A Light Grilling….
 Robert Pacitti

How did you end up making & curating art? Did you grow up in an arty household?

I grew up in Ipswich in a family where no one was anything to do with the arts at all. But I was always excited by every type of art and craft I encountered, from when I was really young and all through my childhood. My mum in particular was always supportive of that. Then when I was a teenager I went wild - how I dressed, how I coloured and cut my hair, I wore loads of make-up and freaky clothing – I basically took every opportunity to state change. I left school with no qualifications (stuff was hard at home and it was tough growing up queer in Ipswich in the 80s). I tried to get into art school in Ipswich but they rejected me. So I left home at 16, moved to Manchester and ran riot for a few years. After that I got into art school in Salford, then did a degree in Brighton (I was a fine art painter in those days). During that time I realised I wanted to use my body as part of my art too, so accidently fell in to making weird performance art, years before I found out there was a long line of other people who had done that too. As for starting to curate work – that didn’t come until later, but keep reading…

Give us an overview of your career so far.

In the 1980s I made punk work – performance, writings, great big paintings using stuff I bought in hardware stores instead of paint; I made loads of sound and music too but I didn’t really have any kit, so I always had to be resourceful if I wanted to try and record anything.  But I was always moving, always busy, always fidgeting or chewing something or, or, or … that energy was my friend.

In the 90s I started to make collages using photos with text that I took from recordings I made of conversations with friends about politics. This eventually became my early live work, which to begin with was solo.  I also danced for a company called The Featherstonehaughs for a while, and for a choreographer from Hong Kong called Edward Lam. Then I was an actor with a company called Gay Sweatshop, which at that time was very important as this was pre-internet. So this was THE company that you would go and see if it came to your place, wherever that was in the country and you were lesbian or gay (we were yet to readopt ‘queer’ as our own term).  The 90’s was also when I started to make larger work too. I brought a group of people together for each work and these started to show more widely, then internationally, then 20 years went past.

By the mid-00s I was starting to feel really hacked off that it was so tough to show radical body based work in the UK in any framed, high-quality meaningful way. I moaned about it for some time, before I realized I may be able to do something more positive to help change things. That’s how SPILL Festival was born – from a place of being grumpy that I couldn’t get regular gigs in London and that I only seemed to see great companies and artists like Forced Entertainment or Julia Bardsley at overseas festivals. It was really great to do all the travelling we did and I saw the world, but after a while it became exhausting and hollow – to turn up somewhere and do a show, all tits and teeth, then sit alone in a hotel room, then leave the next day or the day after that – it is not all it might appear.

SPILL started in 2007. From the off I was clear on its visual identity, what I wanted it to feel like and do. But it took me the first two to really understand what I was doing, and by the third I was curating. For me that means thinking really carefully about what an audience might get from coming along to more than just one work, what the connective tissue can be between everything and how we might frame the overall experience. It’s very exciting and is one of my favourite bits of what I do now. But I am still always winging it and believe that someday a ‘proper curator’ is going to walk the fraud squad in to our studio and have me arrested! Such is the pressure of being from a working class background in the art world – something about that never really goes fully away.

Did you have an encounter with a ‘life changing’ work of art that made you see how things could be done differently?

There were a few of these. When I was at primary school we had a theatre company come in called The Blobs that at the time were the most exciting thing I’d ever seen.
When I first saw Siouxsie & the Banshees performing on Top of The Pops my world changed. When I saw Pina Bausch’s company perform Nelken my life shifted.
When I first experienced the blood and gore of Ron Athey I had a full-on tearful breakdown afterwards – snot down the nose, couldn’t stop crying for an hour, the whole lot. I didn’t know you could cut and open and wound the body as art. It changed my world view again.

And now I am super excited by all sorts of things but in particular making work happen for kids and little people; and work that it genuinely about where I live in Ipswich, the past of the town, our myths, all the stuff we know but maybe take for granted – that’s what really makes my socks roll up and down.

What are your top three favourite works of art of all time?

This is a really hard question! It will probably change, as it maybe always does, but today I will say:
-    The show Einstein On The Beach by theatre maker Robert Wilson
-    The film Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom by Pier Paolo Pasolini
-    The book Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

How did you end up in Ipswich?

I grew up here, went to school here, did all my teenage stuff here. Then in 2009 a family member died so I came back for a funeral and at that time decided it was the right moment to start making something about ‘home’. That became a big project, which in turn inspired me to build a new life here again. But in essence, I came home.

How would you describe the SPILL festival and how do you go about curating it?

The SPILL Festival of Performance is an international festival of live art, activism and performance presenting the work of exceptional artists from around the globe.
To curate it, I use my heart (what feels right and what do I care about), my head (what would be sensible or impacting at this time?), my tummy (what does my instinct tell me to do), and I listen to other people (it’s always a group effort in one way or another). Then I take a deep breath and start convincing other people to trust me!

You describe SPILL as an artist-led festival. What does this mean in practice?

It means that I programme the festival sideways – I am able to speak with artists as a peer, because I still have an active making practice of my own. (I think) it means artists trust me differently to a venue programmer. It also means that each edition of SPILL is a giant artwork in itself.

What are the challenges around producing a festival like SPILL in Ipswich?

It’s harder than London as some people are a bit more conservative or suspicious of new art. Ipswich doesn’t really have appropriate big venues to work in (that in London come with money too). BUT it’s also important to say here that these things mean Ipswich is WAY more exciting to make SPILL in than London right now. Plus in Ipswich, everyone is together for the whole festival in a way that is different in London, just because of size. So it feels really exciting to be working in the town.

What’s been the highlight of your career so far?

I honestly don’t know the answer to this question as I have the privilege of some amazing things having happened. But right up there are the performer, artist, choreographer and director Lindsey Kemp asking to meet me and personally sponsoring my second ever piece of work; working with the writer and raconteur Quentin Crisp in New York as he was an icon; Presenting the work of Romeo Castellucci in SPILL (4 pieces over the years) as he is a living theatre god; and commissioning artists such as Diamanda Galas, Karen Finley, Cassils, Jan Fabre – it’s a good list. I also recall one night of a performance I made called Audiology that toured quite a bit, but one night in Nottingham my whole experience of performing live changed – everything lined up, did what it was always supposed to and it was electric – better than sex or drugs or rock-n-roll.

What is a typical day in your working life like?


What do you most and least enjoy about what you do?

I love supporting artists to make the very best work we all can for audiences to enjoy. I least enjoy encountering bitchy competitive people - especially in the arts there’s no excuse as we are all public servants.

How do you feel about the UK voting to leave the EU? Will it have an impact on you personally or professionally?

I voted Remain. I hope we can force non-violent change but feel that is very much needed right now.

What’s the worst professional mistake you’ve made and what did you learn from it?

It is only ever the right thing to ensure you respect everyone you work with.

If you didn’t do what you do now, what else would you like to be doing?
If money were no object, what would you do (that you can’t do at the moment)?

I like cooking, music, writing, teaching and at some point I would like to live in Cornwall.

Ipswich and London based Robert Pacitti is Artistic Director of Pacitti Company. Having initially trained as a fine art painter Robert began making performance and experimental theatre in 1988. With Pacitti Company he spent two decades producing and touring an award winning body of radical performance works worldwide. Robert is also the creator, curator and director of the SPILL Festival of Performance, a large scale international festival of experimental theatre, live art and performance presenting the work of exceptional artists from around the globe.