Initially dubbed Queerfest back in 1998, the Fierce Festival of live art originated in Birmingham 13 years ago and was first led by current LIFT director Mark Ball. The festival evolved, grew in notoriety and finally returns after a three year hiatus under the artistic direction of Laura McDermott and Harun Morrison. This year the programming combines subtle interventions in experience of public space such as Kira O’Reilly’s Silent Walk - an aimless wondering through local space and environment - with all out raucous performance, parties and a closing Flemish still life banquet. Dazed spoke with the young curators at the helm...
Dazed Digital: The programme engages with the city in many ways, is it important that Fierce is situated in Birmingham or could it work just as well elsewhere?
Fierce: As relative newcomers to Birmingham we’ve been fascinated by this city - its textures, architecture, people, history. So we've made our programming mesh with the fabric of Birmingham in all sorts of ways. We feel that a good festival should be specific, should have an unrepeatable quality that you have to travel to be a part of. That's what we're playing at with Fierce. There's a real energy around Birmingham right now – it could be the new Berlin!
DD: What’s the ethos?
Fierce: Fierce likes to ambush people with art around the city. We like to be political, cheeky, subversive, fun and believe in bringing people together in surprising and unexpected ways. Fierce Festival has always provided a mix of agenda setting performance and spectacular public intervention.
DD: As curators does the program have your mark on it?
Fierce: Definitely - we can't help our tastes, personalities and politics shining out through the work we've curated. We're reinvigorating the memory of Fierce after a hiatus - this is the first festival since May 2008. We've moved months, compacted and intensified the programme and for the first time we're running alongside Flatpack programme of experimental cinema.
DD: What's your background?
Fierce: We met working as programming producers at Battersea Arts Centre. After nearly five years there which included huge projects like Punchdrunk's Masque of the Red Death we felt the time was right to move on to a new challenge. A change of city and curating for a brand new context felt like the right adventure.
DD: What is it that you wanted to explore in this year's festival?
Fierce: To a certain extent, it's the city itself - we've been getting our heads around Birmingham - there is a real sense of journey, exploration and discovery in a lot of the works here. James Webb's Prayer is a sonic tapestry made up of recordings of Birmingham's faith groups. Plan b are creating a living map of the city by people's walking journeys gathered by GPS.
DD: How did you find and decide on the artists featured?
Fierce: It's a real mix. Some of them we've known for years - we saw Lundahl & Seitl’s MA graduation show! Others like EXYZT we just felt would be perfect for Birmingham - to reanimate or reimagine the city. Some reference the rich legacy of past Fierce programming like Dominic Johnson and Kira O'Reilly. Others like Companis and Juneau Projects who are working on The Dirty End (our festival hub) we've got to know since moving to Brum.
DD: What other artists, curators and practitioners do you consider your action heros?
Fierce: Otto Muehl - seminal performance artist and leader of the Viennese actionists, Bill Drummond - for 'The 17' performance scores especially NOMAD, or-bits, Forest Fringe, Artangel, Performa and SPILL festivals, 7 Inch, Capsule, Eastside Projects, IKON, VIVID.
DD: Are we living in a particularly interesting time with regards to live art, technology and performance?
Fierce: Yes - possibilities for making, sharing and happening are exploding and supporting independent spirit. But, with our ever more mediated existence, the primal craving for live returns!
DD: What are you most excited about seeing at the festival?
Fierce: Human Salvage on Friday night in the amazing factory space @AE Harris pumped with cocktails, raucous tunes and club performance – including Dickie Beau and The Famous Lauren Barri Holstein - rising light of the performance scene.
Tuesday 22nd – Sunday 27th March, across Birmingham