Artist Clare Carswell tells Tim Hughes why Charlbury is the centre of all things artistic this weekend...

OUT on the edge of the Cotswolds strange things are happening.

Weird and wonderful art installations and striking performances are popping up across Charlbury – a celebration of the town's wealth of creative talent. And it is all inspired by the town and its people.

Called Festal Favours, it features a series of commissions responding to the people and history of the town, and is part of the ongoing Charlbury Festival, which continues until Sunday.

The weekend's events are the culmination of two weekends of work by 13 artists, designed to introduce performance art as an art form to local people and showcase new works made especially for Charlbury by major names and younger artists.

Festal Favours' curator is local artist Clare Carswell. She says: "This is an opportunity to introduce both performance and installation art to Charlbury, a place that has so much going on and is very open to the arts.

"I build mentoring of young talent into all the projects I run and regard it as a vital part of the contribution I can make to the cultural life of the region.

Clare, a member of local arts project AYYO Contemporary, adds: "The young are the future and in these tough times when getting an education is so expensive, let alone the challenge of starting a career, as a creative they deserve support and help to start those careers."

Professional artists have come into the town and absorbed local stories and memories to inspire works.

"Relationships are being made and memories, objects, places and experiences shared between the artists and townsfolk," says Clare.

Homegrown talent includes artists Isabel Wilkinson and William H Harvey – who has created an audio visual installation as part of the Charlbury Sculpture Trail at the Corner House, called ARC, with established artist technologist Neil C Smith (open every afternoon until Sunday).

William, 22, from nearby Spelsbury, took part in the 'Illustory' young artist exhibition at The Theatre Chipping Norton last November and has a place to study a degree in fine art at Goldsmiths College in London – the alma mater of Damien Hurst.

He was invited by AYYO to work with Smith, who mentored Will in the creation of his installation.

Smith says: “With a title garnered from the historical watchmaker’s name, ARC acts as an intersection for time, longitude and the surrounding landscape.”

Will says: “It has been brilliant experience working collaboratively in making the ARC installation. He has a well established creative practice and I have learnt a vast amount from him about making audio visual art and showing it professionally. I have grown in confidence too which I feel leaves me in a strong position as I prepare for my degree studies at Goldsmiths later in the year.”

On Saturday and Sunday the pair will run free workshops for anyone who wants to learn how they made it and to try their equipment.

Switching to performance art, there is also work by Rhiannon Evans, who recalls Charlbury’s glove-making history and background of Quaker faith and activism. She welcomes visitors to the Corner House kitchen to intimate conversations offered up (and down) by a dumb waiter. The piece, 'Special Delivery' is at the Corner House from 2-4pm on Saturday.

There is more performance art from Jack Catling, whose 'Passing Moment' can be seen in the Corner House garden at 4pm on Saturday, and by Mexican artist Veronica Cordova de la Rosa whose “If Flowers Could Talk they Would not be Flowers Any More” is in the same place at 6pm.

Clare Carswell performs her own piece 'Keeper' – imagining the return of lost property items to their owners, while moving through the town. It starts at the Corner House at 11am on Sunday.

Then there's a hint of spirit in the shape of Reading artist Jo Thomas's 'Everyday Cure Alls' at the Corner House from 3-5pm on Sunday.

Inspired by stories of making Spanish Liquor with local spring water, Jo's piece s a response to local conversations about local people's deep sense of connection with the town and its particularities of Charlbury.

Previous performances have featured the Royal Academy's Brian Catling's Don’t Count the Fingers” – in which he placed his head in an exact replica of the room in which he was performing. There was also a chance for budding artists to join visiting festival artist-in-residence, Isabel Wilkinson from Islip, at the Southill Solar community owned solar farm on the edge of Charlbury, to create new work.

“For some time Charlbury Art Society has been looking for ways to encourage more people to become engaged in the arts, and the Charlbury Festival was born out of this desire," says Tony Lloyd, of the Charlbury Art Society.

"The emphasis has been on participation and involvement, trying something for the first time or having a new experience. A key part of the festival programme has been the series of Festal Favours events of performance and installation art – with a wonderful variety of thought provoking encounters with leading artists in this field.”

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