The Atlantic Project: Plymouth's 400th anniversary of the Mayflower triggers big thinking and global art
Our engagement with Plymouth and South Devon keeps delivering rich examples of social and cultural practice - communities super-articulate about their past, present and future.
We've just been informed about The Atlantic Project - a pilot for a new international festival of contemporary art, taking place in public contexts and outdoor locations across Plymouth, UK, from 28 September 2018.
Before we get to the practicalities, their rich guiding concept is worth dwelling on:
Plymouth is a city built upon visions of the future. As a deep-water port facing the Atlantic, its history is bound up with maritime exploration, in pursuit of the unknown worlds that lie over the horizon.
From Francis Drake to Charles Darwin, James Cook to the Pilgrim Fathers, the legacies of such utopian imaginaries have come to define our contemporary world. Just as the barbaric inhumanity of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the inequities of British colonialism have shaped the precarious conditions that characterise globalisation today.
As the largest naval base in Western Europe, Plymouth was bombed extensively in WWII and the subsequent city architecture could be said to reflect a succession of post-war visions of the future, from Soviet-style social housing to European ‘Brutalism’ to American-style free enterprise. With the acceleration of globalisation and the prolonged impact of austerity, however, the century-long obsession with the concept of progress has ground to a halt.
Without a clear vision of the future or a shared belief in the continual transformation of society for the better, the question arises, how will the role of the artist function and change - drifting in the wake of utopian imaginaries - after the future?
The Atlantic Project will be the prototype for something much more long-term:
In the build-up to Mayflower 400 in 2020, marking the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ voyage from Plymouth to the so-called ‘New World’ in North America, the aim is to test out the elements that will make up a potential new ‘biennial’ festival in the UK. As well as trialling an internationally significant event that will raise the critical profile of visual arts in Plymouth and the region, The Atlantic Project aims to be a highly engaging experience for a wide range of audiences that is relevant and distinctive to the locality.
Taking place in unconventional contexts across the city, including a number of locations that have been inaccessible to the public for some years, The Atlantic Project has commissioned new site-specific works by artists of international renown, whilst also providing an open platform for artist-led activities.
The project list of international artists is already exciting, including Ryoji Ikeda's Radar, mapping the cosmos in a 1930's abandoned deco nightclub, The Millennium. And Denmark's Superflex will be providing "free beer" (according to an open source recipe). This is a riff on the famous digital hacker Richard Stallman's phrase, "'Free software’ is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of ’free’ as in ’free speech,’ not as in ’free beer’."