Interview with Nathalie Boobis: Director of Deptford X arts festival

Arnaud Desjardin, ‘Deptford Gold’, 2015. Photo: Leo Hugo

Opening on 25 October, Deptford X, London’s longest running contemporary visual arts festival, will celebrate its twenty-first birthday with its largest programme to date. New director Nathalie Boobis has introduced a host of exciting happenings — curating twelve major projects, five of which have been specially commis­sioned. These will be bolstered by almost 100 fringe events drawn from the local community.

Visitors can look forward to experiencing public artworks, exhibitions, performances, a parade, talks and artistic interventions in a variety of spaces, some of which are in unexpected places including a painting installation in a hair­dressers, a sound installation in the toilet of a bar, and the napkins of a Vietnamese restaurant.

The curated section of the fair will have works by seven artists including a film by Sarah Browne, who co-represented Ireland at the 53rd Venice Biennial, and a new sculptural installation by Kobby Adi, whose work explores, amongst other things, cultural objects associated with Blackness. American artist Gray Wielebinski has created a major immersive work which uses sports as an entry point for exploring themes of national identity, desire, myth making, surveillance, hierarchies, race and gender, shown in Deptford’s Wave­lengths Leisure Centre.

Kobby Adi, ‘Over (for now)’, 2019. Production still

On the final day of the festival (November 3rd) there will be a festival procession which invokes worldwide carnival traditions taking place from 12–2pm. This year’s theme is Stop Making Sense, derived from the Talking Heads’ 1984 film. Boobis chose this as the theme as it reflects the ‘surreal, playful and unruly art as a disruption to our current political climate of hostility and division.’ I caught up with Boobis to discuss the festival, which runs 25 October until 3 November.

What would be your Elevator pitch question for Deptford X

Deptford X is an experimental visual art festival started by artists in 1998. It acts as an umbrella for the area’s artistic activity and a platform for current work happening in London and beyond. It places art work in everyday and public contexts and supports artists to take risks with their work.

I know you are an experienced curator, but is this the first festival you have directed?

Actually no, I was co-curator in 2009 and 2010 of North by Northwestern Festival (NXNW) in Wigan. It was one of my earliest curatorial projects and was absurdly ambitious in scope — in 2010 we painted an enormous chess board on the floor of an old mill warehouse and assembled a group exhibition of audio-visual work as playing pieces on the board. It was beset by a fairly comedic series of mishaps including having all the AV kit burgled — twice — and the space flooding on the opening night. But it was definitely where I cut my curatorial teeth and was a great local festival to be involved in with a lot of successes and camaraderie too.

Gray Wielebinski, ‘A Dog Pees On Things For More Than One Reason’, 2018. Still from degree show performance 2018.

What do you feel you have added to the festival in terms of programming?

It’s an ongoing project but what I’m trying to add is diversity of inclusion and more opportunities for participation. Specifically, I have introduced a new strand called ‘Supported’ which was an open call for emerging artists of colour and a community parade to close the festival with. The Supported projects sit within the core programme and were selected by a really great judging panel of artists and curators. We selected five projects that I can’t wait to see realised. For the parade I partnered with the artist producer Phoenix Fry who is conducting research into world carnival traditions. We’re working with lots of different groups in the local community with the theme ‘A Parade of Friendly Monsters’ and on the last day of the festival there’ll be a monstrous costume parade along Deptford High Street.

Tell me a little about the fringe and how that works? Is it all local people?

The Fringe is at the heart of the festival and its ethos and it’s quite unique in the visual art world as participation is completely open with no selection process. It’s not limited to local people but we do require Fringe applicants to apply with a venue that will host their projects, so it does rely on local partnerships. Most participants either live, work or study locally but we do have some from further afield and in previous years there have been exchanges — one with Leith Late where a Deptford artist exhibited there and a Leith artist here, and another with Berlin back in the early days of Deptford X.

Sarah Browne, ‘The Shambles of Science’, 2019

Is Deptford X becoming, dread word, an arts hub?

I think it’s more that Deptford is an arts hub; there is a high density of artistic activity in this tiny bit of London. A lot of that is of course down to its proximity to Goldsmiths but I think the area itself has something particular about it; maybe it’s down to the history of sailors and migrants making it a cauldron for different cultures and ideas.

Re the festival, what does success look like?

Success looks like happy artists, exciting art, lots of visitors and a beautiful big parade!

For festival events, times and further info visit www.deptfordx.org

Eventbrite events are listed here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/d/united-kingdom--london/deptford-x/

Closing Parade, 3 November, 12–2pm: The Parade of Friendly Monsters

Freelance journalist covering fine art, photography, film and tech. UK based

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