MY STORY Living with the immigrants in our garden

Diversity isn’t just for people, it extends to the plant kingdom too and a soon to be published study shows that three-quarters of the plants in our city gardens are non-native. Next year Birmingham’s Victoria Square will be given over to PoliNations, a celebration of horticultural as well as human diversity which is commissioned as part of UNBOXED, next year’s festival of the UK’s creativity marking the Queen’s platinum jubilee. Its creative director is Angie Bual, artistic director of the Bristol based arts organisation Trigger which makes outdoor and site specific live theatre.

What is your own background?
I used to work in more traditional theatre and over the years have become more interested in making work that is public facing and interrupts daily life. I am of second-generation Indian heritage, and part of this project is about exploring why people like me live in the UK

How did the idea for PoliNations evolve?
PoliNations came about through a combination of me getting into gardening through lockdown and processing the wave of the Black Lives Matter over summer 2020. I started to think about where seeds have come from and found out that 77% of plants found in UK city gardens originated overseas. That amazing statistic made me realise that when you open your curtains and look out at your garden, the landscape you’re looking at is inherently multicultural.

Is PoliNations unique and will there be manifestations of it elsewhere?
PoliNations is unique and original - it combines installation and architecture with living elements, horticulture, performance and theatre. Throughout the day and during the evenings the space will enter different stages. As well as the performative programme, every day the canopies and flowers will be illuminated with thousands of beautiful lights, and there will be morning and evening sound cycles. This will be a unique experience for everyone attending and no two days will be the same.

Before Birmingham, PoliNations will be heading to Edinburgh on a slightly smaller but still really exciting scale, where we will be showcasing some of Edinburgh’s fantastic performance, spoken word and music scene under one of our giant architectural trees. Our Edinburgh events (which will all be free!) will take place outside the Assembly Rooms on George Street from the 6th to the 14th of August, which is during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival! 

Which other organisations and individuals are involved in the project, and will local communities have a say in it?
We’re working with an amazing creative team for PoliNations. We’ve got Designer Carl Robertshaw who worked with us previously on The Hatchling; set and costume designer Bronia Housman; Sash and Tasmin from THISS who are incredible, award-winning architects; horticultural experts Toby and Chris Marchant, and the wonderful Dock Street Events. We’ve also got reams and reams of names of incredible creative partners and groups coming onboard so we’re really looking forward to working with them too.

Yes, local communities will be a major part of it too. There will be an epic call to action inviting people from all over the city to join us in co-growing and co-planting some of the plants and flowers for the installation, as groups and individuals. And we will have work from local rangoli artists, bands, musicians, poetry and spoken word artists, costume designers and students, horticulturalists, and even the Birmingham Botanical Gardens and their volunteers. We will also be running eight traineeships, bringing a group of enthusiastic local people entering the creative industries via placements to gain industry experience with our core creative team.

What will happen in Victoria Square and when?

PoliNations in Birmingham will be open to the public from Friday 2nd to Sunday 18th September 2022. The full programme will be announced early next year, but we have already released an outline of just some of the events and activities you can expect, including daily forest tours, audio baths, live music and light shows, costume design workshops, sensory experiences, spoken word performances and more.

Over the opening weekend, hundreds of plants and flowers will be co-planted by local communities and schools who have nurtured them from seed, ready to take pride of place in the forest garden. 

In the middle weekend, our performance spaces will be filled with a programme of spoken word events and performances, and for the final weekend we’re really going to town…  the canopies of the architectural trees in the space will burst into a joyful cloud of confetti and colour for the Ballistic Seed Party. The Saturday afternoon and evening will combine elements of pride, carnival, and holi into one brilliant, messy, playful all-day-all-night party, with awesome live music  - and everyone is invited.

Our final day in Birmingham will be dedicated to self-care with chilled-out acoustic music, spoken word events, poetry and storytelling sessions for everyone to enjoy, and the plants and saplings from the site will be shared with local communities. 

How will you show connections between diversity in humans and in plants?
We are exploring this through every element of the programme. From representing the 77% of non-native plants in our forest garden, to programming people from multi-cultural backgrounds, LGBTQIA+, disabled and under-represented communities and really showcasing and celebrating how our differences make our whole society so much more beautiful. The Ballistic Seed Party is the epitome of this idea, where we’ll see the entire forest garden explode in colour and confetti, telling the story of seed dispersal while also celebrating together. It is a real place to celebrate diversity, your identity, and the truest version of you.

How is this an art project rather than a horticultural one?
Well, it’s both. But I suppose it’s how it can help us to see the world in a different way and challenge our ideas of how we - as humans - can live more closely with nature, and think about how we should bring more nature into urban environments that makes it more than ‘just’ about horticulture. It addresses and explores human culture through the metaphor of plants and flowers.

Will you be addressing specific issues?
We will be looking at biodiversity, our diversity, the future of nature and decolonising the curriculum.

How does PoliNations fit into UNBOXED?
PoliNations is a project that makes us think about British identity and gets under the skin of why we’re a multicultural nation and celebrate that together.

What is “Glam Dome”?
The Glam Dome is a beautiful, creative, playful, glamourous place in Chamberlain Square where you can come and create your own “look”. It’s a space kitted out for costume making, make-up and design, where you can express yourself and your true identity, and also ultimately to get ready for the Ballistic Seed Party on the final weekend of PoliNations.  

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