'Babaloose' and 'BART WALTZ' were two art collectives that came together to take part in GOHAF 2017 at the 'Laurieston Arena' with the performance 'Babawaltz': a celebratory maypole dance that brought together performers and audience as part of the opening ceremony for the festival.
They last performed together in 2017 and since then have dispersed across the country. We caught up with some of the artists involved (Bryony Rose, Lilian Ptáček, Lewis Prosser, Jessie Whiteley, Katrina Cobain and Robert Thomas James Mills) on zoom to reminisce about their work, the festival, discover what they have been up to since that performance and how the pandemic has impacted them.
Babawaltz and the creative processes within the collective
'Babaloose' was a bi-monthly creative platform founded by Lewis Prosser where GSA students, recent graduates and others could come together to try out performance and writing, intentionally removing any sort of strict curation and embracing an element of risk. 'BART WALTZ' were a group of Glasgow based artists and musicians, who explored the need for communal enjoyment and shared celebration within our society by staging the recurring celebratory event 'Bartholomew's Waltz'. 'Babawaltz' was the product of this exciting collaboration. Led by the idea that ‘the audience is the headline act’ the audience was encouraged to join the performers in a fun and colourful dance ceremony.
Lewis: "Our role was really to just make people not feel self-conscious about being an audience member and to create more of a mob really, you know, but in a positive way."
Chaos was embraced as an essential element of the performance, emerging from a combination of extravagant ideas and the unknown elements brought by the audience; embodying the collectives’ usual performance style which they describe as:
Robert: "Doing something almost cult-like and then just eventually getting the audience involved for a kind of crescendo of activity. It's like... you kind of ease them in but then suddenly, everyone's a bit over their head, so you just kind of embrace the chaos."
Babaloose prized itself on being ‘devoid of judgement’. Artists were given the freedom to contribute and try out their diverse creative skills: some designed the sets, others the costumes, the spoken parts or the music. This creative process and the group dynamic was reflected in the randomness and energy of the live performance. The elaborate scenery and costumes were produced on a shoestring materials budget with all participants contributing their time and skills in a voluntary capacity. They happily recall anecdotes of the ‘DIY’ and low budget nature of their collaborative performance, which was very much in step with the rest of the festival.
Lewis: "Playing to people's strengths was really good. Considering the performance, like a bucket that everyone can sort of put their skills into. It was really... It was amazing, really, thinking back on it. How monumental it all was on such a budget."
How has the pandemic affected you and your practice?
It seems that luckily, aside from the obvious negative impacts of the pandemic, lockdowns and isolation have allowed the artists from the two collectives the freedom to learn new skills and discover new potential practices.
Lewis: "When you're working for something all the time, you're always playing on the skills that you've got, rather than taking the time to learn new skills... During the pandemic, I have focused much more on making objects as art because that's something within my control. Before the pandemic, I would have totally been, ‘I'm 100% a performer’ and now, I'm like, a basket maker!"
Robert: "I couldn't do live digital performance, it kind of takes away all the joy for me. I think I've also moved on to maybe more of a paper-based practice, just out of necessity, but also just kind of not even a practice just like drawing for the sake of my peacefulness and my mind."
Bryony: "I feel like I've caught up with my work because, for a few years, I always felt like I was behind. It was always like trying to catch up with myself."
Jessie: "it's just so much nicer, working slower, and giving yourself a long time to make stuff and a period of time to let things evolve. Just the speed in which we're expected to produce can be quite unhealthy sometimes."
The privilege of time and imagining a route towards a more accessible art world
Of course, time is a privilege, especially for artists whose revenue and funding are often tied to short term projects. The artists shared some of their criticisms around access to arts funding.
Robert: "I think the problem is, it's the people who already have money and privilege who know how to get more money and privilege. And the people who actually are marginalized or working-class or have something already against them (which makes them tired), do they choose to make a practice with no resources? Or do they try and go for the resources and then they can't make a practice?"
Katrina: "Most of us went to art school, or, we all certainly did in the group. And that's like, what, third level education? and we can't understand the [funding] form like... who's meant to be able to understand this? You know, because it is so confusing and convoluted and the amount of hours you put in, for nothing. That's why a lot of people just give up in the first instance."
Lewis: "The added stress of having to do that time and time again and getting rejected, rejected and often without reason."
Robert: "The way that I view a positive future for arts funding is kind of just more like funding for everyone. I mean, I'm basically describing universal basic income, if everyone had their basic needs met they could do what they want and then work more if they needed more money. And I think there should be a bit more pressure on not just paying people to be artists, but just like, supporting everyone's basic needs. It isn't just artists that need funding? Like everyone needs their needs met. And I think with that would come more opportunities and more kind of focus so people can actually do things like organise open house festival or focus on their interests or their desires to build upon their community
Glasgow Open House Festival: what does it mean to you?
For the two collectives, GOHAF stands apart in its ability to exhibit works not likely to be chosen by other artistic spaces. They picked up on the non-hierarchical structure of the programme and the creative freedom this provided for participants.
Katrina: "The thing that I quite liked was you were seeing a lot of work that maybe isn't normally on show? or represented, or doesn't get picked up through the kind of more, I guess, regular methods of representation."
Lewis: "People go way more wild.
Robert: "It's not that people don't care, but there's less... there's not like a pressure of 'Oh, I've got this opportunity I betterlike, do what I think is trendy' "
Lewis: "The professionalism is removed. So you don't stop yourself from doing certain things, because you think, 'oh, a certain audience won't like this'... you just kind of go for it. And I think that's why it was always so fun to see, like students that were exhibiting because they'd always sort of watered down their work for degree shows or whatever. But then you'd see it in a sort of raw form in the open house festival. And it was a lot more vibrant, I think"
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Original music composition for 'Babawaltz' by Max Syedtollan of BART WALTZ