Caro Meets Festivals Interview Spoken Word Interview

Helen Scarlett O’Neill and Harry Ross: InTransit

By | Published on Tuesday 14 June 2016


Kensington & Chelsea’s InTransit festival of ‘responsive art’ has been happening every year for a decade, so it’s entirely possible you know all about it already. That said, London’s a big place, so you might have missed it. If that’s the case, time to rectify the situation.
To enthuse you even more, and to find out some facts, I spoke to artistic production partnership O’Neill/Ross, aka Helen Scarlett O’Neill and Harry Ross, who’ve been curating the event since 2011.

CM: I know it’s ten years old, but for anyone who hasn’t yet come across InTRANSIT, can you explain what to expect from the festival?
HR&HSO: It is a festival of arts in unexpected places; a piece of invisible theatre in the street which comes from nowhere; forty tons of sand making a beach beneath a motorway; a tuition fee free art school made of milk crates.

CM: What sort of work falls into the category of ‘responsive art’?
HR&HSO: Anything which responds to an environment or situation. For example, a piece of art or performance presented in an old police station might be inspired by the colours and architecture of the building, the local history relating to it or a wider social situation related to policing.

CM: What inspired the beginnings of this annual event?
HR&HSO: This festival was brought into being by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s arts and culture service. We weren’t there, but we think the original idea was to encourage residents to explore new places in the borough, and everything was done in the spirit of movement and discovery, thus the name InTransit! They were right-on in their decision. Artworks or events involving active participation, urban exploration and immersive performance have become increasingly popular and diverse over the last ten years.

CM: What would you say have been the highlights of the last decade?
HR&HSO: We can’t speak for the early years but in the five years we’ve been involved in the festival (two as presenting companies, three as curators) our favourite so far has been the The Art|House (2015). It was a free art school made of milk crates in Powis Square. It engaged a lot of people, artists and residents, and led to a second architectural Pavilion this year, the Arc. We hope these two buildings become the first in a series of Portobello Pavilions, I suppose its north Kensington’s answer to the Serpentine Pavilion!

The Westway Beach that we made with the National Trust last year was also a bit of a game changer because it was so big, well attended and featured a lot of participation. It was a simple idea, a beach under a motorway, and it really caught people’s imaginations. We’d love to do something like that again; a large environment for people to explore and enjoy. On the much smaller end of the scale we’ve supported some brilliant ‘invisible’ theatre. We had two performers last year outside Ladbroke Grove station every morning from 8am – 9am Monday to Friday in a piece exploring joblessness. The piece was called Fast Moving Consumables and was made by the Working Party theatre company. We supported a production by Cardboard Citizens in 2014 which also challenged audiences by blurring the line between theatre and reality.

CM: Are there any particular themes for this year’s festival?
HR&HSO: Yes, the theme this year is “strange bedfellows, or the attraction of opposites”. It’s a pretty loose theme, because we want people to encourage artists to respond in a variety of ways, responding to research and evolving situations.

CM: Is there anything you are especially excited about in this year’s festival?
HR&HSO: We’re particularly excited about the Arc, our Portobello Pavilion. It is the hub of the festival and draws upon a lot of the work created in the borough over the last year. This year’s structure has been conceived by conflict artist Arabella Dorman and ties into UK Refugee week. The design twins our pavilion with structures built and used in refugee camps at this time. Her aim is “to bring a crisis of unfathomable size and complexity down to a human scale”.

During the day the Arc will host arts activities led by contributors such as recent V&A artist in residence Constantine Gras, who will draw upon his experience working among communities in areas being re-developed. In the evening, the art table will become a communal dining table where we “break bread” together with guest speakers and storytellers on a range of issues relating to “places where people live”.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about O’Neill/Ross? How did your partnership begin? What do you aim to achieve together?
HR&HSO: Our partnership officially began in 2010 when we set up the company Fruit For The Apocalypse to allow us to produce one-off experimental projects with complete strangers in derelict or disused spaces. It was really low budget stuff, but it brought us into contact with some of our most important collaborators. We had both previously been involved in Secret Cinema, and in 2011 we started designing and producing for SC pretty much non-stop. We continued our experimental collaborations in between, and that is how we began our relationship with InTRANSIT, launching the 2011 festival with a project using the derelict Commonwealth Institute (soon to be the new Design Museum). Our aims as a company are still the same. Curating InTRANSIT gives us a larger scope to do what we love; exploring spaces, involving audiences and encouraging new adventures across art forms.

CM: Will this festival keep going forever?
HR&HSO: The kind of work InTRANSIT supports is immediate and flexible but also grounded in policies which strengthen culture and communities, so there is a good chance the festival will grow with the world around it, way into the future, in some form or another! We’ve been appointed to curate the festival until 2018 at any rate.

CM: What else do you have coming up?
HR&HSO: Something related to our answer to question 2…

On a less secretive note, we’re curating a new cinema, restaurant, book and vinyl record store in London Fields – The Institute of Light, which opened the other week.

The InTransit Festival takes place in various locations in Kensington and Chelsea from 17-26 Jun. See this page here for more info on all the events.

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Photo: Helen Scarlett O’Neill