What are you going to do with it?

(Paul Tafaro reflects on his recent Nest Residency)

Plan first

March 2022. I was pleasantly surprised to be offered a two week residency at Talking Birds. I clenched my fists and shook them, a gesture from footy. I’d found every excuse not to work at home. Here were two weeks, ten days, in a room, giving myself permission.

I had thought about writing this play for over a year. Subconsciously working on it perhaps. Every time I mentioned it, friends said ‘YOU HAVE TO WRITE THIS!’ I’d reply, ‘No you write it!’. Untrue.

A few months earlier, I had collated all of my notes (iPhone notes, email drafts, WhatsApp conversations, underneath loaves of bread) into a 29 page Word document. I distilled these notes ‘research’ into an 8 page scene plan. I had written out the plan a few weeks before the residency. The plan consists of scene headings, bullet points with tent poles of interesting things that should be included in the scene, the main action of the scene (the thing that needs to happen) with snatches of dialogue to consider including. This plan went through a few drafts, as I initially had fifteen scenes. When I have written a plan I know that the play can be written. On the residency I’d forget what the next scene was, but the plan steers me back and keeps me above sea level.

I figured I had a three act play. Nine scenes. One location. Each scene would be a mini pressure cooker play in itself. The audience a fly on the wall.

I had also worked out who would be on stage at the start of each scene. This was to create contrast, and focus on different dynamics within the play.
Act I
I C & E
II A & D
Act II

Interior design

On the first day of the residency, I completed emails before lunch, drawling the line under the first stage of another project. It took me two days to complete scene one. The longest scene (16 pages). The first scene of a play is sometimes tricky. I was introducing five characters and had some exposition. But it was also the scene where everyone, for the most part, is getting along. On the second day, I was behind, sat in the comfy chair and had a rest.

I was in the blue studio and decided to move the room around a little. On the second day, I had pulled out diva card #31 and asked for a computer chair from downstairs. This was kindly accommodated (brought up in the lift didn’t you know!) by Philippa. I adore natural light and faced the window but didn’t want my back to the door (opposite the window). I positioned myself near the radiator. This was partly so I could see if people were at the door. Whilst writing, I sometimes listen to classical music in the background – like Mahler or Shostakovich. Anything grand that I don’t need to dance to.

After the request for the computer chair, I realised that I’d also got used to the laptop at a particular height. I’ve lived in places without a desk before and used a chest of drawers that I opened up and balanced the laptop atop clothes. I was currently using some cardboard boxes and a Jamie Oliver (useful Xmas pressie) cookbook at home. What could I use here? Is that a bin?

It all seemed minimalist, possibly Scandi and in keeping with TB principles (I seem to have removed the bin for the photoshoot). Frances also kindly brought up the cushion in the photo for my arms leaning on the wooden table. I never knew I was this unbelievable. Scene a day.

Journey not the destination was that?

On the journey to the residency, I find myself noticing the tops of buildings. What was the story behind these? What were/are these rooms used for? There’s a moment when you drive into Radford, by Barr’s Hill, on a bus, that you are really quite high and can see quite far. I find myself wondering what the structure rising high above the rest was? Was it Warwick University? Was it, no surely, student accommodation?

On one journey, I see adult twins dressed in the exact same outfit, holding the exact same gym bag each. I think about mistaken identity … I wonder if there is enough lightness in what I am writing?

One morning at a stop, I watch a lady collect something off someone. She goes to another. I realise that she is asking for money. Out of four people, two stop and hand something to her. I think about what the money might be spent on? Who this person lives with? Why did I believe out of four people, four would not have given her anything?

12.38pm Lunch

The communal lunches were lovely. For an hour a day, everyone at TB generally gathers for their lunch downstairs, sometimes outside, if the sun’s got the memo it lands on Janet’s plants, everyone finishes their lunch and you can stay outside a little longer and sway to a summery song like Two Occasions by The Deele. For these two weeks you are freelance, child. On different days, different people are in. Some days my lunches lasted an hour, others two. Dez is an extraordinary raconteur. I needed any excuse not to work.

