staying at Rowntree Park a number of times. I loved the untouched feel of the city, the idea that things within the city had been there for hundreds of years. I still can’t get enough of it.

“Every time I’m in town, I see something new, something that fascinates me. I’m often left saying, ‘How come I haven’t seen that before?’.

“I’m in awe of York Minster, the intricate beauty of the architecture and our overwhelming insignificance next to it.”


Why did you choose to study at York St John University?

“I initially applied to Edinburgh School of Art and Glasgow School of Art. At the age of 18, I was quite confident in my artistic ability. Probably too confident, seeing as I had decided there was no need to do a foundation year prior to applying. I didn’t put enough effort into my art portfolio and didn’t make the cut.

“The idea was to poke fun at the absurdity of mankind,” says Lincoln Lightfoot, explaining why he dressed as a ringmaster at the York Wheel . “I held a hamster cage with a hamster in it and talked nonsense to anyone who asked me what I was doing”

“My next choice was York St John. I’d chosen the university because I loved the city and I knew they offered a Fine Art course. Other than this, I didn’t know too much about the university itself, but I quickly realised I’d made a great decision and what followed were some of the best years of my life.

“York St John was a second home and a uniquely tightly-knit community. I joined the YSJ Basketball Club. I grew socially more than anything else, while falling more in love with the city. I enjoyed its history, its beautiful quad and ‘Archie’s days’ [a YSJ tradition at the end of every semester].”

When and where did you first exhibit in the city?
“After initial exhibitions at York St John’s gallery spaces in my first year, inspired by the art of Futurist Performance, I dressed as a ringmaster in front of the Yorkshire Wheel: a giant Ferris wheel located in front of the Principal York hotel (from 2011 to 2013).

“The idea was to poke fun at the absurdity of mankind. I held a hamster cage with a hamster in it and talked nonsense to anyone who asked me what I was doing.”

 
What medium did you choose for your final project at York St John?

“Performance Art. In my final year, the York St John basketball team, a bunch of 6ft-plus young men, including myself, dressed up in black suits, with bowler hats and briefcases.

Towards The Metaphysical, a performance art piece by Lincoln Lightfoot, for his final-year project at York St John University

“We covered our faces with women’s black tights and did a ‘work commute’ at 7am. Flooding the city with faceless businessmen and getting escorted out of York railway station by the police for obvious reasons.

“This happening was documented and used for my 3rd Year degree show. My businessmen flooded the opening night, to the annoyance of my other peers.”


Where and when did you last exhibit in the city?
“In Summer 2019, I exhibited a series of surreal prints at Spark:York. Prior to that, the work had made a debut at the Fossgate Social.

“I currently have the series of prints adorning the walls of Rehab Piccadilly and a giant Godzilla painting over the top of a Tour de Yorkshire poster in Micklegate Social.”

What does the city of York conjure in your mind, if you had to sum it up?
“It’s a story-book city, conjuring up tales of the past. Walking through its streets, your creative mind can just let loose and go to work. It’s not hard to imagine incredible things happening there because they already have.”

They say that if you don’t leave York after three years, the city will have you in its grip and you will never say goodbye! True or a load of jackson pollocks?

“Completely true. I am testament to the statement.”

Artist Lincoln Lightfoot with his Tour de Yorkshire artwork, Godzilla, at Micklegate Social, York

York has to live with the chain of history around its neck: your work makes us look at it in a different way in the tradition of artists being outsiders. Discuss…

“Lots of artists are drawn to the city as a subject because of its historical architecture and picturesque views. It’s a path well-trodden. I’m currently playing around with a series of giant oil paintings that would strive to be similar to the style of [English Romantic painter, illustrator and engraver] John Martin’s biblical end-of-the-world scenes. I guess in some ways, if executed with a high enough level of skill, they could be seen to poke fun at high art.

“I love the stories of John Martin’s work; for contemporaries it would be like a modern-day visit to the cinema, maybe even more emotive. People would scream before them in horror. (Ironically his brother, ‘Mad Martin’, was a non-conformist who set fire to York Minster on February 1 1829). 

“People often go in search of escapism, fascinated by unconventional ideas or elaborate fantasy worlds. That’s what makes B-movie poster art so attractive. To strip it back to a recognisable location can only make it more appealing.” 


Is that what drew you to your distinctive subject matter of imposing B-movie imagery on familiar York landmarks?

“The city of York has such impressive views to inspire thousands of artists already. I’m fascinated by myths, legends, UFOs and other sightings of strange creatures; with these unlikely creatures in mind, I became consumed with surreal thoughts.

