Brighton Festival 2014
Invisible Flock share the memories of the city collected over 10 days, in the form of a ritualised party. It’s fun and frivolous, poignant and poetic and leaves barely a dry eye in the house.
Four years ago, Invisible Flock set out to map the incidents of happiness in their home city of Leeds. They invited members of the public into their makeshift HQ in an empty shop, asking them to record a happy event associated with the city and to stick a pin in the map to locate that memory. Since then, the company has taken to the road, slowly filling in the happy map of the country, the most recent stop being in Brighton.
The company were based at the Onca Gallery for 10 days. During this time, thousands of people passed through the gallery, some for a quick look, many to mark their memories. These were catalogued and categorised and integrated into the growing database of recollections that has now reached around 4000 for the whole project.
The company then decamped to the Old Market, joining up with 6-piece band Hope and Social, to celebrate these memories in the form of an event that they describe as being ‘somewhere between a wedding and a wake.’ We sat at tables, each set with flowers, party bags and a bottle of wine. Company members Ben Eaton, Victoria Pratt and Richard Warburton addressed us in turn, accompanied by the band as they described encounters that have stood out to them, for some reason. They spoke of their personal journey through the residency – dismissed by some while forming relationships with others, especially the lost and lonely who began to see the gallery as a regular pit stop in their day. Many of these were elderly people who readily drifted off into detailed stories of their younger days. As in other places, some of these folk will stay with them long after they have returned home, ‘the more detailed, the more indelible they are.’
Happy stories abounded. People shared stories of friendships, of finding love, getting pregnant, giving birth and celebrating anniversaries. Some of the records were projected onto the wall, some were described in great depth and others were celebrated in song. A particular highlight was the uplifting song about romance triggered by the memory, ‘A kiss I wished for for weeks, coming true.’ Some recollections are a little more flippant – one man celebrates getting out of IKEA in record time, an animation celebrates the fact of someone finding a cat and calling it Janet. Some encounters had a significant impact on the company, especially when they met people who were themselves reeling from the loss of happiness due to unemployment, a separation, a death. Victoria Pratt reflects, ‘Sometimes the response cuts you to the quick. It’s in those moments that I think, I’m going to fall off my feet.’
It’s the acknowledgement that life can be hard and happiness is fleeting that saves the show from being trite and gives us pause for thought. Memories themselves are bitter sweet, as moments of joy can hang around us like ghosts. The show turns from carefree wedding dance to wake, as the company process down the central aisle to music reminiscent of a New Orleans funeral march, at the climax of which 3 large confetti bombs are set off and we are showered in gold glitter.
I came to the event on my own. On arrival, I felt rather like a wallflower but I was soon rescued by a couple of lovely women I had recently met. They also invited another single woman they had chatted to in the queue, to join them. We shared wine and our experiences of the city. For me, this underlined the most powerful element of the project – it gives strangers a good excuse to talk to each other and therefore connect in an unexpected way with their community. It’s hard to criticise the show as it is all so well intentioned and cannot fail to move. I did wish for a bit more of a bespoke Brighton show, although I understand the pressures on resources to achieve this in each location. They explained that it’s impossible to indicate where is the happiest place in the country from their data. But as they integrate memories from around the country together, I would like to know their feelings on what that says about us as a nation.