We’re looking for someone…is it you?

Are you a brilliant person who can make creative things happen, while supporting artists to experiment with, and develop, their ideas?

Are you interested in work with artists and communities that is at once local and place-based, but also deals with much bigger, universal issues?

Do you agree that artists have a social and civic responsibility to the places and communities where they live and make work?

Are you interested in how artists respond to the problems facing humanity: in exploring what an arts organisation’s role might be in fighting against climate change – and for social justice?

Has the pandemic made you think hard about what happens next and how artists might lead on imagining & building a better future?

We are looking for someone to join our small and friendly staff team as we grow a creative community at The Nest, our new HQ in Coventry. We have imagined this role as Nest Community Connector, but we want to work with the right person, and this means that the role, title and terms of employment are open for discussion. To begin with, we are looking for someone to join us 3 days a week for nine months – but we’re growing and changing at the moment and we hope to be able to make this a much longer term thing.

You can view or download the recruitment pack below (PDF format). A text only version is pasted in lower down this page, or if you’d prefer the information in another format, please let us know.

NEST COMMUNITY CONNECTOR Recruitment Pack (Text)

Who are we looking for?

First and foremost we are looking for someone who is excited by this brief, by the possibilities it holds and who would like to get stuck in – who is excited by the fact that everything is fluid and not yet pinned down. Someone who can’t wait to come and join us in Coventry, can see the huge possibilities of The Nest and wants to be a key part in making it a success for our city.

We’ve made a list of the qualities we are looking for, but we know that the right person may not have every single one of these – and will likely have more useful qualities that we haven’t even listed – but if you read this and think it sounds like you, then please consider applying.

We are looking for someone who:

  • likes people and is a generous collaborator, a good listener, is quick thinking and good at working with others to make interesting things happen.
  • is able to recognise the best idea in the room and work with that, even (and maybe especially) when it isn’t their idea.
  • is really curious about how and why, and is interested in change.
  • can think practically and strategically, loves to solve problems and wants to help make the world a better place.
    can hold a conversation with anyone, and make them feel confident they are being listened to, that their words matter.
  • knows how to gently question or challenge an idea or viewpoint from a position of care, and can inspire others to work with them to achieve something really special.
  • can bring something, in their skillset and lived experience, to the team that we don’t already have.
  • knows that sometimes something needs doing in a particular way whilst at others it is appropriate to challenge how things are done; and can just get stuck in and finish the job when that’s what is needed.

The kind of person:

  • whose values are important to them, and which chime with our own (Kindness, Brilliance, Transformation, Curiosity, Wellbeing, Collaboration) and with our ‘six big ideas’ (about artist process & support; access & participation; climate conscience; agency, equity & diversity; nurture & resilience) – which weave through our work, guiding our choices and interactions.
  • who is interested in people power, cultural democracy, collective decision making and the positive transformation that groups of people working together can effect, especially through the arts and culture.
  • who believes that artists have a responsibility to their communities and their cities, and that small and agile, but connected, organisations working strategically can affect big and meaningful change.

We think that the person we are looking for might previously have worked (maybe in the arts, events, charity or community sectors) in a job called something like ‘Producer’ or ‘Creative Agent’ or ‘Changemaker’ or ‘Project Coordinator’ or ‘Project Manager’ or ‘Community Activator’ or ‘Community Engagement Instigator’ (or maybe something else!). In the kind of job that is as much about envisioning the future as seeing something through – we are looking for someone who is as good on fine detail as on the big picture, and is comfortable with – and excited by – change.

Other skills that might be useful include:

  • is comfortable managing/tracking project budgets.
  • is able to reflect on how a project has gone, gather everyone’s viewpoints and fold that learning into working out what happens next.

What will we be working on?

This is a big and busy nine months for Talking Birds, and for Coventry as it becomes UK City of Culture. As we’ve mentioned, our biggest project is The Nest, a brand new home for the company – somewhere to build our climate-conscious creative community and make a hub for the wider independent artists’ community in Coventry. Within The Nest there will be co-working and meeting spaces in addition to studio spaces for artists undertaking Nest Residencies, which prioritise d/Deaf, disabled and locally-based artists, providing space and support to experiment with those ‘what if…?’ ideas.

We know there will be lots to do in inhabiting our building for the first time and in creating the right spaces and atmosphere – and much of that is about the care and attention of our team. Alongside this, we will be opening up the Nest Residency Programme again and working towards the delivery, in November, of our major creative project for City of Culture.

Specific jobs might include:

  • Artist development and support at The Nest: you might lead on the co-ordination of co-working sessions, and the team’s support for artists undertaking Nest Residencies.
  • Festival of Transition: you might be the main point of contact in the team for artists and the co-ordinator of a series of talks/events.
  • Art for the People: you might be a key creative collaborator in the shaping and coordination of this major arts and social democracy project.
  • Inclusion and Relevance: you might take the lead on connecting and extending our key strands of work around access and diversity.
  • Nestival: you might be a key creative collaborator involved in developing and producing projects in preparation for a year-long programme of creative work marking Talking Birds’ 30th anniversary in 2022.
  • Shape and influence the company’s projects, systems and future direction as a new team member with a fresh perspective.

