Keep dancing or you’ll fall off, the year in review

Well, it’s been a hell of year, globally, and a very tiring one for me, work-wise.

Through January and February I was still travelling regularly to London to work at Rambert, where I had been the inaugural digital artist in residence since October. In February I also presented a podcast for The Guardian about a jetpack company (!) and hosted The Story, a lovely conference where people talk about telling stories in different ways, which takes place every year at London’s Conway Hall. I had a fantastic time doing those, and it really made me want to do more hosting.

In April, I had my closing event at Rambert. There was a panel with some dancers on, I did a talk, and some great friends were among the invited audience. It was great fun.

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The Cable Factory where I worked in Helsinki

Throughout the summer, between trips to give talks, I mostly worked on my installation for the 90 years of Rambert show, Perpetual Movement, at the Lowry gallery. The show (featuring me, three other artists and selected items from the Rambert archive) opened at the end of October. It was an enormous push of energy for me, and I vowed to take the rest of the year off to recover…

But instead I spent the whole of November making 25 new episodes of the Hack Circus podcast, which has tired me out even more, but in a good way. They’re all about going ‘behind the scenes of creativity’ and I’m rationing them out, two a week, until the end of January.

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Text for my work currently showing at The Lowry

Sadly, I don’t think the podcast is going to be sustainable. Each episode takes up to two full days for me to make, including booking, travelling, recording, editing, publicising, and all the social media hygiene afterwards. I’ve noticed that people who get paid for their podcasts generally put in up to 5-10 years of free work before sponsors etc start to make it viable. Not something I want to get into at this point. My audiences, as ever, remain resolutely bijou.

But the podcast has been a fabulous opportunity to share ideas and meet personal heroes – many already friends, some acquaintances, others lifelong inspirations who’ve randomly agreed to record a chat with me. So, rather than drag it on for years then let it fizzle out, there will be 50 really great, solid episodes, and they will be up there forever on the internet to inspire and delight.

Disregarding all the 2016ness of it, and in spite of that endless feeling that I’m falling further behind my peers with each year that passes, it’s been a decent enough year for me.

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On a panel with Liliane Lijn at New Scientist Live this autumn

Just months after deciding I might like to try becoming a digital artist, I became the first ever digital art resident at the UK’s leading dance company and got a major four-month commission at a contemporary art gallery. I wrote a little book which was reviewed favourably by Furtherfield. I hung out with, and learned from, the best dancers in the world. I got paid decent amounts of money to speak at and host lots of events and panels around the country. I scored a residency in Finland, and speaking opportunities in the UK, Dublin and Rome. I started writing for the New Scientist, and spoke at their expo in September. I published some issues of, and broke even on, a wildly unlikely, fantastically uncommercial print magazine that I’d been self-funding for three years – silencing the naysayers for five minutes.

Well, what can I tell you? I’m tired. So tired!

And it wasn’t all hits. As always, the hits emerge from the misses, and I did enormous amounts of work which came to nothing. I had a hefty Arts Council bid and a colossal Wellcome Trust application rejected, dozens of rejections for other funds, festivals and residencies, and what ultimately amounted to weeks and weeks of work down the drain. Next year, I’m going to spend that time upskilling, not applying (begging!)

So, what of 2017?

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    Flyer for my installation at The Lowry

    I have a new part-time position in Sheffield which I can’t talk about yet (but which is very exciting and perfect for me. More on that later). I’m also planning to return to journalism more properly, picking up some old contacts so I can get some regular writing done, and get paid for it.

  • Hack Circus issue 12 will be out in mid-January, bringing the 3-year experiment to a close. I’ll write separately about that nearer the time, I think.
  • I plan to do a lot more performing, and have ideas for a couple of weird new shows.
  • I’m also working on some ideas for stuff people want, and will pay money for. A new idea for me!
  • Related: I’m going to do a lot of personal skills development in 2017.

It’s been a heady few years for me, career-wise, I’ve made so many things and met so many people, just hurling myself into things without thinking about or planning any of it, always terrified of running out of time. But 2016’s nightmarishness suggests to me it might be time to slow down and take stock. I’m sure it’s not just me who feels this way. We could lose it all, at any time. We must pay attention to it while we have it.

Here’s what life has taught me: when things around you feel OK, move fast and play… but when things around you feel unstable, be stable! Shift only in response to forces, not for the sake of it. Be something that can be built on.

Times are changing and we must watch and learn – it’d be folly to jump into anything too new, too soon. We must be receptive to the challenges that wait in store. It calls for a change of tone, I think: we must be quiet, cautious, steady, unplugged and caring. Lie down, relax, and whatever you do, remember to keep dancing, or you’ll fall off.

Welcome, 2017.

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