Plot twist

There would be an event and co-working day on Friday, the last day of residency – this meant no work Friday for me. Co-working days are a chance to chat and try brownies. Sometimes, I look at brownies through glass and imagine their taste. A van comes every day at lunch and sells food and drink. I haven’t bought a large Bakewell tart since Memorial park 2006 so I did relent once. I figured that I needed to finish the play on Thursday.

Work then

A working day might be 10.30 – 12.30, 2.30- 4.30 if the scene wasn’t finished, 9:30pm – 1:30am in the evening. A brilliant thing about the nest residency is that there is no expectation to create something, and you don’t need to be in the office.

I was surprised at how clearly the characters voices were in my head. One joy about playwriting, particularly when it works, is when characters surprise you. I had written out a plan with things that should be in the scene, but sometimes they didn’t end up in it, or characters entered the scene wanting something different (affecting but not changing the main action).

Some playwrights prefer to write by hand, even typewrite, but I like how the laptop can accommodate the speed of an actors thought.


The toilet upstairs is illuminated by a wondrous green light. I often used just this light when using the loo. It reminded me of a sort of nostalgic Megabowl laser quest/Drayton Manor ride which was potentially waltzers in the dark but I don’t remember. One day I was in there, I heard birds chirping? Later informed that this wasn’t from the NPO auditory access budget but real birds! Highly recommend a visit.

Wet Wednesday Will

Non-stop rain perfect working conditions. Dez made steps with a new score. I completed the first draft of the play. A year in the making, under the cover of rain. James Horner’s Brainstorm haunts me as we print double-sided. Feels like we we’re doing something forbidden. I had wanted to write this for a long time and was excited to get to the end. There were times when I’d come down for the communal lunch after an argument between characters (in my head) and the quietness of the adults in real life at lunch was an interesting juxtaposition. I really appreciated not being alone with my thoughts as one would normally write.

I used Thursday to learn how to put captions onto a YouTube video, thanks to an empowering tip from Janet.

I then spent a few days celebrating, resisting reading the first draft, a few more stretches of joie de vivre.

If the trend is to include a playlist, here
Ain’t No Stopping Us Now – McFadden & Whitehead
Before I let Go – Maze
Groovin’ (That’s what we’re doin’) – SOS Band


The residency was a beautiful experience. I had some lovely conversations. I spent one evening going to a dance class and another seeing The Batman. The weekend on another writing project. Knowing that I would be turning up for a few hours in the studio gave me a structure and time to focus. A laid back process. This was my first paid residency experience. Thank you very much.

feeling like coming back home

melissandre varin reflects on their recent Nest Residency

i had my third residency with Talking Birds between the 7th and 18th of March – in-between spaces.

i had access to “Odyssey” studio space at the Nest, received £1000 financial support, and found comfort (once again) in a warm hug, a half-pronounced joke, an overdue catch up and a permission to be – me.

i ended up inhabiting the studio offered to me about 4-5 days across a 2 weeks residency, i never felt like i was feeling the space as i needed to. Was i avoiding the spaces i intended to investigate with this project? i guess that this question will stay in suspension. It is only at the last moment, last day of residency that i started to connect threads, bits and pieces of me in regards to this inavouée (undisclosed) feeling.

Where i needed to be was at linoleum dreams parked on the parking of the Nest.

But – i did not feel ready, in all the complexity of what being ready to re-visit an artwork i sweated in, dreamt in, loved in – could (have) mean(t).

i felt like avoiding, and accepting the fact that i came to this residency depleted for multiple reasons that i will keep silent in typed words but could expand on if you ever see me in the detour of a street, gallery, theatre.

– depleted – it is when i am most vulnerable to external forces. i felt the pressure to produce for the first time in a while at the beginning of the residency. But – returned to myself spiritually guided by (non)living ancestors. i paused on the fact, the need to have such pockets, portals, moments to come depleted, stay depleted – feel its wind of change and its static corners – without pressure to ‘sort it/myself out’. As an artist with mood swings, chronic depression, and care responsibilities – i never paused on the thought that maybe feeling whatever i am feeling, including depleted, did not have to be a feeling, space i needed to unknot but could – be – with/in.

