TRY to summarise all of the different events that have taken place at Alice Yard over the last eight years and you are bound to run into trouble.
The space is small, you might not notice it from Roberts Street, Woodbrook. Just a stone’s throw away from the swings and see-saws of the Augustus Williams Park, it could be any other house on the street were it not for that small green sign on its black wall. But in a sense that’s fitting: this is a place where people come to play. It’s home.
But make no mistake about the scale of its importance. Alice Yard is an arts space - call it contemporary if you must - administered and curated by architect Sean Leonard, artist Christopher Cozier, and writer and editor Nicholas Laughlin.
I can recall many events there: start with dancer Dave Williams’ performance of Waiting, a show he put on over several nights in which he danced on moko stilts in a small white room with a glass door. Or maybe Adam Williams drawings hanging on a curtain rack, or Jaime Lee Loy and Nikolai Noel becoming living installations: sitting in the exhibition space drawing the audience. One night, Akuzuru ripped open a vein (not literally, thank goodness) and marched from the Yard to the park outside, wearing a white costume, reminiscent of a mutant Miss Havisham or maybe Bronte’s Madbertha, breaking things, haunting the streets of Port-of-Spain.
The Yard, which last week marked its eighth anniversary, has a regional outlook, emphasizing the need to reverse and question the colonial and historical boundaries that have kept small islands that dot the sea apart. Since 2008, there have been artists and writers in residence. Bahamian Heino Schmid has shown incredible collage/video work. There was an amazing exhibition of photography called Shot in Kingston. Jamaican poet Ishion Hutchinson read with Valzhyna Mort.
The space has also hosted bands. Start with 12 the Band and consider the list on Alice Yard’s website (aliceyard.blogspot.com): 3Canal; Cabezon; Gyazette; jointpop; Orange Sky and you scratch the surface.
Earlier this year, Alice Yard hosted an experimental reading or poetry and prose as part of an ongoing collaboration called Douen Islands, of which I am a part. After that event, Laughlin noted how the space has had a “can do” approach. “Find or make your space” he said.
“Alice Yard has hosted roughly three hundred public events,” Laughlin said. “We’ve hosted nearly three dozen artists, curators, and other creative practitioners. Our guests have included world-famous names who would make a splash in any metropolitan city, but often we’ve been most motivated and inspired by new, young artists, musicians, and writers near the start of their careers, who challenge us to respond to their energy and ideas.”
Laughlin continued, “This has all happened in a simple backyard in Woodbrook which we and our collaborators have re-imagined over and over again — the space continues to surprise us. And it has all happened with no paid staff and very minimal funding, raised from our modest resources and efforts.”
“Instead we’ve imagined the biggest things we can make happen with what we do have. It’s a modus operandi of improvisation, and an attitude of possibility,” Laughlin, who is also editor of the Caribbean Review of Books, said. This is a key thing to observe.
If art is an inevitable part of the human condition; if it functions to give pleasure, or to enact catharsis or is, as David Forster Wallace stated, “an exchange between consciousnesses, a way for human beings to talk to each other”, then its value is not mercenary or static. It is invaluable in a true sense. Any forum that allows that kind of dialogue to grow must, like Alice Yard, be free.
While we may desire more institutionalised forms of this dialogue: while we wish more of state or other organs, that is not the end of the matter. Alice Yard demonstrates the power of simply saying yes to art, and acting, with true volition and free will. It is as boundless as the imagination.
Imagine if we said yes like this more often, if we built spaces upon spaces for the mind, heart and society as a whole to exist, to flourish. Imagine, then act.
From Sunday Newsday, September 21, 2014.
Alice Yard website