Our working hours are pretty variable and flexible. They are often shaped around the needs of a project, but also around the other responsibilities that our team have elsewhere, like caring responsibilities or other part time work – we plan as a team to find a balance that works. We will be happy to explore different working patterns that work for the company and our new team member.

This is a part-time role and the salary will be pro rata of £26,000 per year (£15,600 per year for a 0.6 FTE role) – which for the 9 month period of this contract is £11,700. For more details, see ‘Terms and Conditions’ below.

How to apply:

If you think you might be the person we are looking for, then please send an email (up to 500 words) or a video (up to 3 minutes long) along with a CV or list of recent work to birdmail@talkingbirds.co.uk

In your email or video, please let us know:

  • What is exciting for you about this proposition?
  • And why do you think this is the role for you?
  • What will you particularly bring to Talking Birds (and Coventry)?

Closing date for applications: Friday 4th June

Interviews: Tuesday 8th June on Zoom. Although many Covid restrictions will have relaxed by this point, we have taken the decision not to schedule in-person interviews at this time. Other arrangements can be made if this is not a suitable medium for you. If you’d be unable to attend during the week but would need an evening or weekend interview, please mention this in your application. We will share the questions with all interviewees before the interview date.

The interview panel will be Janet Vaughan (Co-Artistic Director), Sujana Uphadyay-Crawford and Jess Pinson (Board Members).

Questions about this role
We’ve tried to take care with the language in this job call out, and to write it in an open, accessible and equitable way – but if anything isn’t clear, or you’d like to chat with someone before applying, we’re really happy to talk to you. Please email birdmail@talkingbirds.co.uk and leave your name, details with the best way/time to contact you – and one of us will be in touch.

Positive Action Statement
Like many artist-led organisations, we are working to better represent the UK’s wide wealth of lived experience. Whilst we feel we have made progress with the diversity of the artists we work with and with the make up of our Board, our core staff team is less ethnically diverse than it might be. Therefore we are particularly keen to attract applicants who identify as something other than white British.

Travel
We advocate for greener/active travel wherever possible, and this role will be based at The Nest in Coventry, which is a 20 minute walk from Coventry city centre – or a 10 minute cycle (a docking station for the West Midlands Cycle Hire (Beryl app) network is 100m away on Sandy Lane). We have pedestrian access from the canal towpath or from Sandy Lane, which is also well connected to the local bus network. There is ample bike parking on site and two car parking spaces, which are reserved for those for whom travelling without their car would be a barrier to accessing the building.

Terms and conditions
This is initially a temporary contract for nine months. We hope – subject to successful fundraising – to extend this.

The role is part time – pro rata 0.6 of a full time equivalent (FTE) working week of 37.5 hours (i.e. 3 days / 22.5 hours a week). We are open to flexible working patterns (by agreement) and committed to family-friendly working. Some non-usual hours may be required depending on projects, possibly including at weekends or evenings,
by prior arrangement.

Salary will be pro rata of £26,000 per year (£15,600 per year for a 0.6 FTE role) – which for the 9 month period of this contract is £11,700. There will be 11.25 days of paid holiday per year over the 9 month period of this contract (pro rata of 25 day FTE per year). In addition, there is entitlement to the usual public holidays in England and Wales on a pro rata basis, normally to be taken in the week of each bank holiday.

Reasonable time off in lieu (at a time agreed with the Artistic Directors or General Manager), will be granted for excess hours worked. Occasionally, by agreement, additional pay may be offered instead of time off in lieu.

Talking Birds has a company pension which the postholder will be eligible to join. Employer contributions will be 3% and employee contributions 5%. Employees may opt out of this if they wish.

There will be a probationary period of 2 months.

There may be some flexibility around the number of hours and/or salary for the right candidate.

More info
You can find out more about us at www.talkingbirds.co.uk – we are in the middle of making a new website to launch with the opening of The Nest, but hopefully the current one will give you enough of an idea about us and our work. If you have any problems with getting in touch via our email address, please use the contact form on the website.

We have proof-read this pack about 5000 times, but please forgive us if you spot any errors… 😉

The Nest (left) and the Daimler Powerhouse beyond.

How can work be both spacious and space-making?

Alex Hilton reflects on their Remote Nest Residency:

For my nest residency, I wanted to explore reimagining work, using a framework of mutual space

So many inequalities exist in access to work, and so few people feel they have the space to be themselves at work. At the same time, so much work is extractive – creating pollution, contributing to climate change, contributing to inequalities, reducing the space for other beings to flourish in the world. What would it mean for work to be spacious for the people doing the work, and space-creating for wider society and the ecosystems around us?

I’d been thinking about these issues for a while, related to my own jobsearch as an autistic person and my concerns about environmental issues. My housemate suggested that art would be a good format for exploring these issues in a broader way.

As a new artist, it was wonderful to have the space to explore my ideas which the Nest residency provided. Initially, I really noticed how nervous I was about the project. Would I write the ‘wrong’ thing? Would what I made ‘count’ as art? This felt the opposite of spacious. But once I got into the flow of working, I found it easier.