Minster Crafts, as depicted by B-movie enthusiast Lincoln Lightfoot

“My friends galvanised my thinking and would message me, ‘Hey, have you thought of this, what if….?!’. It ultimately brings you back to this child-like state of excitement and wonder.

“I find what makes it enjoyable for the public is if both landmark and mythical creature are well-known. I love it when my art gives people that moment of ‘closure’. In particular, when kids drag their parents over, pointing, ‘Look! Look!’. I sometimes think they get it more than the adults.” 

Which Fifties and Sixties’ B-movies have inspired you and why?

“My home in York’s South Bank is full of key inspirations to my work. The first B-movie poster to grab my attention was Attack Of The 50ft Woman by Reynold Brown. I saw it in a vintage shop when I was in London. It was an A1 copy. My Attack Of The 50ft Rubber Ducky! paid homage to that.

“I love most of them, though my girlfriend has put a limit on the amount I’m allowed to hang around our house!

“I have Invasion Of The Saucer-Men and La Terra Contro I Dischi Volanti, which translates as something like The Earth Against Flying Saucers. These have inspired my own versions of Alien-style invasions.

Inspired by Reynold Brown: Attack Of The 50ft Rubber Ducky, by Lincoln Lightfoot

“I also love the 1996 film Mars Attacks! I have an It Came From Beneath The Sea poster, which inspired my Creature From The Bottom Of The Ouse! and The Corn Exchange Creature!, a giant coiling, twisting centipede.

“Then, of course I have the Attack Of The 50ft Woman poster, so I have now reached the limit of wall-space.”

What else is filling that space?

“David Blaine’s Beneath The Below poster; a Chicago World’s Fair from 1933, and an antique original tourist poster from 1907, Healthy Hartlepool, which reminds me of the golden age of North Eastern Railways.

“I love the poster for From Hell It Came, a movie about a giant killer tree. The movie trailer is hilarious. As Art & Design department lead at a school in Sunderland, it links to a GCSE project I do called Beware Of The Plants. A design entertainment crafts style project that ends with an installation of terrifying, organic, plant-like creatures in the school’s greenhouses.”

The Corn Exchange Creature!, wherein a centipede goes on the rampage in Leeds, by Lincoln Lightfoot

Far too many happenings/events/experiences are described as surreal but your work absolutely fits the description. How would you define surreal/surrealism today?

“Contemporary Surrealism addresses people’s worries and stresses and provides an escape into an alternative world and helps us cope with anxiety in safe and sometimes humorous ways in these times of isolation and stress.

“It differs from the pioneers of the 1920s and 1930s with the advances in film and graphic media. We have the tools to blur reality with fantasy even more convincingly.

“Freudian psychology, Giorgio de Chirico and Romanticism originally fed the ideas of the Surrealist movement, but the real spark to the zeitgeist seems to have been the horrors of World War One and born out of Italian Futurism.”

You create art of the absurd, the ridiculous, your art being playful yet playing on our worst nightmares too. Discuss…

“I’ve always believed that through the consumption of art, we can deal with nightmares and perceived dangers safely. As children, we confront and make sense of a dangerous world through fairy stories and nursery rhymes.

“Young people wish to be told of danger through anecdote and myth in a safe space. I attempt to continue this addiction and appeal to adults too.”

A spaceman adrift in York: Land Of The Lost, by Lincoln Lightfoot

You say “high art co-exists with popular culture” in your work. Does that make it 21st century Pop Art? It certainly makes it eye-catching to shoppers…

“Yes, it sits within the definition of Pop Art traditions, which, of course, began in London 1957, before New York. Ultimately, the smaller works use the ideas and graphicacy of Pop, though without advertising.

“I’m moving into more traditional techniques with oil on canvas that seek to blur the boundaries.”

How have you coped with life in Lockdown x 3? Has it had an impact on your work in these fear-filled times?

“Life in lockdown has been kind when contrasting with others. It has afforded me time to reflectand take stock of where I might be going as an artist and art educator.

“Walking around York, seeing the streets and alleyways otherwise populated with people, now deserted, has reinforced my practice in a profound way. Many of the documented photographs I took could lead to future ideas.

“Initially, it’s a time where the word ‘surreal’ may be justified. I’m still expecting to wake up in March 2020.”

You have been told: The Truth Is Out There!, by Lincoln Lightfoot

Does your own artwork influence your teaching of Art & Design in Sunderland?

“I’m creating art as much as possible and often use it to inspire my students, developing exciting and enriching programmes of study.”

