Talking Birds is a collaboration of local artists based in Coventry, whose most recent project took place at the Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art. We interviewed Janet Vaughan, Co-Artistic Director to find out more about them and what they do.
Who are Talking Birds?
Talking Birds is a company of artists based in Coventry, with a 25 year practice exploring the complex relationships between people and place. The company is well known for its site-specific Theatre of Place; its interactive works for festivals (which includes a giant aluminium whale-shaped theatre on wheels); its pioneering mobile captioning tool the Difference Engine; and its smaller sociable events which bring people together for unexpected conversations in unusual places – most recently with pop up social space. The Cart, which has been touring the city inviting people to sit down with a cuppa and have a conversation about what culture is or c/should be.
What type of performance art do you do?
There isn’t really a typical Talking Birds project – and although we are a theatre company, our work doesn’t always involve performance. We tend to work with people and place to find the right form for the ideas and spaces we are exploring. We want to find a way to bring people together to look afresh at a familiar place – to give them a reason to talk to each other, and we want it to be enjoyable but also gently provocative. Because the company is led by a designer and a composer, the way things look and sound is really important.
So far this year we have made performance guided tours during residencies at the Warwick Market Hall Museum and the Albany Theatre in Coventry; taken The Cart up into the Ikea restaurant to sketch the city skyline and compose haikus with diners; made an outdoor telling of the story of Hannah Snell who dressed as a man to join the army in the 1740s and fought fiercely, undetected, for 5 years; and toured a piece about prisons and mental health in the 1850s, which we made in partnership with researchers and historians from the Centres for the History of Medicine in England and Ireland.
Previous work includes:
– The Virtual Fringe, an imaginary festival for Coventry designed to make people think about how art and cultural events could animate the city;
– site-specific pieces or tours in unused or about-to-be-knocked-down buildings such as Whitefriars Monastery, the Bishop Street sorting office and the Coventry & Warwickshire hospital;
– the FarGo Space Programme – a series of curated residencies for Coventry artists in an empty space at FarGo prior to the redevelopment;
– participatory web artworks exploring online spaces and behaviours, such as Helloland and Web Demographic;
– We Love You City at the Belgrade Theatre, telling many city stories of the day Coventry City won the FA Cup.
– Market Forces residency on a stall at Coventry Market collecting radios and stories to make a city symphony for the Radio Orchestra.
What was your project at the Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art?
UnFound was one of our smaller sociable events bringing people together for unexpected conversations in unusual places. Billed as a secret event for artists and creative thinkers and created especially for the inaugural Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art, it happened in a secret location in central Coventry, and involved intrigue, food, conversation and some consideration of the future.
What future projects have Talking Birds got lined up?
There’s an instalment of our Festival of Ideas series of panel discussions coming up in November – this one exploring art, culture and climate change; then next year we’re making a handful of guided tours of the city which allow people to see Coventry through the eyes of someone else and walk in their footsteps. We’ll also be re-making Capsule, which is an immersive experience for an audience of six at a time – with a twist; and continuing to test our mobile captioning invention The Difference Engine.
Where can people follow you for more info?