Helen Marriage

• Artistic Director of Artichoke, one of the UK’s leading independent production company

Helen Marriage was a Loeb Fellow at the Graduate School of Design, Harvard, from 2012-2013.

In the UK she is the Artistic Director of Artichoke, which she founded with Nicky Webb in 2005. Artichoke is one of the UK’s leading independent production companies working to transform landscapes and expectations through its unique way of realizing the ambitions of artists and the dreams of the public.

Over the last nine years Artichoke has produced some of the UK’s most talked about large-scale art events ranging from Royal de Luxe’s The Sultan’s Elephant, which saw central London come to a standstill with over 1,000,000 spectators, through Antony Gormley’s Fourth Plinth project One & Other, to Peace Camp made by international theatre director Deborah Warner and actor Fiona Shaw for the London 2012 Olympic Festival. Artichoke’s biennial festival celebrating the power of light, Lumiere, has become an international sensation, drawing visitors from across the globe to the wintry darkness of Northern England.

Artichoke’s interests lie at the conjunction of art, politics, communication and transformation. By creating a platform for an artist’s most impossible ideas and inserting their work into the everyday life of society, Artichoke achieves high impact through massive unexpected disruption to daily life. This work has taken the company into an examination of the nature of control over the public domain and the ways in which our cities and landscapes can be re-imagined, if only temporarily. It is the company’s belief that while its transformation of the landscape is ephemeral, the transformation of the individual witness leaves a permanent legacy.

Helen’s previous work has included a seven-year period as Director of the Salisbury Festival, which she transformed from a local event into what The Times described as a ‘miracle of modern British culture’. She was previously Director of Arts & Events at Canary Wharf for property developers Olympia & York, and an Associate Director of both the London International Festival of Theatre and Artsadmin.

Speech topics

A Place for Uncertainty

Helen considers whether, in our busy urban environments designed for efficiency and speed, there is space for more profound moments of collective stillness and wonder. Rejecting the consensus that our cities should be places dedicated exclusively to toil, trade and traffic, Helen uses personal examples of events she has created to argue for the case for the startling, the ephemeral and the unorthodox invading our daily lives.

Redefining the Possible: Large-Scale Transformations of Our Urban and Inner Landscapes

Artists work in the realm of the imagination, seeing into the future as others cannot. Helen talks about the role of the producer, working with these gloriously impossible people and their radical ideas, aimed both at transforming our physical landscapes and our lives. She describes making their events happen — the fascinating journey from the unbounded territory of the imagination to the pragmatic realm of reality, always rejecting the premise that ‘this will be impossible’. Things are only impossible, she contends, because we’ve chosen to believe they are. She discusses our attitudes to risk, to rules and to regulation — arguing that while this unholy trio seem to exert an objective and absolute control over our collective life, each is, in fact, a manifestation of our personal desire to avoid thinking independently or taking responsibility for the unorthodox in our daily lives.

Everything Speaks: Bringing Places to Life

For over 20 years Helen has worked to transform our public domain working with the ideas and imaginations of her fellow artists. The sense of place is critical to her work, with each event designed to respond to a particular location and the history and ideas that it contains. Using examples drawn from her work at Artichoke, one of the UK’s leading creative companies, Helen discusses how particular projects have allowed visitors to feel a continuing sense of history and their place in it. Always a response to, rather than an interpretation of, any specific site, Helen describes the impact of projects as diverse as Royal de Luxe’s The Sultan’s Elephant which closed central London for four days, through the transformation of the ancient medieval city of Durham, England by the biennial Lumiere festival, to the mysterious elegiac Peace Camp, produced in 9 simultaneous locations around the coast of the UK for London’s 2012 Olympic Festival.

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