Why did you want to take part in York Open Studios? What opportunities does it present to you?

“I’ve wanted to do it for a long time. It’s a fantastic opportunity to platform artwork and to meet new people. Only now am I happy with a body of exciting work and have space to exhibit it.” 

More than 140 artists and craft-makers will be opening their doors for York Open Studios. How do you rate the York art scene?

“York’s art scene is forever growing, with an increasing number of creative spaces and events across the city. It’s alive, vibrant and has everything for anyone, regardless of age, background and appetite.”

“Watch out for more fantastical beings invading York’s ancient places,” warns Lincoln Lightfoot, creator of Micklegate Mayhem, Christmas

What’s coming next for you in the art world?

“Watch out for more fantastical beings invading York’s ancient places.

I’m now working on larger-scale oil paintings that use chiaroscuro not associated with Pop Art, but use blending and glazing. The best of these will be made into Giclee limited-edition prints.”

One final question: your York Open Studios profile says you “question what might be in store for 2021?”. So, Lincoln, what exactly is in store for 2021 for you and the rest of us?
“Aliens, man, definitely aliens. There are more influential individuals making statements and releasing information by the day.” 

Lincoln Lightfoot will be opening his doors at 118 Brunswick Street, South Bank, York, for York Open Studios 2021 on July 10/11 only; 10am to 5pm. For more information on Lincoln, go to lincolnlightfoot.co.uk; for details of all York Open Studios artists, visit yorkopenstudios.co.uk.

Bridge attack: The Creature From The Bottom Of The Ouse!, by Lincoln Lightfoot


What does a composer do in lockdown when the world stops? David Lancaster wrote a digital premiere for 120 musicians

David Lancaster: Darkness into light in his world premiere of Eclipse at HIF Weekender

DAVID Lancaster, cutting-edge composer, York Late Music projects manager and head of York St John University’s music department, is back on course for the new academic year in the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Going smoothly so far, but all fingers are crossed,” he says, when asked “How is the new term going?”.

“It’s the start of term like no other, and we’re aware that we could have an outbreak and/or be shut down at a moment’s notice, which does tend to push up the anxiety levels! Still, here goes for week 2.”

A university term “like no other” for Dr Lancaster continues the unpredictable path of a start-stop-restart year like no other, when all the usual channels of performance were removed overnight under the lockdown strictures imposed on March 23.

Out with the old order, in with the new, as David’s commission for Harrogate International Festivals, Eclipse, became the conversation piece of the hastily arranged inaugural virtual HIF Weekender, when 10,000 people from 60 countries viewed the online line-up of free arts events, exclusive clips and highlights from the July 23-26 programme showcased on BBC Radio 4.

David’s digital commission came to fruition against the stultifying background of lockdown. “The lockdown has proved to be a difficult time for all musicians, particularly for freelance performers, and the members of bands and choirs unable to work together,” he says.

“The impact on composers – who often work alone, in any case – has been significant for different reasons. All performances of my pieces since mid-March have been postponed or cancelled, and the uncertainties surrounding concerts have meant that performers, venues and festivals have been reluctant to make any firm plans for the future.”

Commissions dried up and deadlines, so important to David in providing motivation to complete pieces, disappeared. “Most of all, I miss the interaction and discussion with other musicians that takes place in planning meetings and rehearsals, and in the post-mortem after performances, when so many ideas are nurtured and developed,” he says.

Hence his delight – if trepidation too – at being approached by Harrogate International Festivals’ chief executive, Sharon Canavar, and board member Craig Ratcliffe, director of music at St John Fisher Catholic High School, with a “really great idea” for a new piece.

“Put simply, they wanted a short, fanfare-like composition for brass and percussion that could be recorded remotely by many players, locally, nationally and worldwide, that could be re-assembled in the studio to make a ‘live’ performance,” says David.

“Local brass bands would be contacted, and trumpet virtuoso Mike Lovatt – a  good friend of the Harrogate festival – had very kindly agreed to record a solo track.”

Lovatt was a stellar signing, being professor of trumpet at the Royal Academy of Music and principal trumpet for both the John Wilson Orchestra and BBC Big Band.

Explaining the choice of title for his world premiere, David says: “We chose Eclipse to represent the idea that the Harrogate festival couldn’t take place this year – the concert halls, theatres and community venues had ‘gone dark’ – but that next year, the light would return and the festival and all its bright lights could resume.”

