Eric Block

Interview: Nathalie Boobis, Director of Deptford X

This year Deptford X, London’s longest running contemporary visual arts festival, celebrates its 21st birthday with its largest programme to date (25 October – 3 November 2019). Dynamic new director Nathalie Boobis has curated twelve major projects, five of which have been specially commissioned – including a film by by Sarah Browne, who co-represented Ireland at the 53rd Venice Biennial, a new sculptural installation by Kobby Adi and an immersive work by American artist Gray Wielebinski.

Further innovations include a ‘Supported’ strand aimed at BAME applicants and a ‘Parade of Friendly Monsters’ event at the end of the festival. These are bolstered by almost 100 fringe events drawn from the local community, taking place across a range of spaces across Deptford, South East London – from a sound installation in the toilet of a bar to Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art. We sat down with Nathalie to hear more about this must-see event.

You’re the new director of the festival. What is your background and what do you feel you bring to the new role?

Like many curators I started out studying art which morphed into a curatorial practice. I cut my teeth working in artist-led and self-organised as well as small non profit art organisations. I was never attracted to working in big institutions as I like to be hands on working directly with artists and with different communities. I think this is what I bring to Deptford X; a desire to embrace the use of operational venues; community-oriented ways of working; and risk-taking for artists.

At this year’s festival you have introduced a number of innovations including a new section entitled ‘Supported’ What motivated you to create this and how has this worked?

I wanted to create an entry point for artists at the start of their careers who might not otherwise have the support to take the next step in their work. The focus is on artists of colour as I’m a believer in affirmative action and while 50% of the local population is not white, this isn’t reflected in the local visual art scene.

The five winning artists were selected by a brilliant panel of artists and art professionals, including one of last year’s core artists, NT and previous Deptford X festival artist, Hew Locke. I’ve been working closely with the five to support them in developing new work for the festival and to use it as an opportunity to try new things. They’re a really varied bunch of artists and I’m very excited by their projects and future trajectories.

The ‘Curated’ section also has some very exciting artists – can you tell us some highlights?

That’s hard – I think all the projects are amazing! In terms of both content and context I’d recommend going to Wavelengths Leisure Centre to see Gray Wielebinski’s work water bb; to Leander Hall for Tiz Creel’s Space for autonomous imagination and to St Paul’s House at the New Market Yard and a public billboard on Brookmill Road to see Kobby Adi’s piece, End in The And.

The ‘Fringe’ section sees over 100 events and artistic interventions throughout the festival (everything from napkins in a Vietnamese restaurant, to the Deptford Community Cinema along with local galleries and studios), which events in particular are you most looking forward to?

All of the following + more! Lucy Hayhoe’s project, One in One Out: Deptford’s small gay bar; JJ Chan and Sam Young’s film and electronic bird installation, Birdwatching; Tom Foulsham’s sound performance from boats on the Thames, Before Now; AURORA Movement’s dance pole dance performance, Knitting Crawling and Climbing.

The theme for this year’s festival is Stop Making Sense, taken from the Talking Heads’ 1984 film which you have said reflects our current political climate of hostility and division; could you elaborate further on how this inspired you?

Much of my work over the years has been circling this idea—of the reality we live in being constructed by a powerful minority and the real meaning in life existing in the margins of this. With Stop Making Sense I felt it was a succinct way to think about what we are told makes sense versus what we know makes sense and to look at the potency of allowing unsanctioned ‘sense’ to bubble up and out.

Do you have any tips for visitors who will attend the festival for the first time, including those who might not be familiar with Deptford?

Visit our hub first to get the lowdown on the day’s happenings. That is at Norfolk House, 9 Brookmill Road, SE8 4HL. From here you can also join one of my daily 12 o’clock tours of the core projects. Our festival guide is available to download on the website which will help you to plan what you want to see. There are also lots of great eating and drinking spots in the area—Bread and Butler for coffee and cinnamon buns; The Waiting Room and The Full Nelson for vegetarian and vegan fast food; Pho Hanoi for Vietnamese; Hullaballoo for great vegetarian and vegan curry; and The Dog and Bell for a proper pub with an extensive bottles list!

The Parade of Friendly Monsters on the final day (3 Nov) will cap things off – sounds like quite a finish!

I am so excited for this! We have several local groups including the Viet School, Irie Dance and Goldsmiths’ Confucius Society bringing different costumed carnival traditions and have been running costume making workshops for several weeks. I think it’ll be quite the spectacle so do come and see! Hopefully it’s the first year of many more monstrous Halloween carnival parades through the streets of Deptford.

Interview by Eric Block.

For more information about Deptford X visit:

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