Our Origin Story
GUAVA is a curatorial initiative connecting artists and communities locally and globally. The GUAVA seed was planted during a research project at Goldsmiths, University of London, which brought together an international group of urban artists and visual anthropologists. Our primary interest lay in exploring the art space and pushing the boundaries of collaborative and participatory work. Interest in taking this work further in Britain grew after a small group of dual heritage practitioners exhibited a video performance piece exploring aspects of cultural heritage in our Biennale.
One of the team – Development Producer Mel Wong- organised a capacity study which resulted in plans to set up an initiative producing similarly high quality work.
Mel worked on the seed stage alongside her job developing and producing arts programmes for BBC Radio. Her work on innovative radio programmes – digitally combining sound and visuals – provided an additional model for Guava learning labs and fuel to keep developing the vision.
We were able to establish studio sessions, fund learning and other early development activities via Kirdam Trust. We grew into an interdisciplinary cooperative who spent our time brewing up creative ideas and turning them into audio, photography, moving image and live installation. Early development activities had seven key aims:
- To build on our education, research and skill sharing roots
- To foster intercultural links
- To build capacity to produce and promote high quality fresh, socially relevant work
- To push boundaries in our collaborative working practices and use of presentation spaces
- To maintain dialogue around arts representation . Raise awareness of the importance of dual heritage artist taking back their own narrative
- Connect fresh talent and stories to a range of cultural decision makers, development projects and communities
This reflected the interest and concerns of the founder members who brought English, Scottish, Chinese and Caribbean heritage to the initiative. We wanted to help put representation meaningfully on the agenda of arts and media organisations, see cultural voices with other stories to tell take back their own narrative. The Other Story Project offered s artists an experimental a platform for storytelling.
Interest in our experimental learning labs mushroomed within the first eighteen months and the project quickly established its own impetus. So much great work came out of the labs we were running faster than traditional commissioning processes, helping to forge new cross – sectional art practice. Curation for us was a form of research as well as presentation, a place for learning and collaboration. The artists of Guava re-traced, unearthed reclaimed and started to tell new tales through image, sound and performance.
We wanted to apply our experimental approach to developing new arenas as we quickly outgrew existing platforms and traditional processes for presenting work.
We were interested in making and putting it out there. We were not interested in convincing someone to give us permission to do it.
Over the years culture caught up with us – now pop up culture and digital platforms help to realise other forms of creative value for emerging artists and those already influencing cultural life from liminal spaces.
Early Guava collective members initially carried out live durational projects, mixed visuals and sound at festivals and worked on a variety of performative and multi media projects. We loved our festival -as – lab method, finding playful ways to collaborate and critically engage.
By 2003 experimental sessions which offered participants space to develop new ideas, were yielding fruit: several of the first associates found studio blueprints paving the way for other commissions.
‘a sweet hybrid fruit combining the colours and flavours of Europe, Orient and the Caribbean’
Founders Mel Wong and Don Chin remain pivotal to organisational development since they manage to squeeze 28 hours into every day.
Guava introduced work for 2003 Interference: Public Sound, where Mel Wong produced a strand for Radio Cycle showcasing work at the intersection of contemporary and archival sound. This ground – breaking curatorial initiative, led by Goldsmiths, took sound art in to the public square and brought together a series of sonic projects at the forefront of a movement spearheading the crossover of art, media, technology and socially engaged practice in Britain.
The attention we gained for our work deconstructing archival sound and pioneering audio/noise performance led to commission allowing us to develop sustained cross – disciplinary documentary – form sonic work. We made a number of recordings that mixed reportage, music, moving image, found sound, true original stories with new writing by collective members. The audio was broadcast on radio and went out as podcasts between 2003 and 2006.
We found great people, heard some amazing stories and loved sharing editing skills with them. The Podcast was a little used platform for sonic work. We knew we were helping to build interest in delivering stories via what would become an exciting key platform so produced work to document progress: the recording of some programmes was filmed and simultaneously web cast whilst a photography project visually capturing studio work in progress also ran alongside broadcasts.
Reminiscences of war survivors from across the Commonwealth formed one programming strand here. People who contributed their stories for radio were asked if they would like to expand upon this on film. Guava Collective team members then worked with participants to record memories. The resulting short films saw screenings on BBC 1 between 2006 and 2009 in the course of the BBC Television Century Speaks and WW2 People’s War Series.
A selection of recorded stories formed the basis of script development sessions for the earliest performance – live durational – work too. Underpinned by project research carried out around themes of place, time and gendered realities with mature learners at Ruskin College, Oxford, these pieces were developed with the help of See funding via Battersea Arts Centre.The full performances took place at Edinburgh Festival.
From these seeds the Guava tree grows. As we spin our own guava – coloured cloth, projects develop thematically. Technology is used to harness ideas rather than as a driver, to weave together stories which help to fill silences produced by orientalist narratives and other forms of colonial erasure.
Now we use creative engagement techniques, immersive theatre and ethnographic traditions in our research. Alongside the live sonics and visuals, technology has become more important and much more of our work is carried out digitally in the studio labs.
‘Urban Anthropology’ which took place at Leeds City Museum, part of Britain’s 2012 Cultural Olympiad, was the first Guava Revolve show to feature work made by a team of international artists created purely remotely, digitally.
Guava graphic artist and documentary photographer Don Chin ensured the installation team accurately translated visual presentational requirements for mounted and sculptural work. The sound artist Wang Li also chose to travel to England and wowed everyone who heard her live performance. We were delighted to see her hands on the mixing decks in England, adding to digital delivery of the sonic installation which ran alongside the visual arts and other live performative elements, recorded in a studio in China.