David wrote quickly, finishing the piece in only five days.  “Oddly enough, I had previously composed a fanfare for a ceremonial occasion at the university – the installation of  Reeta Chakrabarti as the new Chancellor – which had been postponed right at the start of lockdown, so I was able to draw upon and develop some of the rhythmic ideas from that piece in Eclipse,” he says.

“There was lots of material on my ‘cutting-room floor’ that I could rifle through, re-cycle and add to for the Harrogate festival piece. I was working on other things at the time, so writing Eclipse was a very pleasant interruption.”

Lockdown and the strange new world of Covid-19 2020 had an impact on David’s composition. “Obviously we all think about then time we are going through, and one of the reasons for being a composer is to get a better understanding of the world we live in as we hope to get back to some kind of normal when we can return to contact,” he says.

Mike Lovatt: Playing trumpet as one of 120 musicians assembled remotely to perform David Lancaster’s Eclipse for Harrogate International Festivals’ HIF At Home festival

Eclipse “isn’t really a conventional fanfare,” suggests David. “I suppose there’s a hint of melancholy that reflects the current mood, but the ending is triumphant, and I hope that will serve us well when this piece is performed live, in front of an audience, when Harrogate International Festival returns in 2021,” he says.

“It would be lovely if Eclipse could complete its journey from darkness to light that way, when things have been so gloomy.”

More than 120 musicians joined forces remotely to record tracks, including players from Opera North, West End musicals and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, complemented by brass players from Qatar, Canada, the United States, South Korea and New Zealand, together with local brass bands and orchestras.

“I was so pleased that so many people got involved in putting Eclipse together,” says David. “When Harrogate International Festival first commissioned it, their intention was to use local brass bands from Ripon, Knaresborough and Harrogate, and then we started getting top players from West End musicals, Opera North and the RPO, with Craig using his contacts to draw in so many musicians.”

Eclipse subsequently was live-streamed for HIF At Home at 6pm on July 24 and made available on the festival website from the end of July.

Meanwhile, serendipitously for David, the new, alienating working conditions necessitated by the pandemic have chimed with a creative project he had in mind already. “Coronavirus has forced musicians to adapt to remote working, often making music independently of one another. Ironically, this is something I had been thinking about in 2019, long before lockdown,” he says.

“I wanted to explore asynchronous rhythmic elements in my music: passages in which players are not governed by a single, unifying pulse, but have opportunities to move apart from one another, to play independently, either individually or in small groups. Little did I suspect that I would be composing this music during a global pandemic in which we were all forced into working apart from one another.

“I have always been intrigued and fascinated by the non-verbal communication that takes place during ensemble performance: the way in which players send – and receive and interpret – visual and musical signals, and I wanted to incorporate some of these ideas into the fabric of a piece.”

The resulting work, Before I Fall Asleep, Again, The City…, takes its title from the first line of a novel by French author Alain Robbe-Grillet, whose use of multiple perspectives mirrors David’s own creative process. “It reflects my concept and it casts my piece into the domain of a recurring, if half-forgotten, memory,” he says.

“As always in my music, there is plentiful repetition; ideas move into the foreground then recede, only to return later in different contexts. I like the analogy of a person wandering aimlessly around a town, during which they regularly encounter sights previously seen from different directions, angles and perspectives: they experience familiar sights, unfamiliar sights, and the familiar ones in new guises.

“Memory plays an important role, so in the music I have tried to ensure that there are elements that will be recognised when they reappear, even if they are never quite the same each time.”

A research grant from York St John University enabled David to approach the new ensemble Trilogy with a view to performing it. “I was delighted when they agreed, but the ongoing pandemic has meant that all arrangements need to be provisional for the moment, though if all goes well, we are looking to perform it in York and London next year – and I can’t wait to hear it.”

As and when those performances can take place, the Trilogy performers will be placed as far apart as possible on stage.  “Not in different rooms, or buildings, as they have to be able to co-ordinate, but we want to use the space they are in to the maximum,” says David.

“We hope to do it as part of the York Late Music 2021 programme in the St Saviourgate Unitarian Chapel next May, and we’re still hoping to perform it in London next summer, in June.”

David is working on two more projects too. “One is a piece for a solo violinist, Steve Bingham, who works extensively with live electronics,” he says. “I’ve never done anything like this before, so I’m firing off lots of questions to Steve.

“The other is a longer-term project, where I’m setting the sonnets of John Donne. Last year, two of his Holy Sonnets were performed in Oxford Town Hall – Death, Be Not Proud and At The Round Earth’s Imagined Corner – by Oxford Harmonic Choir, who now want me to do more.”