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The Feast of the Dead by Dens and Signals

The Feast of the Dead by Dens and Signals

Root 1066 celebrates Battle of Hastings

This year – 2016 – is the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. Hastings’ attitude is celebrate while you can – why wait 50 years when you might not be around to commemorate the 1,000th? So this year, Hastings is marking the date with an international contemporary festival of the arts, ROOT 1066. HOT’s Lauris Morgan-Griffiths went to talk to Festival Director, Polly Gifford about what will be happening. 

Harold’s death at the Battle of Hastings transformed English History; the Norman Conquest ended centuries of Anglo Saxon rule and made way for William, the first Norman King, to reign over England. It was a time of transition, clash of cultures, migration, identity, language and government.

Those are the barest of bare facts. But they provide the major themes for the Festival.

Some events have been commissioned and others have come in through a submission process – many of which are local. Polly Gifford explains “The brief was very broad. We invited people to think around the subject and people interpreted it in very different ways.”

The intention is to “shine a light on the town and point up what Hastings is and what we do really well. The festival is asking questions of ‘Who are we?’, ‘Where do come from?’, ‘What does it mean to be from Hastings?’ and ‘What does it mean to be English?’”

Now at last, after all the planning, commissioning and submission-sifting the projects are in their gestation period and beginning to twitch into life. Although on paper things may seem a little dry, there are real innovative ideas that will stretch the imagination and let people view Hastings in a different way.

Personalities are celebrated. Harold’s burial purportedly on the beach, will be marked with a cairn of gold tinged stones. This is to be created by Alice Mallet, a French artist living in Dieppe and an ancestor of William Malet, a companion of William the Conqueror. He took custody of Harold’s body and refused to release it – in spite of his mother’s pleadings and the offer of Harold’s body’s weight in gold. What happened to the body is not clear, but it is thought to have been initially buried on the beach. This installation will be a subtle, evocative memorial – that will be gently eroded and washed away by the tide.

Edith Swanneck , Andrew Kotting and Iain Sinclair

Edith Swanneck, Andrew Kotting and Iain Sinclair

Local Andrew Kötting and Iain Sinclair will commemorate Edith Swanneck, Harold’s mistress, or maybe wife, a sculpture of whom stands in St Leonards (near Grosvenor Crescent). She identified his badly mutilated body from personal marks that, apparently, only she would know. Kötting and Sinclair will be filming, in their own idiosyncratic way, a walk from Waltham Abbey, reputedly Harold’s final resting place, via Battle Abbey to Hastings.

On a musical note, the events embroidered into the Bayeux Tapestry will be recreated as a choral piece with composers, poets and six local choirs, by The Barefoot Opera.

Inspired by the Doomsday Book, the international theatre company, Wildworks is intending to produce a performance/installation in the ruins of Hastings Castle. The company will take up residency for three days in Hastings to talk to locals about their origins and their stories of how they arrived in Hastings. Gifford explains,”This new version of the Domesday Book would be our record of people’s journeys and identity. It would be a memory project of powerful emotions, archiving people’s connection to the town.” Wildworks will be here from 3-17 June and anyone who would like to participate in their enquiries should email

Chris Levine Light and sound installation

Chris Levine Light and sound installation

Hastings will literally be seen in another light when international artist and pioneer in light, Chris Levine, creates an extraordinary light/laser/sound installation: a cascade of light, reaching out into time and space, highlighting Hastings and reaching out across the Channel towards Normandy.

Nigel Green is pointing up the Norman legacy by taking portraits of people with Norman names – I am a Norman – to be installed in bus shelters. Photographer John Cole acknowledges the Hastings’ fishing industry by photographing Norman fishermen from a similar fishing community in Quiberville.

The Feast of the Dead by Dens and Signals will bring historical characters back from the dead through food. Leigh Dyer and other blacksmiths will create a time capsule of a public art sculpture  – to be opened in 2066. Foregan, from an Old English word meaning ‘go before’/‘precede’ ­ will portray a sense of transition, of looking back and forward to where we are today.

Norman architecture is also featured. Odd as it sounds, the Normans apparently brought over in their longboats, their own flat pack castle. Local artist, Bob Humm is making a flat pack castle that will be a tiny performance/exhibition space to pop up in various locations throughout the Festival.

And a Fun Palace is to be imagined into life in St Mary in the Castle. Director Stella Duffy is recreating the concept of Fun Palaces, first conceived by the renowned Joan Littlewood in the 1960s. The Manifesto being: “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.” It should be interesting.

There are so many projects, it is difficult to mention them all. The Jerwood Gallery, the De La Warr Pavilion, Project Artworks and Coastal Currents are also involved. Open Studios takes place on 3/4 and 10/11 September.

Gifford urges “go and be surprised”. Hastings has long embraced contemporary culture – music, street theatre, installation, you name it, Hastings is open to it. For the past few years, Coastal Currents have laid a solid contemporary arts bedrock in the town and ROOT 1066 is building on that.

The brochure is out in July. Bookings start from then. Although most events are free, some still need to be pre booked due to restriction on numbers.

Check out their website here.

Posted 07:23 Friday, May 6, 2016 In: Community Arts

1 Comment

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  1. Jim Breeds

    Um, in the title and again in the text body, you call the festival Root2016. Example: “… festival of the arts, ROOT 2016” It’s correct name is root1066.
    Kind regards,

    Comment by Jim Breeds — Monday, May 9, 2016 @ 20:25

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