BA (Hons) Fine Art graduate Shannon Watson's degree show installation piece ‘The Immersive Musician’ is to be transformed into a physical performative event on Plymouth Hoe this September.
The project titled 'Immersive Orchestra' is a symbiotic performance of two parts, devised by Shannon and produced in collaboration with Imperfect Orchestra. Part of The Atlantic Project, a pilot for an international arts festival, and Plymouth Art Weekender, the project invites participants to take part in a wild swimming musical performance on Plymouth Hoe on the 30 September between 12pm - 2pm.
This live performance will see the movement of swimmers conduct a composition of music, Plymphony no.1 In Sea, composed by the Imperfect Orchestra and performed by a participatory guitar ensemble. The project celebrates the participatory and immersive elements of performance with a city-wide open call for ‘swimmers and strummers’ to take part in the event and an invitation for the audience to sit amongst the musicians as they play along to the swimmers on the day.
We caught up with Shannon to find out a bit more about the project, her inspiration and her life as a fine art graduate in the South West...
What triggered the concept of this project?
I was inspired by an artist talk and tutorial held at Plymouth College of Art by visiting artist Matt Stokes about collecting people's stories and histories, and through this I became really interested in how people socially engage with spaces.
I’ve always been drawn to Plymouth. It’s the emotion I get when I arrive at the Hoe, I feel calm. I've met loads of people that have travelled the world and stay in Plymouth because it’s special. Being on the Hoe you notice the wild sea swimmers, so I started meeting and interviewing them, asking about their stories and histories and why they swim. A lot of people told me swimming was an act of escapism and the physical lifting up of your body helps you de-stress. It helps with reflection and mindfulness and physical and mental wellbeing. The swimmers that I met have an intimate relationship with the sea and the Hoe. They believe the sea has a memory and this was a concept that I start to think seriously about.
How did the project develop?
One of the people that I met was Kathy, a lady with a passion for both swimming and music. Kathy shared some stories of her life and memories within Plymouth. I remember one story in particular in which she danced all night on the banjo by the Plymouth shoreline so-much-so that she wore holes in her shoes. The thought of music and the sea being so prominent in Kathy's story is what started to grow the initial body of work and research. Apart from the stories though, there was no evidence. The banjo has since eroded and no bandstand bands play there anymore. I wanted to try and construct this again for other people to experience.
Was the idea of a live public event on Plymouth Hoe something that had always been in mind for the project?
The research has been going on for a couple of years and this site-specific performance has developed through the entire project. I wanted to recreate the energy and emotion that I heard in these stories for people to participate in. I also want to encourage people to access the Hoe, to transform the space and how people connect with it even if it’s just for a few hours.
My work is performative but not a performance. I see myself as a facilitator. I create an environment for people to perform so this seemed to make sense.
Are there plans for this project to continue to develop?
We are hoping to have a legacy project happen after this, which won't be so site-specific, so we can appear in different venues and sites across Plymouth. We are creating a sound piece that will be recorded the week before and we will be filming the event. The interest will then lie in exploring the relationship between the swimmers and the sea and the musician and instrument. Both have the power to bring people together.
How have you found the artistic and creative community here in the South West?
Plymouth has quite a unique, strong creative community. Everyone wants to help each other and everyone is very supportive. You can always find someone to meet for chats or advice. I like to be busy and meet people and I find one thing always leads to another. If you make the initial connections with people you then feel you can approach them again. Meeting the swimmers gave me the confidence to approach people. Now I’ve started getting involved in different opportunities by involving myself really!
What have you been up to since you left Plymouth College of Art this summer?
A number of things! I attended the Art.Earth conference Liquidscapes alongside international academics and artists exploring relationships with water and fluid states. There were some really amazing Keynote speakers such as Prof. Paul Murdin OBE a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge and Tristan Gooley who is a Natural navigator.
I have an Artists Residency at The Engine Room at Somerset Film until September and I am spending three months at Spike Island through the Graduates Studio fellowship. Residencies are great and they are critical for engagement. Social engagement is really key for me and my work.
I have been working as an artist assistant in Yeovil, working with Zoe Li (Curator and Producer. Programme Associate of Somerset Art Works & Founder of Eastville Project Space). I also helped out this summer with the production of Jamboree, a national gathering of artists and curators.
What are your plans and ideas for the future?
I’m heading to Cardiff for a year to explore my practice and to drag me away from Plymouth Hoe. It would also be good to explore different cities and see how my work goes there.
What did you get most out of your time at the college?
I had opportunities to build connections and be part of a network. I’ve been invited to be on the steering panel for the Mayflower 2020 Public Art Commision as the young representative which is really exciting.
I feel really lucky to be part of the Plymouth art scene as it’s up-and-coming. There isn’t a Them vs You relationship. In Plymouth it feels like everyone's trying to make things happen, we’re making work and decisions for Plymouth not for ourselves. I’m making work for people to experience, for the general public. Not for a gallery and not for myself.