Sonic elements featured in Urban Anthropology were then recreated for ‘City Noir’. Tod Machover co ordinated collection of audio for this collaborative piece which made opened at Usher Hall in 2014 for the Edinburgh International Festival programme.
This ‘mosaic method’ of producing work has since fostered more cross – cultural sharing. Over the last five years we have found that using digital techniques to layer multiple personal narratives has became a studio signature practice. Our current long term project – Third Storey – fuses recorded interviews, still and moving image to create talking portraits which will sit with the object based element of the installation.
Vision and Voice 2020
We now officially live in interesting times. Lockdown has given us time to go through our archives and find items relating to our past. It has been useful to re-connect with our roots, to be reminded of how our new cultural voices came to be heard. In a changing world dual heritage artists are a rich resource connecting the local to the global. Today, dual and multi heritage practitioners are confidently emerging from interstitial spaces with politically and socially engaged work providing fresh vocal commentary on culture, powerfully transforming that culture for our changing world.
Special mention must go to the following organisations who have between them provided training, consultancy, opportunities for work, commissions, studio space, other physical space or headspace.
London Film Makers Co-Op, Goldsmiths College, Bow Arts, BBC Radio and Communities, ( BBC London and BBC North) Haringey Council, Kirklees Council LEA and Cultural Services
- 2003 Guava / MW Contributing Producer
Interference: Public Sound, Multi – site, London
- 2003 – 2006 commissioned Radio and Podcasts
- 2004 Our Stories Live Art Project, Ruskin College Group, Oxford
- 2004 Falling Water
- 2005 MW Radio Commonwealth
National Commonwealth Museum, Bristol
- 2006 – 2008 BBC Our WW2 Community Engagement leads Programme Production
BBC Communities Programmes
- 2006 She Saint Cuts
Live Art Performance Edinburgh, Ed Fringe Festival
- 2007 Guava Editorial Photographic Traffic Report Magazine
- 2008 DC Graphic Influence Photographic and text Exhibition, Atrium, University of Bradford
- 2008 MW Bite of FE Project Engagement and Curatorial Co ordination HTC, Kirklees, Yorks
- 2009 DC Photographic Exhibition BBC Online, City Views Exhibition, BBC Scotland
- 2009 MW Trinity Liaison, Creative Mentor Team Lead Yorks University AAA Project, Kirklees Coll/LEA
- 2010 Guava Group Production Team, Hub, Edinburgh Fringe Festival
- 2011 Sonics Live Memories of You Project
- 2011. Revolve and Rotivate Live, Forest Fringe, EFF, Edinburgh
- 2012 MW Workshops Live Art Resource Project, Story Lab, The Centre Cheshunt
- 2012 Guava Revolve Olympiad Team Show Urban Anthropology
Leeds City Museum, Leeds
- 2012 Guava works ‘Home’ in group exhibition Fukushima Museum of Art, Japan
- 2012 Guava Revolve Produced
Video inc binaural sound installation
National Cultural Olympiad
West Yorkshire Playhouse
- 2013 Guava Photography and text based work in group show
Postcard Japan, International House of Japan, Tokyo, Japan
- 2013 MW Film -Artist interview series
New Cultural Voices
National Heritage Archive Project
- 2014 Guava Associates contributor recording in collaborative sound work City Noir, Usher Hall EIF,
Edinburgh International Festival
- 2014 Guava Revolve – Alt
International artist installation and Live Project: multi site
Zoo, St Cuthberts, St Georges West, Edinburgh
- 2014 MW Textile Group maker exhibition Bikes
Yorks International Festival for
Grand Depart, Tour de France
Live durational work Yurt Festival, Tour de France Depart celebration
- 2014 Guava Revolve Performance Exhibition
Art space Brunton Theatre, Lothian, Scotland
- 2015 Japan Exchange – Group Exhibition – Nigiuru Centre, Niguri, Japan
- 2015 DC Photography, group show, opening exhibition of Drawn by Light, Royal Photographic Society (RPS) retrospective
National Media Museum
- 2016 MW Hudds Litfest
Film Production Project : Associate Co – produced with BBC Communities
- 2017 DC Photographic exhibition
Windrushgen: Recurating the Family Portrait
HUDAWI Cultural Centre, Kirklees
- 2018 Zine Portrait Project – R and D Third Storey multi – site HUDAWI, British Library: preview Rich Mix, East London
- 2019 Fluxus Shape Arts Response Zine display
Tate Modern, Bankside, London
- 2019 MW associate Contributor Space Station live art event
Tate Modern, Bankside, London
- 2019 Invisible Wall in
Group show Falling Walls
SVA / Berlin Exchange project
- 2020 Guava Year 3 Facilitator Education Project Partnership Tate, Artangel and Into Film New Direction Project
- 2020 Red Dragon Festive Stick Up Cass Art Gallery Manchester
- 2020 Post Text – based group work
- 2020 MW Sizzlin Sonic Shed Scape, Pop Soundscape, Culture Mile Festival, London
The year Windrush changed from being the name of a ship to the name of a scandal. We will never tire of reminding people that BLM and that, post Windrush, our experiences have never been more relevant. So we would recommend you Check out this audio collection of stories telling of some of them, documenting one of the most pressing narrative threads of our time.
Thanks to Tim, Mike, Verity, Kaylois, Rommi and the guys at BBC Radio where there was no schilling but Thinking Allowed