Wirksworth Festival: The Art of Transformation

Wirksworth Festival: The Art of Transformation

Wirksworth, once known for its vast stone quarries, is perhaps better known today for its arts festival and, fittingly, the theme of the visual arts programme in its twenty-first year is Transformations. Always a lively small market town with its independent shops and cafés, quirky streets, varied architecture and strong community, Wirksworth transforms itself each year into a venue for the visual arts and performance – a gallery and a stage, with over a hundred artists, live drama and music, and film.

A festival favourite is the Art and Architecture Trail (12-13 September), with the work of artists and designer makers displayed in houses, large and small, throughout the town. Always fascinating, it is an excellent opportunity to discover affordable, collectable art and design and to talk to the makers – as well as discovering hidden parts of the beautiful town. Trail Weekend tickets cost £7 (under 18s free) for entry to all markets and venues, plus an illustrated guide. But there’s plenty of free street entertainment to enjoy as well.

The Contemporary Visual Arts Programme (12-13, 19-20 & 26 September), curated by the Festival’s visual arts panel, presents the work of internationally respected artists, some locally-based, who work across a wide range of media that are used in ways that subvert or convert assumptions, surprise and intrigue, reveal and renew – transformations!

Tony Hill studied architecture and sculpture and now makes films that he feels are somewhere between the two. He last came to Wirksworth Festival in 2010 with his film The Doors, regarded as a high point in the history of the festival. His new film

SEA is a meditation on the rhythms and ever-changing movement of the sea. He has said of his work that ‘the sense of wonder is what I like…a kind of wonder at the world’.

Maggie Cullen studied fine art at Exeter and the Royal College and now lives in Wirksworth. The Derbyshire landscape informs her practice, which explores the human form through the fragility of paper and woodland debris: ‘Some things are more precious because they don't last long', as she called her show at Teesside University in 2013. Using paper, discarded books and found materials, she creates detailed miniature monuments, and mythical tableaux.

Denis O’Connor was born in County Cork and studied in Ireland before moving to Britain. Now based in Wirksworth but a frequent traveller to Ireland, he explores in his work the notion of ‘where is my home?’ Looking at opposites such as stable and unstable, comfortable and uncomfortable, real and unreal, he explores the conflicts and tensions associated with being forced to move from one country to another for political, economic, social reasons, increasingly relevant in today’s world.

Jo Fairfax initially trained in sculpture and then studied holography at the Royal College of Art. He learnt how to make holographic films during an international residency at the Holocentre, New York. He says of his practice ‘everything can be an influence – it depends on what I have been thinking about and what I receive – it might be a fish or music or a conversation or starlings or robotic surveillance’. He is currently developing real time responsive artworks.

Joan Ainley is based in Wirksworth. Using the poppy as a motif, with all its connotations, she explores the making of connections and linking the past, present and future, unafraid to confront the meanings attached to it and the realities of war. As Robert Clark put it (the Guardian, 2010) ‘she has a distinct taste for the conjuring of objects that have unique drawing power but which frustrate any attempt at prosaic interpretation.'

Geoff Litherland is a Mexican born artist based in Nottingham. His work explores the tension between the natural world and the effect upon it of human activity, combining traditional painting with ‘the rusty surrealism of science fiction and the fantasia of abstraction’. He has exhibited internationally and won several prizes for his work.

The Graduate Showcase is an exciting mixture of contemporary art selected by the Visual Arts Panel, a stimulating collection of images, installation and sculpture from Derby, Loughborough, Nottingham Trent and Staffordshire Universities which can be seen across the Art & Architecture Trail and in selected venues, 12–26 September.  Shop

Windows around the town also display work from this year’s finest regional graduates, with work that pushes the boundaries and combine ideas and materials in unexpected and inventive combinations.



This year, Wirksworth Festival and Town Halle Events have entered into an exciting new partnership to bring a vibrant and fresh performance programme to the Festival, featuring: ‘Theatre and Words’, Film, Music, Dance and Participation.



The ‘Theatre and Words’ programme begins with Talking Bob Dylan (Wed 16 Sept), an illustrated talk by former Cheshire Poet Laureate and performer John Lindley, author of Dylan Thomas: Embers & Sparks.

Storytelling magic of lands and mythologies comes to life in Adverse Camber productions, The Shahnameh: The Epic Book of Kings (Thurs 24 Sept) - dazzling performance storyteller, Xanthe Gresham Knight, dives into the majestic mythology of Persia, accompanied by Kurdish Iranian musician, Arash Moradi.  Immerse yourself in a world of adventure, lust and romance, as two outstanding artists bring poetry and humour to this sweeping ancient history of Iran.

Quite Remarkable Productions bring an interactive musical show for children age 2–6 with their highly successful show The Marvellous Machine that combines live music, magic and songs (Fri 25 & Sat 26 Sept).

And, finally, we are excited to welcome back the award winning and very funny Sleeping Trees Theatre with Mafia? – a hysterical re-telling of the classic gangster mob story, complete with onstage fusion jazz band. A world of crime and corruption come to life in a way you have never seen before…‘The birth child of Monty Python and The League of Gentlemen’ (Fri 25 & Sat 26 Sept).



