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> > > Review: Southbank Centre's 'Festival of the World'

1 June 2012

Everything is beautiful when you don’t look down. Created by Robots. Art Installation at Southbank Centre’s Festival of the World. Photo by Linda Nylind

Colin Hambrook witnesses the launch of the Southbank Centre's 'Festival of the World' - happening from 1 June to 9 September. Overwhelmed by the range, breadth and scale of the programme, he focuses on a couple of highlights.

The outsides and insides of the 21 acre site of the Southbank Centre are now awash with public art, performance, play and eating spaces. Over the coming months there is an incredible range of visual and performing arts events, culminating in the showcasing of the Unlimited events programme of work by disabled artists, in the last few weeks of the festival.

Encapsulating ideas of London as a hub of world citizenship; London as a port; a place of transition where the arts and culture can and does transform and enrich lives, The Festival of the World has attempted to include as many cultures and as much diversity from as many communities as possible.

Taking us on a tour of the site, Participation Producer Alex Rinsler told us with glee the surprise on a colleague’s face hearing a poem in his native Gujurati tongue being relayed as part of the poetry soundscape installation on the Riverside Terrace: “We wanted the festival to reflect the ideal that ‘we are one and we are many’ – and to act as a welcome to the incredibly rich cultural diversity that the city of London is home to."

Of the numerous installations on show throughout the nooks and crannies of the site a personal favorite is a massive sculpture consisting of two figures made of recycled materials. One figure peers precariously from over the top of the Hayward Gallery, while the other climbs the side of the building. Titled ‘Everything is beautiful when you don’t look down’ it is not possible to tell which of the Robot Collective’s figures is doing the helping, and which is being helped. Are they climbing up; or are they abseiling down? Aside from the impressiveness of the sculpture, it also poses a pertinent question about who benefits who in the creative process where often the enabler becomes the enabled? Within DIsabilty Arts we've struggled to go beyond the participatory model of "arts for the disabled," that fails to recognise the richness that the disability experience can bring to the arts.

Aside from the thoughtful messages, there is a playfulness in the air which underpins the Festival of the World. You can delight in the emerging London Creature which inhabits a series of cave-like structures on the terrace near the Hayward Gallery or the hidden messages in the giant letter cubes, suspended on one side of the Royal Festival Hall. Alex Rinsler spoke with gusto of the urge to push boundaries and make the impossible happen – even down to making tens of thousands of recycled plastic milk canisters fire-proof for an installation called 'Wastescape'!

And it was great to see the Disability Arts community represented as a 'Festival of the World Museum' fixture on display in the Royal Festival Hall’s Spirit Gallery. As part of this series of immersive and interactive environments you will find an exhibition of images of the Disability Arts Movement.

I want to write further about this but will simply say here that it felt like a moment of real achievement to see Ian Stanton and Johnny Crescendo – two of the key singer/ songwriters from the vanguard of the Choices and Rights era - being celebrated in film for ‘boldly going where all others have gone before.’ A big thanks goes to The Southbank Centre, Shape who curated the installation and to Mik Scarlett for providing the film - to make that happen!
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For details of events being staged as part of the Southbank's Festival of the World from 1 June to 9 September - go to http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk

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