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We asked our Weekend of Weird contributors to tell us about the Weird, what it means to them and what, of the weekend programme, they were particularly looking forward to...

Dan Watt
School of Art, English & Drama - Loughborough University

For me the Weird offers an opportunity to throw off the shackles of the real and immerse ourselves fully in the imagination. This can be as dangerous and dark a place as it can be beautiful and mystical. A good work of the Weird should be a combination of all of these.

Recently I published an essay, ‘Inner Rooms: A Weird, Ecstatic Cosmology’ in Wormwood journal that explored some Weird tales by Robert Aickman, Daphne du Maurier and Elizabeth Jane Howard. Also my third collection of short stories, almost insentient, almost divine, was published earlier this year by Undertow Publications.

We are working across a broad spectrum of disciplines and this weekend was planned to bring together people working in all of those fields to enable as much cross-disciplinary debate as possible. It is always a pleasure to come together to discuss writers in the field of the Weird, but equally important that the writing community draw its inspiration from artists, musicians and filmmakers too, and vice versa.

What are your ‘must-see’ work(s)/event(s) over the weekend?

We worked carefully not to run parallel sessions, so that everyone had the opportunity to attend all of the panels, performances and films. So my ‘must see’ events are on over the whole weekend.

Sidsel Christensen

An important reference for my work is early readings of classic fantastic literature, to  study the mechanisms of how this literary form balances a double position in-between genres. E.T.A Hoffmann, and Arthur Machen are central references here. Throughout, I have been interested in exploring a related sense of shifting in my own practice, where the viewers are placed between various points of reference when encountering the work. At times, this fissure can create an opening for something else to arise.

Currently I am concentrating on work that presents longer narrative structures of oral delivery or text, playing with how the viewer positions himself or herself in this encounter. The relationship between embodied immersion, and critical reflection is central. My last performance was titled “Swallow the Journey”. Here I placed the audience in a force field of carefully calibrated sound frequencies and light pulsations. Inside of this space, the viewers were then prompted to swallow a capsule of nano-sized machine sentience and told that I could control the movement of this capsule through their body, by manipulating the force field around them. So in effect, the story then proceeded inside of the audience. Quite physically inside of their bodies, as well as in their minds.  

An artwork can be put into various discursive contexts, that each brings out different aspects. These kinds of discussions might offer opportunities for new ways of looking and reflecting.  

What are your ‘must-see’ work(s)/event(s) over the weekend?

I am looking forward to experience Ben Judd’s performance - Who Can Seperate Us Now?

Andrew Michael Hurley

For me, 'the weird' is what makes writing exciting. It's what enables a fictional world to be stretched (often just enough) beyond the confines of 'the real' and create a place that is genuinely unsettling.

The novel that I'm working at the moment is set in a small farming village on the edge of the Lancashire moors and explores the ideas of 'community' and 'belonging',as well as the relationship between landscape and folklore. I've found that it's a space in which 'the weird' thrives.

Writing can be a fairly solitary occupation sometimes, so I think it's good to bring people together! I think that an event like Weekend of Weird also demonstrates just how diversely writers interpret and utilise 'the weird' in their work.

What are your ‘must-see’ work(s)/event(s) over the weekend?

I'd like to see everything to be honest, but if I had to pick some highlights then definitely The Weird World of Sarban - I've only come to his work recently thanks to Tartarus Press - the performance of MR James' "Casting the Runes" and Aickmania.

Noel Byrne
Director, Box Tale Soup Theatre Company

Weird is a very subjective term - one person's weird is another person's everyday. One of the things I love most about my work is the variety, we're faced with different circumstances and challenges all the time. I could be dancing with a ukelele on stage in a Beijing theatre one day, and examining handwritten material by Oscar Wilde for research the next. I think a lot of performers and artists are attracted to what people might consider weird or unusual.
Casting the Runes, like most of M. R. James' work, creates a fantastic atmosphere. Adapting the story for the stage required a lot of invention and interpretation, but we really wanted to make sure we held on to that crucial atmosphere, the feeling of isolation and bewilderment. The central character is an academic, an intelligent man who thinks he has a very clear understanding of how the world works. Over the course of the story we see how he is affected when that understanding is challenged by events he cannot begin to explain or control.

I would love to think that seeing the show might inspire people to go and read James' work if they haven't done so before. I don't think the genre is in any danger of disappearing, judging by the current resurgence of horror and thriller movies, because there's something very primal about that sense of fear, regardless of the setting or period. However, it's always good to have a sense of where the work came from and how it has developed, so if we can create an enjoyable performance and make M.R.James accessible for a contemporary audience, that's great.

What are your ‘must-see’ work(s)/event(s) over the weekend?

Unfortunately we probably won't get a chance to see much of the rest of the programme, as we're on at the end of the day on Saturday and have shows in another part of the country on the Sunday - it's a shame, as I'd love to catch some of the other performances, particularly Tai Shani. I'm looking forward to seeing Joey Holder's work though, and hopefully we'll have time to have a good look around.

Catherine Spooner
Reader in Literature and Culture, Lancaster University

I research contemporary Gothic and I’m interested in the different definitions of the Weird developed by writers and scholars. Personally, however, I understand the Weird according to its dictionary definition as the ‘unaccountably or uncomfortably strange’. I’m particularly interested in the way that this strangeness can be inscribed onto the British landscape through encounters with folklore and the supernatural.

