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Deveron Projects - taking big ideas for a long walk

Deveron Projects is a contemporary arts organisation with a difference - its venue is an entire town. The small market town of Huntly in the north east of Scotland (population 4,500) acts as studio, gallery and stage for artists of all disciplines invited from around the world to live and work there. 

We caught up with director Claudia Zeiske about their recent Slow Marathon - an annual event which expands upon a theme or an idea related to their curated programme and literally "takes it for a walk", alongside talks, films, food and discussion.

Derevon Projects - Slow Marathon 2018 - Huntly walkers

Hi Claudia! What have you been up to since we last spoke?

Many, many things. After the long wait for the Regular Funding decisions we took a deep breath and are now implementing our new programme around sustainable connections. We have implemented the Town is the Garden Programme, which is aimed at getting local people to grow their own food. As part of this we have also instigated a Community Crockery with artist Katie Johnston. Important for us are the international connections - how to link the very local initiatives with the global and international ones.

Derevon Projects - Slow Marathon 2018 - In Gaza playing guitar

You recently staged your annual Slow Marathon – what was this year’s theme?

This year's theme - Walking Without Walls - was around borders, rising nationalism and xenophobia. This relates to our programme around sustainable connections, for which we developed two parallel Slow Marathons: one for Huntly along the river Isla, leading from Dufftown to Huntly via Keith; the other walked the length of the Gaza strip, which is exactly 42k/26mls - the length of a marathon.

    Where did the idea for Walking Without Walls originate?

    Deveron Projects has been at the forefront of working with artists around social engagement. But what about artists that you can never meet for political (or other - e.g. disability, age) reasons. 100 years after the end of WW1 we are again (or still) raising questions around nationhood.

    We had to negotiate our right of way through the countryside. Walking in Palestine is seen as a mutinous act.- Claudia Zeiske, Director of Deveron Arts

    It is also the 100th year of the Balfour Agreement when Britain initiated the establishment of Palestine as a national home for the Jewish people, and 70 years of Naqba, the Palestinian exodus when almost a million people were expelled from their homes.

    That many years later, we find it almost impossible to work with artists from this region. Hence we set up a programme for artists that we could never meet for political reasons. One of those projects was Walking without Walls, a year long digital residency between artists Rachel Ashton from Huntly and May Murad from Gaza, both painters.

    Derevon Projects - Slow Marathon 2018 - In Gaza with May

    How did the two artists go about collaborating despite the obvious geo-political challenges?

    Regular Skype meetings, Whatsapp, Instagram, in their studios, in our offices, along the walks when plodding the marathon route. These were all the mechanisms how we enabled the residency. Highly digital in terms of communication on the one hand side, very traditional in terms of artistic practice (drawing, painting, walking) on the other.

    Derevon Projects - Slow Marathon 2018 - Skype call

    The challenges were both practical as well as political. The Gaza artist only has electricity at certain times of the day, with the time difference, one needs to carefully plan the meetings. Ourselves we often don't have reception in the remoter parts of where the artist lives, or where we walk the route. May was accosted by policy and military agents for taking images. Why are you walking? is what she was often asked. We had to negotiate our right of way through the countryside. Walking in Palestine is seen as a mutinous act.

    Derevon Projects - Slow Marathon 2018 - In Gaza walking

    How did the walks go – did participants engage with both the physical event and the idea behind it?

    Yes, we had a pathmaker's gathering the day before, where we brought the artists together with Palestinian activists and scholars around walking for political activism. This set the scene. People also got some information on the walk and we were constantly in and out with the digital communication on route. Drones were flying over both terrains.

    Derevon Projects - Slow Marathon 2018 - nearly there

    What’s next for the project?

    We are currently producing a film, bringing all the digital elements together. This will be launched at TATE Exchange on 25 May, as part of the Refugee Festival. We will also show the film at Edinburgh Arts Festival on 24 August at the RSA as part of a wider discussion around art, borders and migration.

    Deveron Projects is one of Creative Scotland's Regularly Funded Organisations 2018-21.

    This article was published on 17 May 2018