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30 Aug 2019

Meet the Artist: Pierce Starre

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Pierce Starre is a live artist who works in Liverpool. He has recently set up a scratch night, Spill Yer Tea, to platform live and performance art.

As part of DaDaFest’s Artist Development programme, Pierce received a series of coaching sessions from Result CIC. Here Pierce talks to us about growing up as a child of deaf adults, how owning his dyslexia has led to his challenging the way artists apply for opportunities and Spill Yer Tea.

I have this feeling of my childhood and of growing up, almost being like I was in a performance

Both of my parents are profoundly deaf. British Sign language is their first language and also my first language. I grew up in a predominantly silent household, which was very visual. I suppose that was the start, really, of this creative life as I would call it.

When I was with my mum and we’d be signing, people would look at us and that almost felt like I was in an involuntary performance. My mum was telling me to pretend they weren’t there, as if there was a fourth wall and we were playing out to a crowd.

I had this feeling of contention with education all the way through until I got to college

It was quite confusing I think, going from one world to the next. I really didn’t fit in at school. There were cultural differences. I wasn’t allowed to point at school whereas at home, pointing was part of the way my family and I communicated.

I also struggled with written work. I didn’t have support at home with reading or writing, as my family's first language was British Sign Language. I had this feeling of contention with education all the way through until I got to college.

When I signed up to a performing arts course, for the first time, I actually started to excel in my life getting distinction after distinction. I was getting good grades for the first time. It made me feel I was able to achieve at last.

I decided to write a film. I ended up recruiting three deaf friends and asking them to play these characters that I had in my head. We sent it to Deaffest, a deaf film festival in Wolverhampton and it got nominated for an award. I sent it to all these festivals worldwide and it was screened in America on Time Warner and shown on RTE in Ireland. Then it got bought by a university in America to put it in their archive and it won four awards. I thought, right, I’m going to learn how to use the camera and that became my next ambition.

© Pierce Starre - Paradox - Image: Russell Pollard 

My tutor said, ‘it’s like the unstoppable force meets the immovable object’

I started my degree to learn about the camera, but I started to feel I was being constricted and expected to do things in a certain way.

I thought, I will explore the institution because that’s the only space that I have. So I started to explore the university as a place of restriction.

My experience at university felt similar to my parents' struggle to access services due to the lack of provision of British Sign Language interpreters. I was very often made the Interpreter; I first interpreted for my family when I was three years old.

The first piece I did, Restrictus, there were so many complaints. It was a very difficult period. I was being met with a lot of resistance.

I had a camera attached to my chest, filming live, and the film was being shown back in the space. The individuals who were walking into the space could see themselves on the screen. If they didn’t want to be filmed, they didn’t have to be in the space.

I was inverting my own experience. Growing up in a family where I had been made to be in an involuntary performance my whole life, I wanted to know how that might make somebody else feel.

My tutor said, ‘it’s like the unstoppable force meets the immovable object’. It was very much like that, there was this real power struggle and I think the struggle was me trying to retain a sense of ownership.

At DaDaFest, I felt really heard

I made contact with DaDaFest and basically said, ‘I’m dyslexic’. I was looking for opportunities where I could develop myself as an artist. I felt really heard and really empowered.

I was offered coaching. With the coaching it would be an opportunity for me to get a better understanding and better focus on where I wanted to go.

It’s been amazing. It’s just been like tools to work with really, but it’s just put things into perspective about how to manage certain things.

In one session, I said I had two pieces of work that I wanted to make. My coach said ‘why don’t you set yourself a day, you know, the way you have a meeting with yourself and that meeting will be you making your artwork’. So I set a meeting in my diary and sure as hell I made a piece of work.

© Pierce Starre - Restrictus - Image: Pierce Starre 

When I was at university, the first thing I found out was I was dyslexic

I always have these inner battles with myself and then there comes a point where I think, ‘oh, I get it’, and one of them has been my dyslexia.

My coach said to me ‘why don’t you just own it?’. I thought, this is the type of person that I am. Maybe I hadn’t really come to terms with my dyslexia since coming out of university. Well I’m going to own it now.

My ultimate aim would be to see organisations like the Arts Council change the way that they do their applications process

I find it frustrating, this arbitrary applications process that artists find themselves in. I recently phoned up an arts organisation who had a brief I found interesting and told them that I wanted to apply, but I didn’t want to apply in the way that they had set out.

I told them I would like to propose an interview application to allow me to speak about how I would like to make the work and they’ve accepted.

The idea of my piece is that it’s a protest against the submissions process of arts organisations. It would entail me sitting in a space trying to do an application form that people could watch and see how hard that process really is.

I think that’s the only way I can articulate that whole experience. It’s important because currently, there is a one size fits all approach that artists are expected to follow when applying for opportunities in the art world. This doesn't work for everyone. Many artists have disabilities, or specific accessibility requirements that may require alternative ways to share their work.

My ultimate aim would be to see organisations like the Arts Council change the way that they do their applications process. At present they provide you with somebody who will write the application for you and I find that quite demoralising.

© DROSS (Jim Valentine - Burrows) - Strange Loop - Performed at SPILL YER TEA, Liverpool - Image: Andrew AB Photography 

'Spill Yer Tea' came from an argument that I had with my mum when I was a kid

When I moved to Liverpool, the sense that I got was that Liverpool had a really thriving performance art scene that has dissipated in recent years.

This was something that was really important to me and I thought, ‘where is that platform for artists such as myself?’. There isn’t anything that’s about live and performance art in Liverpool currently. I thought I would really like to contribute to this sector.

The name, Spill Yer Tea, came from an argument I had with my mum when I was a kid. She wouldn’t look at me when she was signing and I was getting more and more frustrated. I was holding a cup of tea in my hand and poured my cup of tea on the living room carpet. My mum was horrified.

My action and my mum’s response seemed performative. Pouring the tea was the spillage of my emotions and my mum’s response was an audience member viewing a performance.

Upon reflection, I realise that performance art has always been in my blood and represents my way of spilling my truth.

SPILL YER TEA seemed a fitting title for this event, given my own personal experience.

We are inviting artists to spill their truths through Live Art and Performance Art.

We’re looking at making ourselves as accessible as possible

We are looking at making ourselves as accessible as possible. This extends to the language we use. We use terms such as 'sharing work' instead of 'applying' and 'submitting'. Artists can share proposals by telephone, video chat or face to face.

It’s a scratch event ultimately, but it’s not a traditional scratch event. Performances are going to be happening simultaneously. The audience is given the opportunity to leave feedback for the artists via forms and the artists can look at that feedback in their own time.

What’s important is creating this community of artists that are both local and national so they can share ideas. The whole point of this event is to go back to Liverpool’s roots of experimental live art and that’s really what we’re trying to do.

The first Spill Yer Tea took place on 4 August in Constellations. The next one will be on 20 November. Find out more www.facebook.com/DRIPLIVERPOOL

Find out more about the DaDaFest Artist Development Programme www.dadafest.co.uk/what-we-do/artist-development/


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