A Thousand Empty Glasses (Wed 23 Sept) is a diverse and lively evening of hard-hitting, diverse story-telling at the Northern Light Cinema.  Discover this collection of short films by the vibrant, award-winning new production company, Take Cover Films (short listed for Palm Springs and Raindance). Six shorts including collaboration with local actress/writer Eve Hedderwick Turner, followed by a post show Q&A.



Music at the Festival presents a variety of music from near and far.

Project Jam Sandwich’s explosive live performance and captivating collection of influences have immediately situated them as rising stars in their field. Ranging from the music of Bulgaria to South Africa to Scotland, they concoct their own charismatic arrangements with exhilarating improvisation, scorching rhythms and beautiful melody (Wed 16 Sept).

Jungle Lion from Sheffield are a 12 piece ska and reggae band with a huge presence and sound that have supported UB40, The Wailers and The Selecter and is guaranteed to get you stomping on a Saturday night (Sat 19 Sept).

Local folk musicians with a big international reputation, Adam Summerhayes and Murray Grainger of Deadmen’s Folk bring you an evening of authentic 15th and 16th century folk music for re-imagined for modern day ears – ‘stunningly virtuosic’ instrumentalists play intoxicating ancient melodies – ‘music to die for’ (The Strad), (Thurs 24 Sept).

Wirksworth jazz keyboard wizard Matt Ratcliffe brings together a special quartet, featuring vibist Corey Mwamba, to play a diverse collection of jazz from improvisation on standards to tunes by iconic composers like Monk and Ornette Coleman (Fri 25 Sept).

We are also delighted to welcome world class afroceltic dance band Baka Beyond with their uplifting sound inspired by music of the rainforest. They have an international reputation for authentic and ‘infectiously joyous’ music (Sat 26 Sept).



The Festival dance programme is an invigorating and engaging mix of the original and traditional, with events by professional companies, emerging artists and young people.

Straight from Edinburgh Fringe there’s ‘dance to inspire’ with Camera Obscura – thought-provoking and emotionally-charged dance theatre reflecting on the extraordinary attribute of music to restore memories and identity in dementia from Debi Hedderwick’s  The Secret Dance Club – ‘Poignant and moving...beautiful and emotive’ (TimeandLeisure.co.uk) (Tue 22 Sept).

There is a double-bill of new work, with the young Midlands company Threefold Dance combining dance, film and text in Common Ground, and a fresh piece from the talented young people of Wirksworth INdependDANCE, which explores modern feminist outcomes for traditional fairy tales in Out of the Forest (Sat 19 Sept).

And if you feel inspired to get your own dancing shoes on, don’t miss Jose Olivia’s Salsa Party, a lively evening event to learn and practise salsa moves in a sociable party atmosphere (Fri 18 Sept).



And, finally, there is a golden opportunity for you to explore your interests and try out some new skills, as the Festival invites you to join the MINI WORKSHOP MARKETPLACE. Choose from a range of workshops led by local groups and practitioners on offer throughout the evening, with the bar open to relax and chat between activities. Come and discover talents you never knew you had (Thurs 17 Sept).


THE COMMUNITY CELEBRATION: The Treasures of Wirksworth – Sun 20 September

Every year, Wirksworth Festival is proud to put on a spectacular Community Celebration, for the last few years, the Festival has worked with Learning Through Arts and this year they both invite you to join them for a ‘treasure trail’ like no other.  Following a story (with embedded clues and route plan) to some of the town’s most beautiful and sometimes hidden locations, you will come across the treasured talents of Wirksworth – with many of Wirksworth’s best loved local singers, dancers, actors, musicians and even a magician.



The Festival Fringe has been an exciting addition to Wirksworth Festival since 2011, with new ideas, new talent and new audiences welcomed to the heart of the town.  2015’s Festival Fringe contains exciting and provocative theatre, film, a book launch, meditation and a burlesque workshop, a truly wide ranging programme opening with the now traditional open-air film screening at Stoney Wood which this year is the John Landis classic An American Werewolf In London (Fri 11 Sept).  The full Fringe programme running throughout the Festival can be see on the Wirksworth Festival website.



The Derbyshire Eco Centre presents a full programme of workshops throughout the Wirksworth Festival period, from Architectural Carving, to Willow Sculpture, Stained Glass to Bookbinding, there is a wide variety of skills for you to learn.  For more information contact Derbyshire Eco Centre directly.

For the full Festival programme and for more information about all of the events and artists featured in the festival, visit www.wirksworthfestival.co.uk.


Wirksworth Festival 2015
10–26 September, 2015

Wirksworth Festival is a not for profit arts organisation.  Working in creative collaboration with artists and partners, it is a leading rural festival where everyone can experience great art in a unique and inspiring setting.

Wirksworth Festival receives funding from Wirksworth Town Council, Derbyshire Dales District Council, Derbyshire County Council and this year’s proud sponsors are local businesses, Technolog Ltd and the Starfish Group

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