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Inside the DRIFT residency

Ben Murray attends DRIFT, an intensive professional development programme for emerging artists, which took place throughout March in east London.

This article was originally published in July 2015.

I am standing with a group of artists on a less-than-salubrious street in east London. We resemble a sightseeing tour and offer a somewhat curious vision to people who pass by. We are telling each other tall tales inspired by the urban landscape. I am struck by what this process reveals. I notice how controlled the space is, how many walls and fences there are, how many CCTV cameras, how much razor wire.

I am attending DRIFT, an artistic residency started in 2006 by Jorge Lopes Ramos and Persis Jade Maravala, the couple behind Anglo-Brazilian theatre company, ZU-UK. Together they have mentored more than 200 artists in 10 different countries around the world. With an initial emphasis on more traditional performance art, there has lately been a shift towards interactive theatre, gaming and the introduction of various technologies into the programme. Artists are given the opportunity to challenge their own practice, take inspiration from and collaborate with others, and explore ways in which tech tools can them help to develop new creative approaches.

One of the key components of the day is an exercise in which participants are challenged to respond to a scenario involving their first memory of being injured or in an accident. After a brief initial scripting, each artist chooses a piece of tech equipment – wireless headphones or a Go-Pro, say – to help them construct a minute-long piece of work to show to the group. This method of working allows for some interesting and irreverent responses, the idea being to focus on producing something quickly – a kind of rapid prototyping that bears comparison to the ways in which the tech industry sometimes works. These early betas are to help inform a more involved piece of work, which will come later.

DRIFT Residency (img cr: Nacho Duran)

Later, as we, the ‘audience’, move between a series of different spaces, watching this sequence of ten or so performances in quick succession becomes as exhilarating as it is discombobulating. The artist remains at the centre of each piece and most use the technology with a light touch. Both Jo Tyabji and Kate Tiernan make effective use of wireless headphones to give a sense of personal intimacy, while the latter also employs archive film projection to provide a thematic counterpoint to the physical and verbal components of her performance. In the first part of Flavio Graff’s piece we are taken to the scene of an apparent suicide where a disembodied computerised voice reads a funereal lament; the sombre mood turns to one of surreal celebration in the second half as he serenades us with a rendition of Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust.

Taking a slightly different tack, Sebastian H.W. of the London-based performing arts collective CLUSTER BOMB, offers a much more tech-centric affair in which he again takes to the streets. While tracking him via a live video stream and GPS, we also send playful instructions by text, asking him to “bring back something out of a bin,” or “take a selfie with a Tube guard”. But if some of our requests prove a tad frivolous and the tech a bit erratic on this occasion, it doesn’t detract from the rich potential of this kind of ‘performance’. One can see how modern communication tools might allow for new methods of interaction between ‘audience’ and ‘artist’, how game-play might be taken out into physical environments and facilitated via smartphone apps, and how new forms of narrative and storytelling might result.

Ultimately, DRIFT is about allowing artists to test nascent ideas in front of an audience of their peers, to see what works and what doesn’t, and to explore how technology might augment and enhance their practice. But just as importantly perhaps, it also encourages participants to approach the broader conceptual relationship that exists between performance and the space in which it occurs, and thus to question what it might mean when the purlieu of theatre and gaming is extended into the heavily mediated reality of the modern urban landscape, which offers the possibility of transformative acts that are not without their own politics.

The next DRIFT Residency will take place in Rio de Janeiro, between Saturday 25 July and Sunday 2 August 2015. The call for applications is now open and forms can be requested via

Find out more about future Drift Residencies at Ben Murray is a freelance writer. You can follow him on Twitter @tracysface. Picture credit: Nacho Duran