Let’s see what happens: James Varney
13 January, 2022

Let’s see what happens: James Varney

Written by James Varney

When Amy Letman asked me to curate this section of the Transform website, I was flattered, and excited. I’ve written about Transform as a critic, in one way or another, since 2015. In all that time, the festival has never remained the same shape. Every time I visit, Transform leaves me seeing it, and arts festivals in general, in a different way.

In my other lives I am a writer for performance and a workshop facilitator. I’m always trying to pick things apart and speak to people about it. There would be no point to any of my work if it were not in conversation with others. When I write criticism I am thinking aloud. When I write for theatre I’m in conversation with the audience. When I deliver workshops, I am in discussion with the room. Every time I do any of these things, I question how we can do them differently, how can I challenge the expected relationship between me and the people I am speaking to?

In this ‘Thinking’ section of the website, we’re going to find out what else Transform can become. After talking to Creative Director Amy Letman and Comms Manager Edwina McEachran, I’m excited to work with Transform’s commissioned artists to create something which opens up the festival’s hood, and gives us an insight into the processes behind the work. Here, you will find records of how the work in the festival came to be, as well as pieces responding to and moving forwards from the work – what happens to the art after the festival? Does the festival really end, or just go dormant, dispersed through our surviving memories of it?

"Transform takes place, in that it seizes empty spaces in Leeds, fills whatever gaps present themselves and makes the city its own."

One thing I am certain of is that Transform’s festivals must happen in Leeds. Leeds is the only constant in this festival which in its time has happened in camper vans, libraries, around dinner tables, and through mobile networks. Transform takes place, in that it seizes empty spaces in Leeds, fills whatever gaps present themselves and makes the city its own. When we take something of Transform and put it online, what does it become then? Is this webpage also Leeds? Are you in Leeds when you read it? We’re not sure what the answer is, and this section of the website is as much an experiment as it is a record. To make art is to experiment, and so too is this festival a giant experiment. I hope the experiment we conduct on this site is one which explodes both the work at the festival and how we receive and react to it. Let’s see what those interactions are made of, and learn something new about every aspect of Transform.

I’ve spoken to Amy and Edwina about Transform’s ambition to be a festival that questions festivals. We’ve begun conversations with the artists about the work they are already making, and how the experiments which are underway in their work might appear here. Whether video, writing, sketches, photography or something other, the work featured here is as much part of the festival as a performance or installation you might find in and around Leeds. We begin something here which will remain here, proof of the existence of today’s version of Transform, and a new version in itself. Let’s see what happens.

View the Transform 21-22 programme.