Founded in 1996, and based in Bristol, Polar Produce is
a multidisciplinary group which creates interactive media and live art
experiences. The group's work explores the interface between virtual
and real environments with particular emphasis on real-time, site-specific
and locative experiences, marrying traditional and new conventions within
the arts, performance, music and emerging technologies.
They are currently
working with the BBC, Nottingham University, Bath University, British
Telecom and Blast Theory on developing a mass participatory and pervasive
experience, which explores democratic, public engagement in environmental
issues. The company is also working with STEIM Amsterdam and Ivan Franco
and Restart, Lisbon to develop a series of touring workshops and public
Their project, Taking Ground, took place on an isolated swing
bridge, underneath a flyover and surrounded by water, and reflected on
two hundred years of travel and one man's obsession with innovation and
fame. Taking Ground examined how our lives have been affected by the acceleration
of speed in transport and communication.
It was a site-specific performance
piece on 1 and 2 April 2006, created by five live-art/theatre practitioners:
Teresa Dillon, Tanya Steinhauser, Dom Fryett, Mary Southcott, Swen Steinhauser
and Kathy Hinde, which took place on and around Brunel’s Tubular
Inspiration was taken from authors and artists who
had commented on travel, speed, and innovation, as well as
from the Brunel
ss Great Britain and time spent interviewing 12 senior citizens at Windmill
Hill City Farm, who reflected on how transport had changed over the last
50 years in and around Bristol. As a result of this project, the group
would like to continue their relationship with the senior citizens interviewed
and work with them on a future project.
Each performance lasted 75 minutes,
and 140 people attended the performances over two days. The performances
were divided into ‘chapters’,
each of which was introduced to the audience.
Each chapter of Taking Ground
invited the audience on a journey though the Cumberland Basin and the
work of Brunel. Weaving together the facts and fictions of the site,
with tales from far away lands, they created handmade communication
devices, said their goodbyes to loved ones and celebrated with unknown
strangers and passers by:
Chapter 1: Arrival
Audience members greeted by performers, asked how far they had travelled
and led to the central site.
Chapter 2: Health and Safety
Given the nature of the site, this was necessary but delivered informally.
3: Brunel’s Bridge
Audiences were given an overview of the bridge, its functionality, innovation
and relation to other bridges in the area. Audience participation included
reuniting the end parts of the dis-used bridge with string and cheering
on the proceedings.
Chapter 4: Leaving
Reflecting on the notions of departing, performers read texts reflecting
on a visit to the ss Great Britain, accompanied by the brass band.
Audiences were led to the centre of the site, and were encouraged to ‘get
active’. Using bunting, they were asked to move in the slow, medium
or fast lane alongside music.
Chapter 6: Chapter delay and Tea Break
Taking place by the Dockmaster’s Office, a performative device
used to change the pace of the show, a chance to chat, have refreshments
and prepare for the next chapters.
Chapter 7: Cable Laying
Audiences were told of how the Great Eastern was used to lay cable across
the Atlantic. Supported by the use of tin cans and string, which the
audience were encouraged to use to communicate with people on the other
side of the lock.
Chapter 8: The Departure
Audiences crossed the inner lock to watch a video installation, showing
footage collected from a moving train augmented by the moving traffic
on the bridge above, to create a feeling of travel. Audiences were
given streamers to let go of, the brass band played, a mast was hoisted
on the bridge turning it into a ship. The artists moved up into a hut
and the audience received a departing card and an airmail letter to
send to someone they hadn’t been in touch with.
reflection, Polar Produce remarked that the chapters featuring audience
participation were very well received, and those that attended complemented
the group on how beautiful and emotional the piece was, and how well
they worked with the site:
“Very original way to celebrate the deeds
of Brunel. Instead of praising his achievements the performance looked
at how history developed from the first sparkles of the age of speed.”
“A good way to celebrate 200 years, and how we are shaping the
“A witty and engaging performance. The way the audience could
take part and reflect about the subject was at the same time humorous,
playful and thoughtful.”
Photography: Mark Simmons.