I thought about how art could be used to communicate that elusive sense of how mutual spaciousness would feel when you haven’t experienced it. It can often be easier to see what’s wrong than to see how it could be right. So I thought of the role of art in imagining and inspiring the best of what society could be. This feels especially relevant in the year of the pandemic and the need to reimagine what a better future could look like.

Janet was really supportive and it was really helpful to talk through how the work could be developed. We settled on creating a postcard prompt to get contributions for a future zine/ exhibition. Janet introduced me to Andrew Moore, who helped to create a design for the postcards which really got my ideas across and was eye catching.

I’m hoping to get contributions and include a wider range of voices in a zine/exhibition later this year exploring reimagining the best of how work could be.

Imagine Spacious Work is an art project to make a zine and exhibition on the topic of re-imagining work. This will happen in Coventry in Summer 2021. We’re looking for creative contributions on the theme of re-imagining work. This includes paid and unpaid work, childcare, homemaking etc. If you’d like to contribute writing, drawing, audio or video on this topic please get in touch via ImagineSpaciousWork@gmail.com

I needed to make a difference

Mahendra Patel reflects on his Nest Residency

Being a musician for many years, I’ve often witnessed Discrimination on many levels, and I thought if I could turn this into a play, theatre piece this could be good.  For me it had to be done very differently to what I had seen on stage in the past, it would need to grab people’s attention, make them sit up, be involved somehow – and then of course go tell their friends, post on social media to get more people to come and see.

So the idea came and a few days later a friend posted online about ‘Talking Birds Nest Residency’ I had an idea that needed exploring, researching, bouncing around, talking through with a few theatre professionals. I grabbed my tablet made a few videos, picked the one I thought described what I wanted to do best and I applied for the scheme.

Tick tock time went by and one day I see a reply from them, my heart starts beating faster, getting anxious, scared of opening the email I put the kettle on and made a coffee.  Grabbed one of my drums to feel calm again and 2 hrs later I slowly took my mouse, clicked on the email . . … Nearly fell out of my chair with the biggest grin, I got it!  No Match Funding needed! I was going to be a Nest Resident, and so it started with a meeting with Janet and Derek.  To be honest I couldn’t believe it, but they believed in me to get this started.  

‘When Instruments come to Jam’ has at its heart the idea of using instruments as a metaphor to show discrimination on many levels.  So I started to focus on the conversations instruments would have if they communicated with each other, (as humans would) the fun, laughter, judgemental, good/bad thoughts, gossiping, sarcasm, joking around and then of course discriminating!

I’ve not written a play before, so Talking Birds they got me a meeting with Ola Animashawun to help me start to sketch out the story I wanted to tell – this was a chance for me to start sounding out my ideas with a theatre professional/dramaturg, and for me this was again all new territory.  Within a short time I’d realised there was a lot of work to be done by myself – he left me with provocations regards my idea which going forward would help me structure my idea/my play. I had conversations about my idea with musicians and animators and they all helped influence the way the idea shaped up.

About a month later my partner and I were off on a short break to Bulgaria (sadly not part of the residency!), the weather was great and I found this wonderful beach bar.  The laptop came out and for the first time I was inspired to start writing the beginnings of ‘When Instruments come to Jam’, for some reason the beach bar provided the perfect conditions, the sea, sand and gentle breeze.  

How do you write about ‘discrimination’?  It’s simple, you draw on your very own experiences from the first day at school to today!  Remarks about colour/size/abilities/being too good/being too bad/ethnic background/standing up for yourself/for your friends/not being white! And to be honest not all was that bad – especially because most remarks/insults around ethnic background were wrong (for some reason very few people could actually truly insult me about this since they never take the time find out what my ethnic background actually is!)

Transferring this to instruments at first was difficult but then surprising enough started to become easier as even instruments have a make-up.  Colour/size/background/abilities/the sound they produce/presence and they too have feelings.  It’s hard to explain that although music has no barriers, the musicians choose to put up barriers.  

As the title says, the story starts ‘When instruments come to Jam’ – although I have an idea of how the story plays out, I want to develop it collaboratively over time, maybe once a week with an open call to musicians to attend; building up a group producing great music regardless of knowing or ever having played alongside each other…. that’s where the trouble starts!

Without this Nest Residency, I would not have been able to get started  on this project – the funds and support allowed me to schedule time in to my work specifically for this project/idea, think about why I wanted to tell this story, and who it was for.  Being a full time musician means I have to generate my own income and anytime spent on ideas, looking at new projects in my own time would mean I’m not earning.  The Nest Residency meant I could afford to spend time on this and explore this idea of mine: contacting artists, writers, audience development specialists. I wanted to see if, firstly, this kind of delivery has been done in theatre, have instruments been used as a metaphor and the main point was would audiences be open to a play without spoken words and just music? I’ve spent a lot of time wondering, experimenting, and being ‘brave’ in order to develop the idea further.