Without performing Black joy, without performing Black queer trauma, without performing but being and trusting the fact that what was (not) happening was ok.

Sym and mel inside linoleum dreams, parked on the parking of the Daimler Power House, kindly supported by Talking Birds

i had pleasure though! Surrounded by beings i love and did not see in a while, taking time to share a cuppa, nurturing friendships learning about how/where Black queer artist friends grew up in in Dakar, Birmingham, Nairobi… working at Odyssey studio with a friend part of B.O.O.K (Building Our Own Knoweldge) working group, inspired by friend and collaborator Samiir Saunders i wrote the first version of my access rider (happy to share with anyone interested) – i got to know about myself and share it to the world.

Ok now that i am starting to list things it actually sounds like it was 2 full wholesome weeks. But i want to highlight the reality that these were interrupted with times when i had to cancel my days as i felt the need to stay still – i must admit that i spent a whole day watching Love Is Blind season 1 and 2 as well (learnt so much!)… . Also learnt a lot navigating the British Arts Show in Wolverhampton as part of a day trip investigating this aching research question: how do we create loving environments? (perspectives from Black queer artworkers who grew up on the African continent and in the EU/UK-based diaspora) –

i lived.

i am writing this post fresh out of an inspiring talk by Zed Lawal, Dan Thompson & Derek Nisbet, and chair Philippa Cross.

this residency has been transformative – quite in line with most of Talking Birds’ work. as i am ending this annotation on the residency, i would like to share my love for the being making this organisation – a warm womb i (re)turn to while excited, on a high, depleted, lost ….-

Talking Birds, and its residencies programme is an essential example of what mothering could mean when it comes to the arts sector.

More on this slow-birth-ing creature i am working on or that is working within me in due course.

here is a snippet of a tentacle of this thingy that works and mixes my within for almost a year:

i would like to have conversations with members of my chosen family (mainly (Black) queer artworkers) this time and compile the transcripts of them – both work will inform a multi-language performance and multi-sensory installation i feel the impulse to make. With this project that lives in my heart i have the desire to investigate how senses of aesthetics, of what is art and what is not – are formed and informed by the built environment/ interior design/ furniture/ type of flooring / wall-paper and so on – we grew up in? How can this inform the creation of loving environments in the arts (too)? How can we create loving environments? Dissecting these questions by looking back at our immediate roots and acknowledging the power of ‘things’ in contributing in making us who we are now – i am currently thinking of expanding my understanding of my vibrant materialist approach.

As a dear being sent me on a low a couple of months ago:
Octavia E Butler’s assertion in Parable of the Talents, “To survive let the past teach us”

These words will definitely find home on my skin through ink asap.

If you are a Midlands-based artist working in any medium who might benefit from a Nest Residency, you can find more details and how to apply here.

Revealing hidden treasures

Indira Lakshmi reflects on her recent Nest Residency

Y E A H ! So Excited!

I was in Delhi, sitting next to my husband in a bar called ‘Dr Zombie’ decorated in neon green and black with plastic skeletons hanging from the celling. We decided to go out, things are opening up again in the city after the second dreadful wave of Covid, which seems to be rapidly fading from collective memory. I opened my emails and found out that I’d been selected for the Future Ecologies Nest residency. I was totally ecstatic to be able to have been offered space and time to develop my practice, and was eager to get started.


September 5th. Back in England. Mixed feelings about being back. L o n e l y … u n c e r t a i n t y
lovely weather 🙂 w=i=l=d=p=r=i=m=r=o=s=e sittiNGoN**thegrass


15th September – 10am – canal trip – Dom Breadmore’s boat.

It takes a few minutes to get used to the motions of the boat, the sensation of buoyancy is something I’ve not felt in years. The last time I was on a boat was in Orissa, December 2017, Chilika lake, looking at gangetic dolphins. Being on the canal felt like Coventry’s secret mirror world, where everything moves in slow motion, watching the flora of the banks drift by, and the soft motions of the water felt surreal and healing.