I’m currently researching the cultural afterlife of the Lancashire witches – in other words, I’m looking at how accounts of the infamous witch trials held in Lancaster in 1612 have continued to influence writing, art and cultural practices such as tourism right up until the present day. Accounts of the witches from the nineteenth century onwards frequently engage with Weird aesthetics, using occulted histories and regional folklore to explore a landscape that is often presented as disturbing or uncanny.

I find that exchanging ideas between creative writers and academics enriches the work of both. When you physically bring people together in a room, a sort of magic happens and new ideas and inspirations emerge. It’s a privilege to participate in that experience.

What are your ‘must-see’ work(s)/event(s) over the weekend?

I’m very much looking forward to hearing Andrew Michael Hurley read from his wonderful novel The Loney (in its own way, a tale of Lancashire witchcraft), and sampling all the other creative work, much of which is new to me.

Ben Judd

I have always thought that all art is, or should be, weird in some way; that it is in fact a necessary, vital quality. If it wasn’t weird it wouldn’t be doing its job properly – it wouldn’t be questioning or challenging. It has been interesting to think of my practice within the context of the (still emerging) genre of the (New) Weird. The work is in part a response to key phrases associated with the Weird: its exploration of ‘the sub-cultural and dissident’ and its questioning of ‘identity, individualism and social organisation.’ I like the idea of exploring these ideas within the university, a place of both social cohesion and dissent.

I’ve been thinking about the university as an institution that encourages and requires students to be both ‘free thinkers’ at the same time as being part of the wider ‘student body’. There’s a paradox of belonging and not belonging, of being both together and separate.

I’d like to test this position by working with student groups who will perform a series of orchestrated, synchronised movements and song.  Structured movement and choral singing are suggestive of the choreographed, synchronised elements of religious ritual; the work will reference the mass spectacle events of the GDR and North Korea, as well as the rites and costumes of alternative occult and utopian movements, such as Kindred of the Kibbo Kift, George Gurdjieff’s Movements and Rudolf Steiner’s Eurythmy. By specifically examining this blurred boundary between a dramatic performance and a liturgical drama, I hope to rethink ways in which ritualised group actions can shift an individual’s and a group’s status, suggesting a fluxing state of perpetual becoming in which the participants are suspended between points of departure and arrival.

It has been really interesting to develop the work within the multifarious network of people and groups that is the university. My conversations with people at Loughborough University has certainly shaped the way the work has developed. This isn’t necessarily different to how I usually work, which is often very research-heavy and which often sees a blurring of the boundary between research and practice, as well as engaging with different, varied individuals and groups. I’m excited by the collaborative aspect of this approach, as well as the cross-fertilisation of ideas between artists and academics in other fields (and between artists and gymnasts, for that matter…)

What are your ‘must-see’ work(s)/event(s) over the weekend?

It all sounds fascinating, but I’m particularly looking forward to seeing works by Joey Holder, Tai Shani, Reactor (live work and curated screenings) and Sidsel Christensen - Sidsel and I have collaborated several times in the past.

Timothy Jarvis

The Weird appeals to me because it has this strange contestational energy. It's transgressive. Its sublime is not, as it most often is in other modes of Gothic fiction, either rationalized as mundane deception, or contained by the frameworks either of hauntings, revenants from the past, or of the naturalized or domesticated otherness of myth and folklore. The Weird cannot be contained, always ends in dissolution, in madness or ecstasy. The Weird teaches us that things have always-already been Weird.

I've been working on the notion that the Weird is a way of skinning the world, showing the skull beneath its skin, rending the veil of Hermeticism, or getting round the back of decoherence, as the quantum physicist might put it. I've been trying to use my writing to explore Other places that might lie beneath the surface of this world.

I think events of this kind are crucial. Writers must be able to theorize their practices and to test those theories through debate with other artists, lest the literary field stagnate.

What are your ‘must-see’ work(s)/event(s) over the weekend?

The entire programme looks enthralling, so it's difficult to chose, but I am particularly looking forward to the panels discussing the works of Machen, Sarban, and Aickman, writers I'm really interested in, and to the Box Tale Soup performance of 'Casting the Runes', which sounds fantastic.

Nick Freeman
School of Art, English & Drama - Loughborough University

'The Weird' is what flickers at the edge of your vision; something seen out of the corner of your eye that invites yet resists interpretation and explanation.

I'm interested in how Weird stories work as much as what they might mean, so I've written about authors like Arthur Machen, Robert Aickman, and the brilliant contemporary novelist M. John Harrison who articulate, and often marvel at, a world which defies comprehension. I'm especially interested in Harrison's idea that the Weird is 'the subtlest possible rupture of the mundane by the uncanny and the subtlest possible rupture of the uncanny by the mundane.' Who's to say which is which?

I think the importance of these events goes beyond simply a 'writing community'. We're trying to make connections, start debates, and ask questions which people will hopefully find interesting wherever their starting point may be. 'Weekend of Weird' encourages participants to be open-minded rather than coming in with fixed conceptions, and that's got to be a good thing. 

What are your ‘must-see’ work(s)/event(s) over the weekend?

It's all 'must-see'! I am however especially looking forward to hearing the fascinating Mark Valentine talk about Sarban, to seeing what puppetry can bring to the ghost stories of M.R James, and to hearing readings by Alison Moore and Andrew Michael Hurley, two major contemporary writers with growing reputations. We're also screening a Robert Aickman TV adaptation which has not been seen for thirty isn't even on Youtube.


Loughborough University Arts

Martin Hall Building

Loughborough University

Loughborough LE11 3TU, UK

01509 222 948

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