The next step for this project has been to apply to (and be shortlisted for) the We are Unlimited/City of Culture Trust commissions, taking this to the next level of applying for an Emerging Artist Award in theatre. My time as a Nest Resident exploring this idea needs to end to move forward.  I’d like to thank Talking Birds for their time, guidance so far and hope that we’ll continue this on the next step as it starts to take flight . . .

condition of co-creation: a ‘process that went wrong’

condition of co-creation:

a ‘process that went wrong’

by melissandre varin

From November 2020 i collaborated with T, this experimentation did not go as planned because of external factors (pandemic, family challenges, uncaring processes, race, gender, ableist dynamics…) and internal mechanisms within our exchange on which i am about to expand audio-visually and verbally in this performative sharing.

i am including some of the correspondence emanating from me in the blogpost as a sort of a mixed modal and fragmented essay. You are invited to take as much and as little as you wish from this buffet. The video shows me reading the letters i delivered to T for the first time. There is an audio version of it as well that i recorded on my phone simultaneously for those who have had enough screen for the day. The tone of this entry is self-reflexive but it is not only a sharing of feelings and post-collaboration analysis but also just a sharing space. Only unedited documents are shared, because i believe in the force of self-exposure, i believe it tells a lot about the context and the re-contextualisation of creative processes and about oneself. Welcome in the bits and pieces of a ‘process that went wrong’ and made me grow on multiple levels. 

As i am solely elaborating from my proudly subjective perspective my last Nest residency has been a much needed grounding work on collaboration. It literally brought me down, and pushed me to my limits. Reflecting on it i am grateful it happened                      yes                 if i were to choose,            i would do it in similar ways                                            again.

i have tried to collaborate outside of my political practice and it ended up in exhaustion. i wrote to my collaborator in one of my correspondence: ‘i was exhausted before (anyway)’.

In the context of a global pandemic and under lockdown restrictions adding up extra difficulties to a state of things already hard to navigate in was a doubtful choice that guided me to learning more about my limits. 

This collaboration beyond the initial excitement quickly turned out no longer serving me but rather weakened a friendship, my mental health and future possibilities to collaborate as a free spirit. In one of the letter i regretted that i did not : ‘appreciating the distance between us. Same city, different contexts, different bodies.’ prior to this experimental process.

i got trapped in the process:’there is no start nor ends just complexity’

Can setting up new collaborations be taken lightly or ahistorically? My current self would reply with the negative to this question. Power forces have been neglected in this experimentation. My only desire was to stop worrying, stop caring about my collaborator, stop the guilt of not caring as i should, just stop. Stop, observe, and learn from the unfertile ground from which we started and from which we did not manage to grow a healthy exchange.

That went wrong because that was wrong from the beginning. Consent checklist, management of expectations, and regular checking that the other part does understand your struggles, needs, and claims are essential for me                                     even more so now.

This experience has furthered my understanding of myself, reasserted the importance of informed consent when collaborating and highlighted my limited capacity to expand emotional labour here and now. Which is a shame but it is also the ugly truth of what it is. Reflecting on the process and gathering some thoughts has proved to be helpful to start to repair and look at this scar right in the flesh so far. i take away my need to say no without solely pondering the validity of my need on consensus to be able to stand still. i use my practice as a liberating force, i understand better that there are deviations that i should not take if they do not bring joy.

i dis-placed one of my hair jar at T’s home during the creative process. When it came back i started to gather my strength back. 

on my ears while putting this together: 

Aretha Franklin
Bridge over troubled water
ENNY, Jorja Smith Peng
Black Girls Remix
Raveena
stronger
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_9-yfeA2JZshttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VW_UHYs3giUhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wx44WvDcyXs

sending love

During this period of investigation we have sent threads of thought and element of practice to one another that ended up in a nonsense collection of letters and things that mismatched with each other but did narrate our impossibility to collaborate. i had extreme difficulties making peace with the imbalanced exchanges, and my refusal to self-censor. The issue was that refusing to self-censor did not help the other half of the research to feel welcome nor to find ways to play in the process. 

it is messy                         i am going to be alright                  ok

audio letter reading https://soundcloud.com/melissandre-varin-752685844/can-we-stop-now-talking-birds-nest-residency-melissandre-varin

audio-visual letter reading

My love goes to Talking Birds to Janet and Philippa for their kindness and never failing support and to Dr. Bharti Parmar and Janet again for gentle and transforming mentoring sessions. i am sending love to my collaborator towards whom i directed a spectrum of feelings and thanks to whom i learnt to appreciate failure and found joy and contentment in unexpected spaces and challenging times.

PostPartum – Patsy Browne-Hope reflects on her Remote Nest Residency.

About me
My name is Patsy Browne-Hope and I am a Birmingham based choreographer, rehearsal
director and freelance lecturer. I am currently researching and developing a short dance film
based on the postpartum experience.

Transition
I am an ex-professional dancer who toured nationally and internationally with UK based
companies and decided to step away from the profession in 2015 to start a family. Having
my children and a break from the industry was like pressing a huge reset button. There
wasn’t much time to really think about dance at depth during this time but to be honest, this
was welcomed. We started a family knowing I wasn’t entirely certain where I would end up
work wise on the other side and I found this an exciting prospect.

