Communities across Hull have been drawn into a series of Acts of Wanton Wonder from the Land of Green Ginger. Hull UK City of Culture 2017 executive producer, Katy Fuller, talks about this unique city-wide project and how it’s come to fruition.
Land of Green Ginger started as a way of reaching audiences who are traditionally harder to engage in the arts. We wanted to produce work as high quality as anything that would be programmed in the city centre during the City of Culture year, but delivered out in communities and neighbourhoods. We wanted to be accessible and inviting, inspiring the imagination of anyone who came into contact with the project in its diverse guises.
The name itself is taken from a Hull street, famously ambiguous in its history. As a starting point for the project it seemed a logical springboard; not only is Land of Green Ginger open to interpretation, but it’s well-known throughout Hull and carries an air of mystery which fuels the sensibilities of magic and wonder we wanted to thread throughout the story.
The project made its public debut with the breaking news that a huge cache of crates, all stamped with the words ‘To Hull: From Land of Green Ginger’ had been discovered in a vault underneath the city. Bringing in various cultural partners to verify this – local media and Hull City Council – our fictional investigative organisation, The Green Ginger Fellowship, was called in to find out more.
These crates have now become the device by which each individual project, or chapter, begins. The contents of a crate herald an Act of Wanton Wonder, which then unfolds in a particular neighbourhood. Each Act has its own identity and is created by a different artist, for and with a different community, but the crates and the Green Ginger Fellowship provide the connecting tissue between these distinctive Acts.
Act I: 7 Alleys was created by Periplum, led by Clarie Raftery and Damian Wright. The artists talked to residents of the Preston Road area about their childhood memories and the uniqueness of their neighbourhood. A recurring story was the myth surrounding a network of six alleys with a seventh that opens at will to reveal all manner of wondrous phenomena.
Periplum re-invented the myth, weaving social history and fictional characters together to create an after-dark performance that allowed the audience to journey through the stories to one last challenge – travelling through the seventh alley itself.
Community engagement with this project was built through a ground-level approach. A beautiful carriage pulled by two black horses travelled around East Hull, stopping outside people’s front doors to hand-deliver invitations to join the search for the 7 Alleys. The visual impact and the direct conversation with people who had come out of their houses to watch built excitement and anticipation and a sense that something very special would be coming to their area.
Over four nights, 11,000 people joined the search for the 7 Alleys. Most did not know what to expect, but found a spectacular experience resonant with the stories of their own childhood.
Acts II: The Gold Nose of Green Ginger was a very different proposition. This was based on an entirely new myth, dreamed up by artist Joshua Sofaer. The heralding of this project involved The Green Ginger Fellowship re-discovering a previously lost treasure – The Gold Nose of Green Ginger. This artefact was installed in a designed space within North Point Shopping Centre in Bransholme, where it was embraced and its story expended on by the people of the area; by weaving the fictional object into the mythology of the city it has become wholly real, something tangible that people could visit alongside shopping or having a cup of tea.
The space was designed with both aesthetics and function in mind, displaying The Gold Nose prominently as a lost treasure returned home, but also allowing the public time and space to engage with The Gold Nose Guardian and her two assistants. By the project’s close, around 30,000 people had visited The Gold Nose and the space boasted over 100 regular visitors who came most days of the week to engage in various scheduled activities, or simply for a chat. The Gold Nose built connections across all corners of that community, particularly across generations, and it was a delight to see.
The audience can, of course, treat Land of Green Ginger as a City of Culture project, but we made an unequivocal decision to lead with the fictional narrative, bringing a playfulness that encourages engagement at all levels. Being a flagship project of the Hull 2017 programme with generous funding from Spirit of 2012 and Hull Clinical Commissioning Group, we were able to develop the project over a long time, with pilot projects in 2016 allowing the artists to embed themselves into the areas of the city and work out what might resonate most strongly in each one.
We’ve also regularly brought all the artists together to work collaboratively on developing the overarching narrative and their own individual stories. In this way each act can have its own world and aesthetic, but there is coherence to the whole.
If the audience are able to suspend belief and embrace wonder and magic, then the Land of Green Ginger will capture them in beautiful stories inhabited by the most extraordinary people. With five more acts still to be revealed, and a final surprise act which won’t culminate until 2018, we hope that the story of the year when anything was possible and neighbourhoods became places of wild imagination will live on in the urban mythology of Hull forever.
The Land of Green Ginger is a community arts project, taking place as part of the Hull UK City of Culture 2017 programme. A full rundown of its events can be found via the Hull 2017 website.