On the 23rd October 2020, NW Live Arts in association with Bloomsbury Festival 2020 are delighted to present Music & Renewal, a multimedia concert exploring a vision of renewal with virtuoso percussionists Kuljit Bhamra MBE and Andres Ticino together with the Alkyona String Quartet. Alongside a programme of reimagined Classical and World music, four artists have produced brand new video art to be premiered in the concert. This work was produced in creative workshops facilitated by our partner, arts and well-being charity, The Free Space Project. As an introduction to this element of the concert, artistic director Caroline Heslop talks to artist Sarah Breckenridge about her work and its links to the theme ‘renewal’.

Caroline Heslop: So Sarah, give us a brief introduction to your video art, and the themes and topics you explore with it.

Sarah Breckenridge: A whole spectrum of human emotions, basically. But in particular, a journey that follows the progress from a place of isolation and lack of self-esteem, through slowly seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, getting hope, and then being able to integrate back again into the outside world.

CH: Quite monumental really, but so beautifully done. Tell me a little about how you went about the creation process in the workshop?

SB: Well, the process for my piece on renewal stems from taking the mind, soul and body and weaving a creative piece of prose and intermingling it with found images taken from the Internet. From my 5-minute free writing exercise I selected ideas and proceeded to make up a storyboard of the images that I wanted to use in my work. I was also able to hear snippets of the music that would be played at the concert and wrote down ideas, images, thoughts that came into my mind as I listened to it. So, from that, I created a renewal mind map with mind, soul and body with different words that came to me in each category. I then began to write my prose starting with the mind followed by the soul and ending with the body within each image. I wish to show that there is struggle in the renewal process and that with resilience and determination it can be possible to overcome, and become in the process, a better you.

CH: So, in a few words, can you say how your artwork is linked to wellbeing?

SB: According to the Oxford Dictionary, ‘wellbeing’ is a state of being comfortable, healthy or happy. In life, nobody can be healthy all the time. In Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘If’, he says: ‘If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster/ And treat those two imposters just the same;…/ Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,/ And stoop and build ’em up with worn out tools:…/ And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!’; in this vein, for me, wellbeing is found amongst the trials and tribulations of life, which is reflected in my film.

CH: So, you made the video to be exhibited months ago, and unfortunately, we had to postpone the concert due to the onset of the pandemic. Does it feel different premiering the work now?

SB: If anything, I think my film has a greater impact now than it would have done then. I thought of these images and film as linked to renewal back in March; and then four weeks later, we went into this lockdown, and I had no idea – well, nobody did – what we would go through over the last six or seven months. The words and images I chose back then are far more relevant now, to be honest; especially the rainbow! What with everyone everywhere putting it on their windows, it’s become the image of 2020. Too, my prose addresses the act of breathing, referenced in the very first phrase that appears on screen, an act which has held prominence in mainstream events this year for various reasons: firstly as being one of the main things that the virus affects, but also through the George Floyd episode and the prominence of the phrase ‘I can’t breathe’. It amazes me how I could have written this then, and how it has become so pertinent now.

CH: It’s so true, and I think it’s a tribute to the strength of your work: how seeing it from this different, new vantage point, it becomes even more powerful. Related to that, we at NW Live Arts are very pleased to be taking part in the Bloomsbury Arts and Community Festival, the overall theme of which is ‘vision’. Does the festival and its theme have a resonance for you?

SB: Oh yes, most definitely. Again, according to the Oxford Dictionary, there are five different definitions of what vision means: to be able to see; to think about the future, with imagination and wisdom; to think something in the mind, as a dream; to see like on a television screen; and a site of great beauty. So for me, as the site of great beauty, I have the image of the caterpillar turned butterfly; I have the images on the television screen; and as for the experience of seeing something in your mind or a dream, my prose starts ‘I grasped the light, but there was only darkness inside’ and ends ‘a glimpse, a vision…’ So definitely, I think my work fits in well with the Bloomsbury Festival’s theme.

CH: We’ve briefly touched on this already, but I must ask: how does it feel in the midst of the current health crisis to be an artist?

SB: I guess from the outward appearance, it would seem that all creativity has stopped due to the lockdown; but I think it causes you to look deeper and find ways to diversify, as it were; find your true self, even. There are positives to come through this experience. I’ve been producing art, going to creative writing classes and writing a lot, for instance; I’ve also been going to more workshops with the Free Space Project, which have been great.

CH: It’s interesting isn’t it, how many people have felt the need, the compulsion almost, to create art since the beginning of the pandemic. And one last question – is there anything in your video art that you would like audiences to watch out for in particular in our concert on the 23rd October?

SB: I think for me, I’d highlight the image of the caterpillar turning into a butterfly, pertinent as people have become more aware of nature during this crisis; and also the highly cinematic images from Wizard of Oz, and the idea of the yellow brick road; reminding us of the restrictions on cinema- and theatre-going, and therefore the restrictions on art, over the last few months. However, hopefully people will enjoy the whole thing, and come away feeling refreshed and zealous for life!

Music & Renewal takes place on October 23rd at 7:30pm, live-streamed from Holy Cross Church. Buy your tickets here!