As it turned out (2 children later) my passion for movement and dance had not dimmed – I
had just felt stifled creatively and needed a bit of time to lead a life not so consumed by
dance after 12 years of constant training and working. Before my children I was feeling
exhausted by the industry, a bit lost with direction and a bit low on self-esteem. After having
my sons I gained perspective, cared less about what people thought and once sleep became
a ‘thing’ again I felt ready to start trying to make sense of the world through my craft…
I decided my first stop with this would be ‘Postpartum ‘…..

‘PostPartum’ is a short dance and movement film with original music that intends to highlight,
celebrate and normalise the postpartum experience which sadly can be tainted by huge
societal pressures. Both pregnancy and early motherhood had unexpected surprises for me.
Strangers shared unwanted opinions on my body shape and I regularly heard ‘Mom
shaming’. Comments on how a woman was raising her baby, when they chose to start a
family, opinions on how much she works or doesn’t work, how they fed, how they slept.
Nothing seemed to be off limits.

As new mothers we can find ourselves spending hours on end with a screaming baby, a
body that doesn’t feel like our own and, thanks to raging hormones, a mind we don’t
recognise. We should probably ask ourselves if the intense scrutiny of mothers is really all
that necessary…

Why
My desire is to create some compassion through film; at a time when a woman feels most
vulnerable, we hit her hardest with our attitudes and judgements.

I want to create something where new mothers feel a little less alone and a little more
understood. How do so many first time Moms not know about all the bleeding, the colic, the
mastitis, the intense sleep deprivation and the detriment this can have to her mental health,
the loss of self and the knowing that eventually, you somehow manage to work it out.

Perhaps if they were armed with some knowledge, championing and solidarity they would
cope a little better and be a little kinder towards themselves?

Talking Birds
Due to the sensitive nature of the topic and my desire to work with women from the
community to help research this I was looking for an opportunity to test these ideas out on a
small and intimate scale.

I was thrilled to be selected for a Fledgling Residency to help explore this. As a result I was able to develop a private research group on social media and run an online community workshop led by Lindsay Jane Hunter (Therapeutic Art Practitioner). I undertook deeper research into the ideas and themes found here and was then able to collaborate with Katy Rose Bennett (Composer) and Oliver Whitehouse (Filmmaker). Dancer, Lucie Labadie, came on board to help me test and explore movement language specifically for film.

Reflections
This is the first time I have been able to so closely communicate with collaborators on my
own project idea. It has opened up many more questions for me and the vision I have for the
work going forward which is incredibly exciting. I recently secured Arts Council funding for a
larger phase of R&D into PostPartum and this development opportunity with Talking Birds has been the
perfect precursor.

I am going into my ACE activity more informed about how we develop this work, how I
successfully communicate my ideas to the collaborators involved, what works, what doesn’t
and just how far I hope to push the visuals for the final film.

Mentoring
The final part of my Talking Birds support was concluded with mentoring from Janet
Vaughan. I was able to spend time discussing the process, the outcome, what I would like to
do differently and most excitingly, potential life for the final film. We discussed, at length,
various venue ideas including unusual and outdoor spaces as well as partners to be
considered and approached for the film development. This will be hugely informative to my
next planning stages and I very much look forward to updating Janet on the project life!

Follow Patsy on Instagram

It’s not Wednesday and it’s a bit late for a round up of books of 2020…

But nevertheless, if you’d like a recommendation of something to read, here’s some of Co-AD Janet’s favourite reads of the last year* (with apologies that there isn’t much fiction!):

*Read in 2020, as opposed to published in 2020.

Human kind by Rutger Bregman

Radical Help by Hilary Cottam

Natives by Akala

How to be a Liberal by Ian Dunt

From What is to what if by Rob Hopkins

Whipping Girl by Julia Serano

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Difference Engine Stories – Open Call

We are looking to commission two brand new short art experiences that use our captioning tool, the Difference Engine, to deliver a story to individual audience members in an unexpected, beautiful (and Covid-safe) way.

What is the Difference Engine?

The Difference Engine is Talking Birds’ discrete tool, developed to make performances and events accessible to D/deaf, hard-of-hearing, blind or partially-sighted audience members by delivering captioning and audio description direct to their own mobile devices. 

It has been developed by artists, for artists – we made the Difference Engine because we wanted to give more people the chance to access experimental, outdoor, small scale or immersive performance. But essentially one of the things the Difference Engine does is to allow artists to send text to audience members’ mobiles in real time (for more info see the Difference Engine website). This is why we have come up with this opportunity.

The Difference Engine has successfully allowed companies of various scales, from intimate one-person shows through to larger scale outdoor art, to bring captioning into their audiences’ hands. Difference Engine Stories is an opportunity for artists to experiment with the tech and find a new way to build an experience around the delivery of a story to an audience and their mobile at a (social) distance.

What are we looking for?

We know that artists are inventive and this is our invitation to you – to think of a way you might play with the captioning possibilities of the Difference Engine to create something small, beautiful, and a bit different. 

Because the Difference Engine is good with text, we think you might want to use it to tell a story. 

