by Emma Brennan
This year saw the thirteenth edition of the prolific FIX festival. Established by Catalyst Arts in 1994, for twenty-five years, FIX has consistently delivered an innovative programme of local and international live, sonic and performance artists to the city of Belfast. It is internationally renowned as one of Europe’s longest running live art festivals. Book-ended between Culture Night and October’s late Night Art, this year saw more than 20 artists participate over the two weeks in multiple venues across the city. Much like it’s parent, Catalyst Arts, FIX boasts an undeniable reputation for showing iconic, thought provoking work and is a vital outlet for contemporary art practices in Northern Ireland.
The legacy of this festival is tightly sewn into the cultural fabric of the city of Belfast, and hence was one of the biggest draws for me to pursue a Directorship at Catalyst Arts. Needless to say, the opportunity to then project manage such a beast was both an exciting and intimidating prospect. The very definition of being a festival posed an endless index of possibilities for what FIX19 could become and an equally long list of anxieties for me as an emerging curator.
In our initial conversation about performing at this year’s FIX19, BBeyond member and no stranger to the festival itself, Brian Patterson, offered me a formula for approaching live art events which helped ease this anxiety. An equation of sorts that I frequently meditated on in the overwhelming moments of the festival, helping to keep my head above water.
The gospel according to Brian:
First there is the individual: The you, I, singular, artist, curator, maker…etc
Then there is the group: The collaboration or collective, an organisation…etc
Finally there is the broader: The abstract, a concept or a movement, the social, political, or ideological…etc
These three elements arose throughout the festival in all the individuals involved, organisations like Catalyst and BBeyond, featured themes of Transnationalism and works that varied in content and concept. The performances at this years FIX19 were equally sensitive to their individual avenues of thought and challenged everything from horticulture to institutional abuse. From French artist’s Ouazzani & Carrier exploration of Belfast through the foraging, producing and hosting of their tea infusions to Dominic Thorpe’s harrowing durational performance, during which he self-suffocated with the application of layers upon layers of petroleum jelly, FIX19 proved Patterson’s theorem throughout.
Brian’s live art hack also reminded me throughout the festival that the overall outcome was not solely my responsibility or achievement. FIX was bigger than me or Catalyst and any other singular element. In actuality, the undeniable success of FIX came from all of these factors working together towards a common goal.
Artists, levelling from emerging to established, travelled from all over the world to not only perform at FIX but also to help one another install work, support each other, act as viewers and bestow their great knowledge as facilitators. The beautiful and rewarding moments of the whole experience came from watching these strangers join together to share spaces, conversations, food, pints, laughter, infusions and much more.
My very own introduction to performance art, Dominic Thorpe, not only did me the great honour of accepting an invitation to perform at FIX19 but also spent the evening before his own performance standing in the lashings of rain to support Bbeyond’s work; carrying things, encouraging others and at one point even holding an umbrella above me so I could document their work. The kind acts of this gentle man are just one example of the considerate and generous work that was happening outside of the contracted work that define FIX19 for me.
‘’Consider stillness as empty time, into which a performance can be poured’’ – Anthony Howell
The beginnings of the festival felt a lot like this, a stillness. An eerie calm before the chaos reigned. A run of blank days over a two week period into which an array of things had to be poured. In the months leading up to and during FIX19 an abundance of hard work, consideration, patience and what can only be identified as love were committedly donated by each participating artist, fellow project manager Anne Mager, myself, the Catalyst Board, volunteers, viewers and everyone in between.
To sum it up in its entirety would be a futile attempt and not one I will make for your sake and for mine. Not alone because of the sheer volume of the festival but also because of the very essence of performance art and the liveness of it. However I can say that standing now, on the other side of it, I feel I have received a great gift in my experience with it all. For this I have to give my sincerest gratitude to the entire FIX family, for your kind generosity and unwavering compassion throughout the festival. Upon reflection I am met with beautiful, emotional memories that will help define my time at Catalyst Arts and I hope you have all been equally rewarded in your experience with us.
FIX19 took place between September 20th and October 3rd 2019.
Participating artists were (in order of appearance): Brennagh Meehan, Lee Hamill, Aoife O’Connor, Evamaria Schaller, BBeyond, Ouazzani & Carrier, Dominic Thorpe, Bettina Wenzel, Amanda Coogan, Rory Mullen.
Member’s Screening Artists: Andrea Piras Pinna, Áine Phillips, C J Woods, Eleni Kolliopoulou, John D’Arcy, Kate McElroy, Katharine May, Marianne Dupain, Nenad Bogdanovic, Nollaig Molloy, Rachel Macmanus, Sally O’Dowd, Sarah Lundy, Tadhg Ó Cuirrín, Uri Kloss, Valerie Driscoll, Vasiliki Stasinaki.
Curators: Emma Brennan, Anne Mager
Catalyst Board at the time: Emma Brennan, Leah Corbett, Edy Fung, Peter Glasgow, Anne Mager, Liam McCartan, Thomas Wells.
Photographer: Jordan Hutchings
For information on the festival: www.catalystarts.org.uk/projects#/fix19