The Bedford Project, Andre Stitt

05/09/2003

 

The Bedford Project, Andre Stitt

05/09/2003

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Over the period of one year Wales-based performance artist Andre Stitt  performed a series of eight live art performances in Bedford town and the surrounding rural areas. These performances were in direct response to the town’s own unique society and culture. Each of the performances was recorded using photography and film.

01   White Trash Curry Kick

Conceived of as a piece of performance art that would examine and describe the metamorphosis that Britain’s provincial towns undergo on Saturday nights, André proposed to question alcohol-fuelled, late night revelry with a curry kick down Bedford’s High Street. Curry Kick was cancelled amidst national controversy and unprecedented interest from the tabloid and broadsheet press.

The extraordinary furore and volume of column inches created by the very idea of this performance meant that a high level of debate had taken place around the proposed performance. The discussion it generated encouraged people to question the behaviour associated with the binge drinking and youthful high jinks that is a prevalent aspect of UK town centres. It created a lively debate on the subject of the drinking and violence within British culture. The reasons for the cancellation of the event perfectly highlight the very issues that the artist’s intended performance discussed. For this reason the project was successful without the Curry Kick needing to actually take place.

02    I LOVE YOU

To celebrate St. Valentine’s Day, André  roamed the town centre with a selection of placards upon which were written proclamations of love for his fellow man. Badges with the words I Love You were handed out to passers by.

There is a widespread view that we live in unsettling times full of apocalyptic messages. Certainly nothing lasts forever.  As impermanent beings ourselves, we know and ungracefully accept this fact. One day, the end will come for our friends, our family, our neighbours, our tax auditors, and even for ourselves. Yes, even the world itself will stop spinning on its familiar axis and its property value on the open market will plummet. With all this uncertainty surrounding us, in the words of the artist, ‘…the most radical and subversive thing (he) can say right now is; ‘I Love You’.

03    PILGRIM

Pilgrim was a long durational performance within a recently refurbished house in the grounds of Bedford Museum. The artist employed diverse materials including archival photographs of Bedford life between the 1960s and 1970s, crematorium ash cans, taxidermy albino animals and photographs of tragic lives and circumstances taken from real life.

André conducted a pilgrimage back and forth between two rooms within the house. As dusk fell audiences outside were encouraged to contemplate various notions of passing through time. His beautifully poetic three-hour piece demanded love, respect and empathy as it described the passage of people through the difficult terrain that is the human experience.

 

04    FOREST

If you go down to the woods today, you’re in for a big surprise.

The performance Forest, saw several items from the Bedford Museum’s local natural history collection temporarily relocated to Marston Vale Community Forest, which is situated on the outskirts of the town. Birds of prey, captured forever by the art of taxidermy in perpetual hunting mode appeared on plinths alongside freeze-dried voles under perspex covers. Using a megaphone, Andre communicated, with evangelical enthusiasm, his own deeply personal message to nature and humanity.

The message being: be good, be kind, be careful, considerate and compassionate and, above all, tread softly.

 

05    PANACEA SOCIETY

A live performance by André to launch the remix of early recordings by the legendary Bedford rock group “Panacea”. The artist also produced a limited edition 10 inch vinyl recording to accompany his live performance. Signed copies of the record were given away to members of the public.

 

06    ORGONE ACCUMULATOR

Sited in the grounds of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, the Orgone Accumulator recreated a 1930s healing machine designed by German scientist Wilhelm Reich. Born in Austria in 1897, Reich claimed that under high magnification it could be observed that luminous blue/green globules are released by decaying food.  He described these as some form of biological ether or “Orgone Energy”. In an attempt to harness this energy Reich built apparatus big enough to sit in and it was claimed these gave noticeable healing results in the cure of mental disorders and cancer.

Apparently using an Orgone Accumulator will expand your energy field, increasing the amount of energy in all your cells and tissues and improve your immune system; it will melt away stress and impart a feeling of well-being. That said, Orgone accumulating devices are for experimental use only.

Visitors to The Cecil Higgins Art Gallery were invited to enjoy the restorative benefits of the Orgone Accumulator under the watchful eye of Dr O’Love, who was on hand to oversee safe use of the apparatus and supervise correct doses for those in need of an Orgone boost.

 

07    TWEED MAN

In a performance designed to examine how mythologies can evolve into folklore Stitt made a series of unannounced appearances during May and June, as The Tweed Man.

The Green Man, a name coined by Lady Raglan in 1939, is a mediaeval image usually found in churches.Carved in stone or wood, depicted on stained glass, illuminated manuscripts and elsewhere. He can be recognised as a face, often grotesque, with foliage sprouting from his mouth, nose, eyes or ears.   The earliest known examples are in the art of Classical Rome, from where the idea seems to have moved northwards, to be adopted by Christianity and spread far and wide along the pilgrimage routes. However, the mighty questions of whom, what, where and why – the search for a meaning behind the symbol – remain as yet unanswered. The lack of substantial evidence leaves the significance open to individual interpretation.

Dressed from head to toe in tweed, the artist made a series of physically demanding journeys through Bedfordshire exploring  ideas behind ancient fertility rites, forgotten rituals and Bedfordshire’s diverse local history. The Tweed Man performances were concerned with notions of time unfolding, cultural inheritance and mythology.

 

09     MISSING

On the 15 December 1944, Glenn Miller left Bedford in a plane for Paris, flying over the English Channel, and was never seen again. There are now three theories about how he died. The most accepted theory states that the plane crashed due to poor weather conditions. Another theory claims that the plane was shot down by a plane of unknown identity, possibly flying higher than Miller’s. The third is that he arrived in Paris, only to later die of a heart attack and the media created the story of the plane crash to keep morale up. We will never know for sure.

To commemorate the tragic demise, and last flight of Glenn Miller, Flight Officer J. S. R. ‘Nipper’ Morgan, and Lt. Col. Norman Baesel, André Stitt co-piloted a light aircraft and dropped three red carnations over Twinwood Airfield.

 

10     THE ITALIAN JOB

This performance was a unique collaboration between Bedford Creative Arts, the Italian Vice-Consulate and Hanson Brick Ltd. Bedford has the largest Italian community outside of London. Immigrants from Southern Italy and Sicily came to Bedford during the early Twentieth Century to secure work and make Bedford their home.  Within this context, Stewartby Brickworks served as an important provider of employment and its model village housed the incoming workers.

A delegation from the local Italian community accompanied Andre on a pilgrimage from Stewartby brickworks to the Italian Vice-Consulate in the town centre.  In recognition of the historic contribution made by the Italian community to the industrial and economic life of Bedford, the artist carried a hod of pre-fired bricks from Hanson Brick Ltd, which were presented to the Consulate as a symbolic gesture of respect.

Bedford Project was generously supported by Commissions East, The Arts Council of Wales, Arts Council England, East and Cardiff School of Art and Design.

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