Because the Difference Engine works at a (short) distance, we think you can make something socially distanced for a small number of people – maybe with your artists outside and your audience inside, receiving the text to their mobile devices. 

Because the Difference Engine was created in order to caption live performance, we think you might want to play with the relationship between the text you are sending and some visuals, perhaps performed on the other side of a window to your audience. 

Maybe you will pair the text you’re sending to your audience in their front room with live (silent) action you perform outside their house; or live caption narrate a story that transforms what is actually happening outside the window; or send a story in small chunks of text without visuals; or provide alternative captions to something they watch on their TV…

But because we are also artists, we don’t really want to tell you what we are looking for, we want you to come up with something interesting.

Who is the audience?

This is really down to you, but we expect there will be the possibility to experiment with the relationship between the artist (as the giver of the story) and the audience (as the socially-distanced recipient/s). We’d like the Difference Engine stories to be made for, and shared with, people in Coventry early next year – at the point where the city wakes from winter and looks towards a year as City of Culture (but we’re not asking for the stories to be about these things). 

Within this project, we are only looking for proof of concept delivery – and so, if you are commissioned, we will expect you to decide (with us) how many ‘performances’ you will do, identify and brief your preview audiences, test your piece and collect some documentation and feedback. Although audiences can access the Difference Engine via their smartphone browser, it works better with the Difference Engine app and so, if commissioned, you will have to consider how best to identify and brief your audience (we can support you with this). 

We expect that people with hearing-related access requirements might naturally form part of the target audience, but anyone should be able to enjoy it and, crucially, have a similar experience. 

Who can apply?

As we may have mentioned (!), we’re based in Coventry – so we would love to hear from artists local to our area, but we’re also open to hearing from people further afield – if they can safely travel to Coventry to present their piece, working within current Government guidance. Although the Difference Engine is usually a performance tool, these commissions are open to individual artists or artists groups in any discipline who can work within this brief to make a piece for the Difference Engine.

What’s the idea?

We want you to use the Difference Engine to place a story into an audience’s hands in a completely new way. Remember, the Difference Engine can be used anywhere, by anyone who has a mobile device (smartphone or tablet) in their hand – but we are interested in the intimate relationship between the artists, the tech and the audience. This is not something that could be broadcast via the internet and experienced by anyone anywhere all at once, it is about choosing your “stage” – whether that is the pavement outside a single house, a street, a school, a towpath, a public square (although if it is a public space where permission is needed, you will need to be confident you can gain that permission, if commissioned, and of course ensure all regulations relating to Covid are followed) – and the physical space between you and your audience as you tell your story. 

What we’re offering?

We are offering 2 commissions, of £2,000 each, to an individual, collective or company, to create and deliver their piece. 

At this stage, we are only looking for proof of concept delivery – i.e. the piece is made and previewed with some test audiences whose feedback is captured. 

We don’t want the application process to be onerous, so please just send us up to 500 words about your idea, about you and your work and about what in particular interests you in the combination of the Difference Engine, Covid-safe art experiences, and sending a gift of words over a short distance. 

Send your application to: TalkingBirdsCoventry@gmail.com by close of play on Sunday 10th January

If you have any questions or you think that you might have a great idea, but would like to speak to someone about it first, we can be available for a short chat between 10th and 17th December. Drop us an email via the website including your phone number and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

[Talking Birds 8th December 2020]

WLTM : Open Call for interested (and interesting) illustrators and print-makers…

[**DEADLINE EXTENDED TO DEC 10TH**]

Talking Birds is looking for illustrators and/or print-makers for a small series of planned commissions related to The Nest, which will be the company’s new home and shared making space from 2021.

At this stage, we are looking to create a small pool of interested illustrators and/or printmakers who we will then invite to apply for these commission opportunities.

Talking Birds is particularly interested to hear from illustrators and/or printmakers:
– who live and/or work in Coventry or nearby;
– who self-identify as belonging to an under-represented or marginalised group;
– whose work lends itself to screen printing in one or two colours only.

A bit about you (How to register your interest)

Please email TalkingBirdsCoventry@gmail.com and tell us a bit about yourself, your interests and your work (in roundabout 500 words) & include links to up to 5 representative pieces of your illustration and/or print-making work. From these submissions, we will select a number of artists to whom we will circulate commission briefs when they become available. Please note that the deadline for expressions of interest is December 10th 2020.

A bit about us (Who *are* Talking Birds anyway?)

Coventry-based Talking Birds is well known for its innovative and gently provocative projects which explore, and seek to illuminate, the profound and complex relationships between people and place.

These projects include its Theatre of Place performances in disused hospitals, cattle markets or underground car parks; its submersive Whale-shaped mini-theatre which swallows audiences in small groups; its pop up social events which bring people together for unexpected conversations in unusual places, often over food; and the invention of its in-pocket captioning system, The Difference Engine, which aims to revolutionise the creative possibilities of accessibility.

The Nest will be Talking Birds’ new home and shared making space which is due to open next year during Coventry’s year as UK City of Culture. Since 2018, Talking Birds has been running the Nest Residency Programme (which offers time, space and conversations that allow artists to think, experiment and take a punt on one of those ‘What if…?’ ideas) peripatetically while the building work continues.

