This summer poet, performer and Creative Director of Mercy Nathan Jones, used Artists' international development funding for a five-day research trip to Berlin culminating in an Electronic Voice Phenomena performance at Künstlerhaus Bethanien and a workshop for Berlin-based artists in Liverpool.
We asked him about his work, the trip and his recommendations for artists undertaking a similar project.
ACE: Tell us a bit about Mercy and how it merges commercial practice with artistic development.
Nathan: Mercy is an arts organisation which specialises in new approaches to literature, and also a great design agency. We started out as a zine, and ten years later we are still a group of friends who feed off each other creatively, but our passions have diversified. This can be a little tricky, but has led to some really interesting conversations around business models, which hopefully - along with the quality and originality of the work we produce - sets us apart.
The design agency has a great roster of clients in leisure and creative industries, and art. As an arts organisation the mix of commercial and artistic is something which comes naturally to us. To be totally honest, it isn't something we've ever been able to force too much as an income stream - we just produce work and have a profile and often enough we're approached for interesting commercial projects. Over the last couple of years the emphasis has changed slightly to include more partnership work with larger arts and cultural organisations too.
ACE: You are already working with artists networks in the UK. Why do you feel that now is the time to expand your network internationally and why Berlin?
Nathan: It's always a good time to start developing networks internationally! This is just really the first opportunity I saw that I could do so. The timing was great of course, because I could link the trip up to the Electronic Voice Phenomena strand I was working on with Mercy - and also let it feed into emerging plans in what is really going to be a pivotal time for myself and the organisation. In 2013 we'll be co-producing a touring show on the EVP theme, and hopefully we can exercise these new networks to take that abroad and open up something of a touring circuit for engaged literature/new media practice.
Berlin is still the centre of the independent new media art scene in Europe. The cost of living has gone up of course, but there is still an integral creative pulse to the city, which values time, thinking, radical, experimental approaches, and a lifestyle which attracts artists from all over the world. We went to Germany, but we were plugged into the whole of Europe.
ACE: Your Electronic Voice Phenomena event and think tank mixed artists from various artforms. Were there challenges to this?
Nathan: This is the only way I am really comfortable with working, and I feel that I am in tune with my time in helping artists develop practices and networks that are cross-disciplinary.
The only challenge then is to bring the entire audience into a place where they can engage with the work. Hopefully I do this by speaking intelligently and plainly introducing the works and enthusiastically about my own responses, as host.
ACE: What was the most surprising outcome of the project?
Nathan: The quality and variety of the artists who were willing to come to Liverpool in October, and their continuing engagement in collaborative work with UK artists. It's exciting to see actual artworks and proposals begin to emerge from these relationships brokered only a few months ago. Also it was interesting how ready-networked the whole of Europe is, especially with regard art-performance - and how the UK, in my experience anyway, isn't integrally part of this.
ACE: And finally, do you have three top tips for anyone working on an international project like this?
Nathan: 1. Make sure you have on the ground knowledge.
2. Develop a 'theme' or priority which people can get to grips with. For us, very quickly we realised that Electronic Voice Phenomena was a good handle for people to be able to understand my own hybrid practice - even though we have looked to evolve the network away from this, it was really useful.
3. Do your research on the people you are going to meet, meet a good variety of people and have a good variety of suitable angles to approach them from in conversation - ie collaboration, introductions, inviting for performance and sharing reading and influences over time.