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Illness prevents Monica seeing end of journey into Memory

THE Festival of the North East will embrace the broadest span of moods and emotions this weekend, as David Whetstone reports.

International Ministry of Play
International Ministry of Play

AN ambitious ongoing artwork will reach its UK climax at the weekend as part of the Festival of the North East – but it won’t be without an air of sadness.

Monica Ross, who devised Anniversary – An Act of Memory, has been diagnosed with a very serious illness and can’t be present.

Her place in leading the performance art work will be taken by Ilana Mitchell, artistic director of the biennial Wunderbar Festival.

Anniversary – An Act of Memory was conceived as a series of 60 public recitations – or Acts – of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The first took place at the British Library in London on December 7, 2008 and subsequent Acts have taken place at various locations in Britain – including the House of Commons – and Europe.

Act 36 took place at Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, in 2011 and Act 52 took place on March 8 this year – International Women’s Day – at the Globe Gallery in Newcastle.

Ahead of that performance, in which volunteers each read out one of the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Lancashire-born performance artist explained the origins of her anniversary celebration.

It had come to mind, she said, after the London Underground bombings in 2005 and the subsequent shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, an innocent Brazilian mistaken for a terrorist by armed police.

She had started to dwell on appropriate behaviour under pressure and this had led her to the document adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948.

“I was thinking that if I learned it all it would be something I could call on to make better decisions and behave in a more appropriate way,” she said. “So my first act was to learn it off by heart and my second was to recite it as a public act in a public space.”

Symbolically, she explained, her public performances – which have involved hundreds of volunteers – have been attempts to recreate a moment of intense pressure when somehow we must strive to do the right thing.

The performances, in many languages, have captured the public imagination but the end approaches.

The concluding Acts 59 and 60 are scheduled for the 23rd session of the Human Rights Council, United Nations, in Geneva, next week.

But the last UK performance is taking place at Woodhorn Museum and Northumberland Archives, Ashington, on Saturday at noon, coinciding with the annual Miners’ Picnic.

Leading the performance with Ilana will be Robert Duncan and Tessa Padden, of Signworld, who will recite and sign the preamble to the famous document, whose first article begins: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights...”

The entire recitation will be signed by British Sign Language interpreters Lynn Jordan and Anne Rudkin. Those participating and planning to watch are asked to do so in support of Monica who had always intended that the work be taken out into the world by other people.

On a less serious note – although they do sound quite starchy – an outfit called The International Ministry of Play (IMP) will carry out a month-long research project measuring levels of playfulness across the North East.

“We were invited as part of the Festival of the North East to carry out play health checks and also give people the opportunity to rediscover the joy of playtime,” says a spokesperson, tongue professionally in cheek.

“On the bottom deck of our special bus, Ministers of Play will encourage visitors to add their memories of play to the North East map of Play, while on the top deck you will receive a play health check which takes the form of a series of fun challenges.”

It will climax on June 29 with a Big Play Day when the IMP – who must be less po-faced than they sound – will call for a final effort to make the Festival of the North East end on a note of frivolity and fun.

Their bus will be at Woodhorn on Saturday, Tynemouth Station on Sunday, and at various points around the region thereafter.

Details of festival events on www.festivalne.com

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