York Mediale: Passing cultural baton from Shakespeare to digital art

In a city of history, whose principal summer attraction was rooted in Shakespeare, a 10-day celebration of interactive artwork and digital projection might be viewed as raising more questions than it answered.

Lauran Masterman (left) and Vanessa Myrie (centre) are reflected in mirrors that form part of an art installation at York Mediale.

Yet, only a hair’s breadth of creativity separates the Rose Theatre which stood for 10 weeks in the shadow of Clifford’s Tower with York’s first “Mediale”, its creative director said at its launch yesterday.

The international assembly of performance art, photography, video and other emerging forms of expression, is the first tangible result of the city having been made Britain’s first United Nations City of Media Arts, four years ago.

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It began on the main stage of the Theatre Royal last night, with a performance by the electronic jazz musicians Moses Boyd and Kamaal Williams, playing in front of a psychedelic backdrop of visual art mixed live with “curated artefacts found online” – and continues today with a large-scale exhibition at the city Art Gallery.

Neo Sinoxolo Musangi from Kenya with her installation at York Mediale. Picture: Charlotte Graham

“We’re really not so far removed from the pop-up Shakespearean theatre, said Tom Higham, creative director of the Mediale, which carries the slogan, ‘Art, meet the future’.

“The dynamic and brave cultural outlook is something that we share. It’s a forward-looking, creative city, and the magic of it is that we are completely blessed by what the place looks like.”

He added: “It’s a unique event, entirely commissioned for York. We’ve built it from the ground up, and it’s really exciting.”

Some three dozen events, in 19 city locations, will make up the festival.

They include 8 Minutes, an experimental science-fiction dance created by the choreographer Alexander Whitley and premiered at Sadler’s Wells. It will be performed at the Theatre Royal tomorrow, with an accompanying “free virtual reality experience” called Celestial Motion in the foyer.

Mr Higham said: “There are 10 days of events and if you spend one day exploring the city, you will find something you love.”

At the Art Gallery, the exhibition Strata Rock Dust Stars has been inspired by the geological map produced in 1815 by William Smith, which helped establish the subject as a science. Among those exhibiting “moving image, new media and interactive artwork” is the Turner Prize nominated filmmaker and installation artist, Isaac Julien.

Afterits run in York, the show will transfer to Panama City.

Its curator, Hull native Mike Stubbs, who is also director of Liverpool’s Foundation for Art and Creative Technology, said that despite its mandate to harness modern technology in the creation of art, the festival was “not just for young people”.

He said: “It’s helping to forge a new creative identity for the city, and it’s really important that it’s seen as offering something for all ages.”

Asked what the York audience had made of the exhibits, he said: “It’s too soon to say. We’ll find out soon.”

The city’s grand venues are supplemented for the Mediale by its newest and smallest ones. At the Spark development on Piccadilly, a shopping centre made entirely of industrial shipping containers, which opened in May, a unit has been given over to Green (Screen) Dreams, by the Brazilian artist, Rodrigo Lebrun – who said he liked the “controlled environment” offered by a steel box. His show explores climate change through a semi-imagined town south of the Humber called Sunthorpe, whose tourist attractions do not yet exist.