Archive interview: David Shearing talks about Christmas With Us

In the lead up to Christmas 2016, East Street Arts teamed up with the creator of The Weather Cafe for Christmas With Us, a unique event revealing personal stories, highlighting the beauty and the difficulty of the Christmas season.

As part of the 14-piece Christmas art trail, Christmas With Us was a highlight.

In the confines of The Weather Cafe, visitors were invited to take a seat, enjoy a moment of reflection and share in an intimate conversation over a bowl of warm soup. The experience aimed to help people find stillness in the midst of the festive chaos and brought together beauty and the difficulty of the Christmas season. The installation brings together different members of the community: some showings include one-on-one conversations between the audience and Heydays members (West Yorkshire Playhouse).

Before it all kicked off we spoke to David Shearing:

East Street Arts: Tell us a bit about your project.

David Shearing: The project’s called Christmas With Us and it will be inside a box-like sculpture. The first thing has been choosing an environment suited for the project – a space that provides interest and intrigue, somewhere a little bit remote and spacious. We’ll be in the Atrium space of Central Square Leeds, which is a glass, shiny, new office block. Inside it will be a quite humble and unassuming plywood box with a window and a door, and inside that will be a table that the audience can go in and sit at.

Christmas With Us is about trying to reveal a current situation and finding out what the mood of the city is. We’ve been working with the Heyday group from West Yorkshire Playhouse and at some points they’ll animate it. You’ll come in and sit down, listen to the headphones, get served some soup and bread and have conversations.

The whole thing is about fostering a space of exchange and conversation. A moment of reflection and a moment out of day-to-day life. We’re really trying to get to the heart of what Christmas is. That is why it will be in such a small space – intimacy is key.

ESA: What will you be listening to in the headphones?

DS: Some of the stories come from members of Heydays of West Yorkshire Playhouse, but most of them are just from people we have spoken to in the market, a real range of people. We’ve been asked a lot whether we went into their homes to talk to them and people are surprised when they realise. But that’s good, that’s what we’re aiming for – that feel of home.

Christmas is complex for different people. People have different family situations. Some lose loved ones near or just after Christmas, and some know that it could be their last Christmas. These times of year become markers, it becomes really important that we must have Christmas together. Those are the type of stories you’ll hear.

ESA: What exactly will Christmas With Us look like?

DS: Something that challenges the whole Christmas aesthetic, but we still want magic and we still want warmth. It would be easy to try and cover it in snow but then we want it to be humble. It’s more about capturing the essence of Christmas and what it really means to people.

We’ll also start collecting some of the objects people have talked about, they’ve talked about a train set, and someone mentioned some boxing gloves they used to have. We’re looking at finding certain objects to be in the space, so it’s almost like a box of Leeds memories.

We’re really providing a space of reflection – a moment out. At this time of year I think it’s needed, to think about other people and to do this by listening to their stories and having conversations.

ESA: How has Christmas With Us come out of previous work?

DS: My work has come from a cross between performance and art installation; for me dialogue as a form of performance is really interesting. There’ll still be some aspects of technology, like immersive sound and projections of old cine film images. It’s going to be an animated space but less technology driven than in the past – this time it’s much more conversation driven.

In [The Weather Café] we tried to have conversations but there was too much happening to sustain it. Too much to do and too many distractions.

To see more of David Shearing’s work visit: 

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