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Nitin’s nation

Ivor Novello award-winning musician will be among the artists taking part in OpenFest: Art 50, exploring what it means to be British in 2019

21 February, 2019 — By Róisín Gadelrab

Nitin Sawhney will be at the Barbican this weekend for OpenFest: Art 50. Photo: Suki Dhanda

WHO knew that the decision to invoke Article 50 two years ago would spark such a period of creativity?

That historic event in March 2017 has inspired a course of events that will culminate in a full day of free activities exploring what it means to be British in 2019 – just a month before Britain’s self-imposed separation from the EU takes effect.

Ivor Novello award-winning British-Indian musician Nitin Sawhney will debut his aptly titled new work, BREXIT – A rational anthem for a national tantrum, at the Barbican on February 23, as part of Barbican OpenFest: Art 50, a packed day of music, dance, film, readings, workshops and performances.

As a result on Article 50 being invoked, Sky Arts invited 50 artists to respond to the question of who the British are as a nation. As well as Nitin’s considered work, the day’s programme includes pieces from award-winning poet Lemn Sissay, an AI computer workshop, a collection of works from a selection of writers and a pop-up cinema of films and animation shorts.

The free programme is so full it is difficult to do it justice, but we’ve attempted to provide a digest below:

• The premiere of Nitin Sawhney’s BREXIT – A rational anthem for a national tantrum reflects the highs and lows of Brexit Britain, composed and performed by Nitin Sawhney, members of his band, the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain (NYO) and choirs from the British Songbook project. Sawhney considers the state of the nation, focusing on multiculturalism, diversity and people. Inspired by a tour of UK towns and cities, Sawhney will showcase his new anthem, devised to look away from the past and reflect current society.

• When We Collide: A British Songbook, by Hanbury & Groves, brings to life Britain’s passion for music by transforming interviews with choir members from across the country into a live musical piece, with the aim of uniting communities through shared ideas and song. The interviews touch on the subject of what it means to be British today, focusing on why people have different views and images of Britain.

• Theatre and Dance Olivier Award-winning Boy Blue present REBEL, a dance and film production capturing the opinions, hopes and fears of London’s youth, capturing their opinions, hopes and fears.

• In Porch Sittings, Lois Weaver provides an alternative model for public conversation where dialogue happens side by-side, rather than face to face.

Told by an Idiot’s Let Me Play the Lion Too returns with pop-up, improvised work across the Barbican’s public spaces.

• Readings include: Martha Barnett’s And the Band Marches On, a darkly comic study of identity, crisis and redemption from the point of view of a Northern Irish Loyalist family, interwoven with text from interviews recorded during Loyalist parade season; Daniel Nixon’s St Ives, the story of two young locals squatting in a holiday cottage in Cornwall after being kicked out of their home by their landlord, examines the county’s position as one of the most deprived areas in Western Europe; Spoken word A Constitution for the UK, performed by award-winning poet and broadcaster Lemn Sissay, written for Art 50 with Salisbury Cathedral and exploring the possibility of a new UK charter.

• Postcards from the Future will see writers including Paul McVeigh, Dreda Say Mitchell and A.L. Kennedy perform a monologue, imagining what England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales might look like 50 years from now.

• A pop-up cinema will screen a rolling programme for audiences to drop into throughout the day. Films include: Small Town Politics by Gulliver Moore; Gadzooks Animation’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen; Stock, by Naqqash Khalid; The Brink, by Simon Armitage CBE; Huntington Garden by Simon Wade; Matty Crawford’s His England; School Britannia, featuring poems from schoolchildren and Nye Thompson’s video installation INSULAE [Of the Island].

• Audiences will also have the chance to interact with The Britbot, an AI computer workshop by Libby Heaney, programmed on the British citizenship test Life in the UK: a guide for new residents. The Britbot will produce its own test but as more people interact, the test begins to change, adding new words, new expressions and new attitudes, reflecting the ways in which British identity changes from location to location.

• Written by 42 young creatives from London, Los Angeles, Gateshead, Scotland and Bristol in May 2018, Tuning into Change: A Youth Manifesto for the Arts, will be distributed on the day by some of the young authors, while Common Vision will work with millennials from around the UK to create unique brand identities and fictional products, addressing the question of what it means to be British today and imagining what Britishness actually looks like.

• There will also be several visual arts displays on show in the Barbican’s public spaces, including Shepherding the Uplands, Phil Hatcher Moore’s photography project and roadside exhibition portraying hill sheep-farming communities in rural Wales; We Are British, by Rio Blake, celebrating multicultural society and featuring mixed-heritage young British people, and Dogs and their Owners by photographer Dougie Wallace, which presents a series of portraits of dogs with the humans that own them.

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