IBT17 reflections from Helen Cole

Written by Helen Cole

In the development of IBT17 we looked out into our world; a world kicking and screaming towards change.

IBT17 gathered thousands of people together – artists, producers, participants, audiences and thinkers in one place for 5 days. These people came from across our own city of Bristol, from the UK and from across five continents. Because being in the same space and time seems more critical than ever right now.

The work of the artists in the IBT17 programme felt tactical. Shocking, cajoling, seducing or surprising – each work acting as a reminder of the uniqueness, beauty, power and grace of each one of us. And so gradually over the intense five days of the festival we let our armour down.

Rita Marcalo of Instant Dissidence spent 5 days in the bitter cold out on the docks of Bristol with open arms inviting us to dance with a stranger. Through their recorded voices we meet 5 people trapped on the UK’s border, fleeing oppression and war to seek asylum in the UK. Yodite, who gently tells her story across thousands of miles. Not much older than my daughter, Yodite who has left everything she knows. Yodite, whose dark eyes become Rita’s, whose movements I mirror, whose footsteps I follow, whose voice still plays in my head.

Then there’s Lucy McCormick whose show Triple Threat came on the Saturday night of the festival just when we felt we could not bear any more. Lucy who refuses to be fragile or compliant. Celebrating, owning, using her body. Taking centre stage as a political stance. Lucy, who is crafted, special and skilled. Lucy who fucks and screams and leaks all over the place. Lucy, who is ugly, messy, wild, rampant. With her crystal clear voice and face covered in chocolate she crowd surfed her way right into our hearts.

At the festival’s Symposium on Wednesday 8th Feb, we asked can Live Art UnF**ck the World? I have dedicated the last 20 years to the development of In Between Time as a public platform for the kind of art that creates a disturbance against the general scheme of things. But in these uncertain times I worry that I am not doing enough. Should I not be out there using my skills to more directly activate or lobby for change? Am I wasting my energy with this artistic stuff?

IBT17 hit in a cold snap of bitter winds and freezing nights. As the warmth of the festival’s welcome unfolded, outside its venues and alongside some of its public art works, people bedded down in Bristol’s doorways. At the festival opening at Colston Hall, Councillor Hibaq Jama announced the city as open, yet Bristol, like Britain remains divided. As Kee Hong Low from West Kowloon Cultural Partnership so eloquently said. Art cannot unf**k the world, but perhaps each of us as caring, humane individuals can. He charged us with a task. If each one of us each day of the festival bought a meal for someone who needed it what difference could we make? A mass movement of empathy and care comprised from these small, seemingly insignificant acts of kindness. How many of us did this during IBT17? I know some did. How many of us took courage from the artists of the IBT17 programme, to push against the divisions in our society, to fight against the usual rhythm of things?

IBT17 showed us that in its raw honesty, courage and humanity Art can face up to the most difficult questions. I believe in Art with urgent content, that tells stories, builds cohesion and in this way simply, subtly changes lives. Art about real people and their experiences. Real, messy, contradictory, traumatised people. People who love, trust and fight for change.

Over five days we welcomed hundreds of artists, audiences and arts professionals to Bristol. We intensely felt each others’ presence. We put our hopes, fears and doubts out there. We did indeed STAND UP, STAND OUT.

Vivian Chinasa Ezugha is swathed in a huge mask of hair that completely covers her hair and face. She stands and shivers, twisting and turning delicate fingers as she reaches out and into us. Powerful, refusing to comply, she creates a disturbance, at the heart of a growing mass of us, caring, shifting against the surface of things.

IBT17 made me love my city, love my community, possibly for the first time. It made me remember the powerful potential for resistance when we find a way to stand together.