Our biggest Bloomsbury yet?

With two projects, exhibitions, workshops, writers in residence and radio appearances, this could have been our biggest Bloomsbury Festival yet. If you haven’t had the chance to explore 26’s involvement, either in person or online, now’s your chance.

First up, 26 Inspirations

It’s not too late to catch a free exhibition of this truly inspiring collection of writing and visual responses at The Building Centre from Friday 14th October to mid-November. (Just don’t go on Sunday – you’ll find it closed!)

Some of our writers reflect on the project and share their work.

I exhibited four of my photographs together with a new poem, which I had designed and letterpress-printed by New North Press. The piece is called ‘Landfall’. The photographs are of boat hulls and the entire work is a meditation on our inner conversation as we explore for the other while always seeking home.

– Tim Rich

I knew that the 26 Inspirations project would be wonderful and full of beautiful work – when is a 26 project not full of beautiful work? – but the exhibition at the Building Centre in Bloomsbury was extraordinary. Not just the space, which was the perfect canvas for everyone’s work, but the sheer quality and range of art and words – everything from handmade papier maché bowls inspired by imprisoned Turkish artist Dilan Cudi, to original artwork from a talented three-year-old. There is gorgeous illustration, haiku, ceramic masks and leaves to reflect on how nature helped two doctors through the pandemic, a specially created perfume and even a blank wall to share your own inspirations. 

And all of this wrapped in an evening where 26ers got to spend time together in person once again. It was such a pleasure to catch up with faces I’ve not seen in person in literal years and talk to my wonderful editor – Gita Ralleigh – face-to-face. I also spoke to members I’ve known of for a long time but never had a chance to actually meet, as well as, in many cases, their friends and families. The projects might be what makes 26 unique, but it is the members that make it so special. And I was particularly pleased to be able to introduce some of them to my husband, Ed, my project partner, the very talented potter Steve Cook (you can see all of us, sort of, in the photo), as well as his lovely partner and daughter.  

The exhibition is as eclectic and wonderful as you could hope to find in a 26 project. I am definitely going to go back to the Building Centre and spend more time with everyone’s work. The only other thing to say is a huge thank you to Andy Hayes, Rob Andrews and John Simmons and the rest of the 26 Inspirations team for creating something so magical.

– Lisa Andrews

I feel very lucky that my design partner Harry Pearce at Pentagram had this very special blog/animation made about our work. One of the most beautiful interpretations of text into design I’ve ever been involved with.

– John Simmons

It’s always inspiring to see what people create with a pen and piece of paper. What would happen if the pens were big and chunky, and the piece of paper a wall? After many calls and chats with my creative partner Sam Gray, we decided to give our canvas to people visiting the exhibition. In a room alive with poetry, photography, personal stories, illustrated guitars and more, our piece encourages visitors to share what inspires them. Three days in, our wall was almost full…

– Rob Self-Pierson

Next, 26 Orphans

If you haven’t had the chance to visit the Foundling Museum in person and follow their trail to find and listen to all our writers recordings, you can follow the tour virtually here.

And there’s more. Our own John Simmons and Neil Baker ran a workshop as part of the festival, and 14 of our writers read their pieces live.

Suchandrika Chakrabarti reading her 26 Orphans sestude

Let’s not forget our writers in residence

Eight writers dived right into the festival and took on the role of writers in residence – each responding to their appointed day in their own unique way with words. Plus, Margaret Kenna (who actually took on two days) even made it onto Bloomsbury Radio to fly the flag for 26.

DAY 1, Friday 14 October

Are We There Yet?

Are we there yet?
Asks my husband,
Sounding like a (very large) child on a school trip.
And yes, we are technically here
But not yet “arrived at our destination”
Because it is practically impossible to decide
What to do first
This little street is transformed
Into a vibrant, cacophony of carnival holiday
People ignore the autumn wind
Flapping the food stall covers
And relax on striped green deckchairs,
As though it is mid summer
They listen to singers
Doing Marvin Gaye covers
Join in the Greek dancing
And visit the Zen garden
With lighting powered by hydrogen cells, from UCL
Do you know
There is a Trans-Siberian Marching band, Asian dancers, light projection, performance poetry and spoken word
In shops and buildings all along the street?
How lucky are we
To be right here, right now
Says the teen, sounding like a (small and very wise, if slightly sarcastic)
Philosophical adult
And indeed we are
Lucky to be here
You can be lucky too
You just have to come along here, to Store St
Peruse the programme
And choose one of the many wonderful things
Available to do
You can give us a wave
We’ll be the ones over there
On a deckchair, arguing
About whether we are actually
really here yet
I mean, they say it is better to
Travel, than to arrive
And there are just so many options

Margaret Kenna attended the Festival Opening Launch Event at The Building Centre, looked round the 26 Inspirations Exhibition, watched the light projection of “A Language of SHAPES” and talked to one of the scientists from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who had worked on the film. She also enjoyed a variety of street performances from musicians, singers and dancers, ate French food from one of the stalls, and read a draft of “Are We There Yet” to Barra Fitzgibbon, live on Bloomsbury Radio. He said he liked it so she hasn’t changed anything.

Oh, and there were also lots of cool, light installations, built to move like plants, lighting up Alfred Place Gardens, near the Zen Garden.

– Margaret Kenna

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