Fierce and Fragile

Author: Leo Burtin
16th October 2014 at 00:32

During a very touching presentation of some his recent film works, Steven Cohen described himself as “fierce but fragile”.
My recent visit to Birmingham for Fierce festival very distinctly left the same impression. Fierce but fragile.
Since getting back from attending the final weekender, I have been thinking a lot about what the programme developed by Harun Morisson and Laura MacDermott does to the city and the community they create around the festival.
At its very core, it seems to me that Fierce is a restless, overtly political beast of a festival, digging deep into the most obscure corners of the Live Art world (yes, there is such a thing) and bringing it out; sometimes delicately, sometimes cheekily, sometimes loudly.
I am still thinking about how experience the festival affected my perception of the city, the work itself and, actually, myself.
I will no doubt make time to reflect on this in writing, in a more appropriate forum, at some point.
For now, I am still digesting - For now, I too, feel fierce but fragile.

I started with a long walk, from the festival hub in Digbeth all the way out into the jewellery quarter. In unfamiliar surroundings, it took me the best part of an hour. The closer I was getting to reaching my destination, the less people were around. I didn’t yet know that I would be grateful for that, later on. I didn’t yet know that I would be grateful for the long walk back, in silence, with hardly anyone around.
I arrive at the venue, I am greeted by the trademark pink A-board which reassures me that I have come to the right place. There’s only three of us.
An usher finally let us in to the warehouse where we are about to experience Gardens Speak. It is almost colder in than out.
We are given really clear instruction, orally and in writing. From the very start the work itself looks after you, it prepares you.

I met Bassell (sp.?), a young filmmaker. I lay next to him, my ear against his story. My ear against history.
I was feeling colder and colder, yet somehow, I was sweating, I could feel the blood rushing to my cheeks.
I am keen not to spoil the experience for anyone who may have the privilege to engage with this interactive installation.
I will simply say that Tania El Khoury’s piece is primarily a sensory experience; it makes the political become ultra personal. It creates a complex and intimate dialogue about something that is bigger than most of us combined and brings it very close, transforms it to place on the human scale.

It asks you to get your hands dirty, and to pay attention.
It does it gently and yet, it makes its point loud and clear.

It will stay with me for a very long time.