We are a signatory to the More Than A Moment pledge and, as such, wholeheartedly commit to ensuring equity, investment in, and opportunities with and for Black artists and creatives within our organisation’s culture and work, and in doing so becoming the change we all need to see.

talkingbirds.co.uk

[Illustrations by James Bourne for Song for a Phoenix, commissioned for the day when the Olympic Torch visited Coventry in 2012]

Tipping Point

Angela Mhlanga reflects on her Nest Residency.

Have you ever thought about the concept of ‘throwing away’? Neither had I, until I had a very interesting Google chat with Dominic of Ludic Rooms (a company based right here in Coventry). The gist of the conversation came from this concept of ‘throwing away’? What does this even mean? Where does all this stuff go? Stuff just moving from one to place to another. To quote Jerry Seinfeld, ‘all things on earth only exist in different stages of becoming garbage’. I pondered this on one of my now regular walks along Coventry’s Canal path. I had not long discovered the small minority in the city who ‘magnet fish’ in the murky waters. What on earth is that, you may ask? I indeed had the same question. The man made canal, built for the purpose of transporting/exchanging goods from county to county and once functioning as an additional life line to the city, has now become somewhat of a dumping ground of antiques and lost treasures but for the most part, a passing place of plastic and takeaway boxes. This bothers, but the silver lining is Coventry’s up and coming rise and it’ll be interesting to witness the Canal’s placement in all these developments.

Having these interesting and dynamic conversations with Dominic about Coventry’s relationship with water formed a unique focal point to explore – as for the most part Coventry is pretty much land locked.

On a not so particular day, I walked out of my front door and realized that I just about walked every direction out from my front door. I then remembered the entry to the canal – bridge number five to be specific. Off I went and set off for a new adventure. It was around about midday that I realized everybody and their mother was outside using their government issued hour – so it was not so much of the solitary walk I’d envisioned, but on that given day that’s exactly what I needed. Like a radio frequency all the bars within me had gone from red then slowly orange/yellow and just like that, green. The spring in my step restored as I gazed upon the boats, whistling with birds, dodging fast paced cyclists in balletic pirouettes as if living some sort of alternate musical reality.

The feeling didn’t last too long as I approached the long and dimly lit tunnel towards Gallagher – did I mention it was long? The solitude I’d initially hoped for somehow became very apparent. Then I saw the light at the end of the tunnel and kept moving. I began to think back about how I discovered the Canal, it was about two years after we’d moved to the city. It’s an easy miss but there’s a life force of its own that runs underneath the city. Back then the waters were clean-ish (well there wasn’t as much rubbish everywhere). Though this first walk was initially relaxing but the rubbish was always drifting in the corner of my mind.

A few months later, my sister and I took a walk in the opposite direction on a sunny day. The clear blue sky reflecting in the man-made waters, ducks in a row flowing in a steady stream and somehow coinciding with the piles of takeaway boxes, plastic bottles, foil paper and blue off licence bags.

One object in particular called out to me the most and I thought it’d be really interesting to explore the Canal for my Talking Birds residency. Particularly the scattered blue bags from off licence shops and Coventry market that have somehow found their way to waters. Blue in association with water usually represents serenity but the murky waters of the Canal were anything but, as the blue drifting around posed a looming threat for all the natural creatures trying to cohabit with the trash in this space.

Walking along and also noticing the reflections and shadows cast in the water inspired me to further explore the Canal’s essence.

Though scenic for the most part and providing a sense of ease and solace with a gentle movement of current, every so often that is disturbed by litter. Beer bottles, takeaway boxes and strikingly blue off- licence plastic bags (which I found particularly interesting as blue is Coventry’s color and often associated with water.) I explored this further – particularly in how the nature of the canal has adapted to this.

The materials used to create the puppet were a blue off licence bags with a plastic water bottle (magnet) fished from the water to create the bodice, synched in with the cuff of a Culture Coventry uniform.

I then painted a background of hues on foil paper that feature a silhouetted crowd representative of the people of Coventry.

To add to the final layer of the piece- I used a blue marker to draw some of what Coventry is best known for, for example-: the statue of Frank Whittle, the logo for Coventry FC, Lady Godiva’s statue and an Outline of the Coventry Cathedral.

It was crucial to use materials that would cope with being submerged and not affected by the water- much like the litter found in the Canal.

Final projections

Filmed with a highlighted plastic bottle lens cap to create a filtered effect whilst in a way symbolically filtering Canal waters and revealing the beauty of the city. I hope to further explore this project with the help of the amazing Talking Birds company with the first flight residency and collaborating with Ludic Rooms. My aim is to help clean the canal, magnet fish and create sculptures from what I find in the water and rebuild the art trail. Time to to unclog our cities vessel and clean up the Canal!