C O C O N U T S –

There’s objects in the water that look like coconuts. I think of when offerings are given to the river Ganges, to show gratitude for sustaining life. I start remembering my grandma and the ritual when we immersed her ashes in Stratford upon Avon, because the river Avon eventually reaches the sea, just like the Ganges.

Dom explained that there’s a Hindu temple which backs onto the canal, and the coconuts are indeed ritual offerings. Something about the coconuts stuck in my mind. I feel they’re poignant metaphors for cultural displacement. I started to think about the diverse histories of migration to the city. My own family migrated to Coventry from Punjab in 1958 following the post-war call out for workers from the commonwealth.

The canal has a rich history. It was once lined with numerous factories and the homes of workers. A fascinating range of objects have been found in there including old machinery parts and even a grenade! Then there are these seemingly random, floating coconuts. They’re such loaded objects. They contain the energy of hopes, dreams, pleas, hundreds of prayers… They make me think of cultural displacement, not only within the Indian diaspora community I grew up in, but also within myself as I’ve navigated through both England and India. I’m a floating person, not truly belonging to either culture, that’s also a gift.

T h i n k i n g About T H E B O D Y

I started thinking about interactivity, as I knew my work would be potentially displayed physically at Random String Festival. I’d been thinking about passive participation in art spaces vs active participation, where the viewer considers the traces they leave behind in a space as well as what they take away. I’m also interested in technology bringing people together, physically rather than remotely in a metaverse dystopia, and how we create environments where physical exploration and movement can take place.

I constantly think about the body in space. How does the body inhabit the environment, how does the way we move/ position ourselves effect perception and vice versa.

I had been experimenting with the software Pure Data for a while, an open source visual programming environment. In Delhi I’d visited an exhibition where an artist had used Reactivision, an open source, cross-platform computer vision framework, to track markers to the effect of the viewer moving around and triggering a print command. I instinctively knew this was something I had to delve into, though initially I wasn’t sure how I’d use it.

R E A C T I V I S I O N == :s ….. 🙂 …… ❤

There was some refurbishment going on upstairs at The Nest, so I couldn’t access the studio. Frances helped me to print out sheets of fiducial markers, and I sat in the downstairs communal space and got to work.

I learnt the initial basics of programming during my MA in Visual Arts Practice at Ambedkar University in New Delhi, then carried on teaching myself. I figured out the basics with Reactivision fairly quickly, but getting beyond the basics took hours of sitting transfixed at my laptop.

One use of Reactivision is to track movement of fiducial markers. You move a fiducial marker – Reactivision tracks the coordinates and position – events are triggered depending on how you write the program. My process was – Reactivision feeds the X and Y coordinates into Pure Data, with that data you can assign certain events to certain markers, or to the X and Y coordinates of the markers.
Initially I routed out the data to a digital synthesizer and started experimenting.

https://youtube.com/shorts/fRILwEXkaeE (video of me initially experimenting with Pure Data and Reactivision)

T R I N I T Y M A R I N A W I T H Frances ❤

I wanted to find out what life was like living on the canal, in a boat. I remember when I lived in Leicester, my ex’s dad worked on a marina, I had some friends that lived in a boat too. I remembered bits of conversations from back then about what it was like to live on the water, the reasons why people wanted to get away from city life.

Frances, the community connector at Talking Birds, connected me with a friend of her husband named Marc Denny. Marc lives on a boat moored up in Trinity Marina, Hinkley. We drove up to meet Marc, who had gathered some of his friends together who also lived on boats there. We sat in a pub nearby and I recorded a conversation between us.

It was brilliant to speak to them, I wish I could have gone back and had individual recorded chats with them all but there wasn’t enough time. The main things I took away were that there was a greater sense of community, the pace of life was different away from the city/life on land, you had to be more mindful about your resources i.e water and heat…

I caught up with some friends who had lived on canal boats. They said life was hard in the winter but equally beautiful. Sensorially it’s a totally different way of life.

O C T O B E R 7th </3

Bad News… </3…
S-l-o-w-f-u-n-c-t-i-o-n-i-n-g | h-y-p-e-r-p-r-o-d-u-c-t-i-v-i-t-y — Taking breaks to cry in all the video installations at Coventry Biennial.

