This year members of the public and students at North Cambridge Academy chose Harold Offeh as 2017’s Open House Artist in Residence for North Cambridge. Harold will be working with local communities to explore the area from now until the end of September 2017.
Harold Offeh works using performance, video, photography, learning and social arts practice. Offeh often employs humour as a means to confront the viewer with historical narratives and contemporary culture and is interested in the space created by the inhabiting or embodying of history. His current project ‘Covers’ sees the artist embody images from popular culture in a series of attempts to transform music album sleeves by black singers from the 1970s and ’80s.
This June, he led creative workshops with Kettle’s Yard at the 40th Arbury Carnival and at the Chesterton Festival. He will continue to work with us to develop engaging and inspiring projects in collaboration with the community. We spoke to him about his plans for the project, why working with groups appeals to him, and what it is that he loves about Cambridge.
Can you tell us a little about your work and practice?
My work has various outcomes and exists in different forms. I create performances, events, make videos, photos and occasionally objects. But I have a particular approach which involves using performance, collaboration and conversation to develop projects that respond to places, situations and histories. It’s difficult to talk about without being overly specific. My current work tends to bounce between very solo performances, just using my body, to large scale collaborations. I’m now particularly focused on creating collective experiences that involve lots of people.
What was it that attracted you to the Open House programme?
I really liked the opportunity to work with various groups and communities across North Cambridge. There was also a particular personal dimension in that I live in Arbury and it was opportunity to map and navigate the community I live in.
Some of your previous work has involved collaboration with community groups and audience participation. Do you enjoy working with other people?
Yes, absolutely. For me collaboration and working with groups and individuals is always about creating environments for shared learning. I really like the exchange of knowledge that takes place when working with other people. It’s hard, because you have to compromise and there is a loss of control when you work with other people. I enjoy the challenge of trying to find connections.
Is there any new information you can share about your final Open House project? What can we look forward to?
I’ve been trying to draw together a number of strands and points of interest. So, for example, people’s relationships with architecture and space. I’ve also been really fascinated with Jim Ede’s inventory notes which lists in a very eccentric way items in the Kettle’s Yard House. This has led me to think about objects in the domestic space as triggers for memories. I’m thinking about a design-led approach that might involve groups in North Cambridge making a design collection. These objects would then be used as part of gathering or social event in the autumn.
You’ve worked all over the world but have chosen to live in Cambridge. What drew you to this city? What does it offer for creative people and those interested in art?
I initially came to Cambridge for personal reasons. My partner is an academic at the university. I’ve been here for three years now and I’m really drawn to the incongruous mix of things you find. The ancient and the sci-tech digital, town and country, provisional and international. It’s also a very theatrical place, it’s a place that exists as much in the imagination as reality. I think for creatives and art lovers you have to explore and dig a bit to fully appreciate the cultural landscape, there are lots of hidden treasures. But most importantly for me it’s a liberal, open and tolerant city that welcomes people. This attitude is something that is going to be increasingly important in the coming years.
Do you have any other upcoming projects to tell us about?
I’m going to be spending part of the summer out in Bourne, doing a residency at Wysing Arts Centre. I’ll also be performing at Tate Britain for the Queer and Here Festival on the 24th June. And throughout the summer I’m showing in a large group exhibition just outside of Paris called ‘Tous, des sang-mêlés (All, mixed-bloods)‘ at The Val-de-Marne Contemporary Art Museum. The exhibition is on till the 3rd September. It’s a great place to visit and see another side of Paris. It’s a real discovery, a huge art museum in this communist suburb of Paris at the end of a metro line.
Open House will be working with Harold Offeh until September 2017.
This has been an extract from an interview on the Kettle’s Yard website. To read the full interview with Harold Offeh, and to find out more about Open House Cambridge, visit: http://www.kettlesyard.co.uk/about/news/interview-harold-offeh/