“There is just wonder right in front of us, and we don’t spend enough time thinking about it.” — Michael Pollan

My artistic practice heavily involves the exploration of shadows, reflections and silhouettes. I’ve always been draw to these elements because that is the only way we can physically view ourselves. On a bright sunny day your shadowed figure mirrors your movements in synchronicity and is always right behind you. When you look at yourself in the mirror it is merely a reflection of you but somehow we’ve become accustomed to how we view ourselves this way.

As Coventry is formed of different energies, cultures and communities – I began to view the city more like a body and how the canal is a vessel. I began to value its importance and need for it. Spending a lot time around the canal has made me become consciously aware of its unconscious clogging. The level of plastic is suffocating to the environment. To detail my process: I knew I was searching for a solution and there were all these pieces of the puzzle hovering in the air, waiting to be put together. The canal is forgotten. The Art trail is abandoned. Almost as if the pieces of it were drowned in the water.

On a now regular walk along the canal path- I took my scooper and reusable bag and began my first round of magnet fishing. I picked up a lot of treasure – a blue off license bag, a plastic water bottle, foil paper, cling film and many other items but these in particular are the ones I decided to use.

Initially I had aimed to show reflections of the canal on iconic structures in Coventry (and I still might) in hopes of commenting on how, as ‘the body’ of Coventry, we view the city. I then came up with the idea of drawing iconic landmarks and statues of Coventry on cling film as I’d seen a lot of its scrunched presence surrounding the waters. I took a liking to the transparency of it but when I tested the sketches in the water, I realized that it was mainly the base of my tub that was bringing out these images. The practicality of it became unfeasible at this stage because one wouldn’t be able to see the projected images.

It was around about this time the foil paper stuck out to me, I began to think about how this would provide a perfect foreshadowing to the sketches of cling film. I thought about just having the sketches on foil paper and decided against it as the floating, threatening motion of the plastic in water differed from any other material I had found.

What can we do to make the city more ‘green’? In Coventry’s case, it’s more like, what can we do to make the city more ‘blue’? Blue like the sky or water. Blue represents clarity, stability and tranquility. In a city full of wheels and fast motion, the canal represents a break away for its residents or a moment of pause for the locals.

The lens I created from blue and pink highlighters and the bottom of a water bottle helped create the filter used in the final projection. The video itself metaphorically symbolizes the filtration of the waters whilst the sculpture, sketches and foil papered backgrounds represent the sources of materials that can be used to recreate the art trail.

When I first started this projected I’d hoped to run a lot of the tests by the canal but the sun set way late as it was still summertime then. My only other choice was to test these images in my tub – which in a sense follows suit with the man-made essence of the canal. Granted I didn’t have to adjust myself as I would have, testing outdoors but I rather enjoyed the solitary experience of forming my findings of what I had discovered from Coventry’s vessel.

For more detail about Angela’s work, visit her blog.

Home: people, objects, rituals and delineations of space

[Sinead Brady reflects on her remote Nest Residency]

From my home in the UK, I recently collaborated with Berlin based theatre maker Caroline Galvis and Dublin based theatre maker Katie O’Byrne in a ‘Hatching’ Remote Nest Residency to explore the theme of home.
Caro, Katie and I met while studying an MA in Barcelona. We found a common interest in reshaping and reframing our collective history and formed international Rule of Three Collective to create theatre that celebrates togetherness.

Before the pandemic, whilst Katie and I were visiting Caro in Berlin, we began questioning what home means to us. Since then we have had lots of time to think about our surroundings in lockdown in three different cities.
Whilst working from home, we have each been adapting to physical and political changes on a private, local and global level. This has led us to pay more attention to our own rituals and routines and question our delineations of space: What do we consider home? Why does home exist within these parameters? What is our relationship to our home, the planet?
Having started previous creative processes by writing together, we decided that this time we wanted to try to begin from a visual perspective.

At the start of the residency we had an incredibly stimulating mentoring session with Janet from Talking Birds, which helped us consider how to approach the process visually. We were inspired to draw floor plans of our houses and maps of our local areas with places which were important to us. We took each other on virtual tours of our homes and neighbourhoods. Along our routes, alternating who would lead the way, we found similarities but also many differences.

We then began to explore our ‘home rituals’ through movement and were interrupted by all of the unpredictable things that can happen when working from home such as wardrobe doors flying open when jumping on old, creaky floorboards and little neighbours determined to finish their beginner’s level recorder practice.

We ended up paying a lot of attention to the sounds in and around our houses, comparing the different bird song we wake up to… do seagulls fighting outside your bedroom window count as bird song?
Another theme which emerged in our mentoring session was the idea of building and destroying a home or the contents of a home. Experimenting with this idea fascinated us – it was tricky to explore from a distance, but it is something we plan to look at when we are physically together.

The Remote Nest Residency helped us carve out space and time and provided us with the support to come together to experiment and create. The fact that we were given no specific deadline or end product goal was invaluable and really encouraged us to keep on exploring, sharing thoughts and working in ways we would not have felt as free to do otherwise.
The residency has enabled us to reconnect and refocus. We have found new ways of working together at a distance, which will have a great impact on our creative process when we are able to be physically together again.

**If you are an artist based in or near Coventry and you have an idea you’d like to explore, please consider applying to our Nest Residency Programme.**