S4DN3*ss s l o w l y thenfast ( ͡❛ ﹏ ͡❛) l a g

C A N A L sOng

I joined Dom and Anne from Ludic rooms for a trip down the canal, to record using a hydrophone (underwater microphone). The results were interesting but not what I expected. All the hydrophone recordings sounded like a motorbike…

I applied some reverb and added layers of guitar and vocals over the top.

I fragmented the song into separate tracks and inserted them into the Pure Data patch I was working on. I developed the patch enough to be able to use it for a table-top interactive soundscape.

T A B L E – T O P (( OMG Kill me now :’) )) C R E A T I O N H U R D L E LONGTIME

I researched different ways that people had used Reactivision and marker tracking with interactivity, and decided I was going to make a rear-projected table-top interface where the markers could be read from underneath.
This was the plan:

Here’s an example of the moveable objects with fiducial markers underneath. I decided to use objects found in the canal which are anomalies; coconuts, litter, empty beer cans…

I borrowed a large piece of perspex from Ludic Rooms and initially began working with the perspex balanced on two tables. I began working with rear projection, which is one of the most frustrating things I’ve ever done…

s l o w l y thenfast ( ͡❛ ﹏ ͡❛) l a g

The code was now working well, but getting the hardware and physical elements to work was much more challenging. This is really what took up the most of my time, but I’m really, really glad to have had this time of trial and error. It’s been an invaluable learning process. I eventually figured things out, and moving forward I have this know-how in my artistic tool kit – I’m already planning the next development of this work.

My friend Tom Edwards helped me with making a wooden structure for the perspex, which we assembled at Random String Festival.

I wish I had more time to make things more polished. I think I utilised the time as well as I could, and ended up with a working prototype for the future. If I could do this again I’d do it with floating objects on water, in a shallow tank…

I realise that when you finally get over the technical hurdles your mind opens up to more possibilities, rather than being obsessed with overcoming tech difficulties. I heard a phrase in November that sticks with me ‘rationally working with what you have reveals hidden treasures’. I’m trying to do that. I’m not a software engineer or a trained musician, until now I’ve intuitively worked with the skills I’ve picked up at different points in life, and this residency has given me the time and space to develop my skills with programming. A new window has opened for me. Though I used found objects for the work at Random String, I know that now I can integrate my skills as a sculptor into a touch interactive framework, and I’m thinking along new lines with interactivity, games and experiences.

14th November, 2021, Random String Festival 😀

The display at Random String Festival was a really valuable experience. The work was interacted with a lot by people of all ages, it was a really positive atmosphere. The rear projection wasn’t perfect, my positioning of the mirrors is something I need to work on in the future, as well as refining the code and other hardware/physical elements.

One of the great things about the display was the constant interaction with the work, people were engaging and actively participating in the experience – people were having fun with it, having a laugh with their friends, children were fascinated with it…

I’m thinking about the balance between something which is a spectacle and still looks inviting enough to physically engage with.

I’m working on the next rendition of this table top interface for a gig my friend George and I are organising in March with our project Human Oils. I’m trying to create a game, where there are more obvious rules, more clearly defined ways of moving things around. I’m thinking noughts and crosses with different objects, just as an experiment.

(Coventry City of Culture video, me talking about the work)

I want to sincerely thank everyone at Talking Birds and Ludic Rooms for their support and for the invaluable work they do. This has been an incredible and valuable experience which I feel has really propelled me forward with my practice.


Better To Be Twins?

Twin Song was created in 2014 to mark 70 years since a bond of friendship was formalised between the people of Soviet city Stalingrad (now Volgograd) and the people of Coventry, UK. This pioneering twinning of two cities far apart was instigated by collectives of women in both cities, who exchanged potent symbols of solidarity while WW2 was still raging – the women of Stalingrad sent a book of 30,000 signatures to Coventry; women in Coventry signed and stitched a tablecloth which was sent back along with medical aid for a people emerging from one of the worst sieges in history. 

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