On first looking into The Space

1st May 2012

Day 8 of the Julius Caesar shoot, and we continue to film the assassination scene. On set it’s still really cold and outside it’s raining hard once again. What more do you need to know (apart from what’s for lunch)? So I am taking a May Day break from blogging the shoot, and turning instead to today’s launch of The Space. This is the ‘pop up’ online arts offering from Arts Council England and the BBC that went live this morning and that will run across the summer. Go here and here for background, and (in the interests of full disclosure) here and here for the story of our rejection; for the latest follow @thespacearts. Plus, Tony Ageh marks the launch on the About the BBC Blog. There is no question that this is a hugely significant and exciting initiative for arts media, and my aim is to write about it extensively as it unfolds. I would also be delighted if this blog becomes one of the key places where a critical dialogue about its successes and failures is played out. What follows are preliminary thoughts on first looking into The Space.

One of the strengths of The Space is that it can be accessed on a number of platforms, including mobile and red button, but my encounter today is on a conventional laptop. Since nothing at present is taking place in real time, you could question the tagline ‘Arts 2012 – Live, Free and On Demand.’ But the site is clear and clean and jumps you straight to the experiences of the initial offering. There is also a short video that aims to answer the question, ‘What is The Space?’ But I’ve tried playing it several times, and on each occasion it freeezes at ‘It’s a deliberately experimental…’

Original offerings from each of the artforms featured (dance; film; literature and spoken word; music; performance and festival – I’m a bit puzzled about that one; theatre; visual and media arts) will appear regularly in the coming weeks – although I don’t know that you would immediately understand that as a new user. But my impression of the first line-up is that it’s all a bit retro. It feels a bit too much like a back space, rather than one packed with nowness.

The lead item is John Peel’s Record Collection. Or rather the catalogue of the late John Peel’s record collection (plus links to Spotify or places to purchase the songs). Well, in fact for the moment, in the first week, just the catalogue of bands beginning with “A” (the other letters are to be released weekly across the summer). And then again, what we have here are just the first one hundred catalogue entries for bands beginning with “A” (a pattern to be repeated with other letters as they come online). Nice, but a bit, um,… incomplete.

In Dance, there is a new interview with Gilbert & George discussing their early ’80s performance work ‘Bend It’. Plus three selections from the Arts Council/BBC co-productions created in the 1990s in the series Dance for the Camera. It’s good to see these again (and where, oh where, are their likes today) but again these are not exactly offerings from the current moment.

The archive focus is continued when you click on Film, where today’s treat is Ridley Scott’s first film Boy and Bicycle, retrieved from the collection of the BFI National Archive. Not that you would know it from the contextual information on The Space, this was made in 1965 – there is more info on BFI ScreenOnline.

Literature and Spoken Word focusses on two writers from Nottingham, Derrick Buttress and the late Alan Sillitoe, and a digital journey around Nottingham, both now and in the past. Another archive treat here is a 1987 BBC Breakfast Time report with Sillitoe talking about Nottinghamshire. Under the heading the Theatre, there is also a chunk of Radio 4’s Front Row from 2010, with the estimable James Shapiro talking about Shakspeare conspiracy theories. And while we are looking back, the launch items include the 2007 David Shrigley animation Light Switch. I realise of course that one of the stated aims of The Space is to find new ways of engaging with the archive – but the balance on the opening day feels too much weighted to the past.

Where The Space truly and totally comes into its own – and for me more than makes a case for its existence – is with a recording from Shakespeare’s Globe of Venus and Adonis, the opening offering in the current Globe to Globe season. Shakespeare’s great erotic poem is performed by the Isango ensemble from Cape Town, South Africa, in IsiZulu, IsiXhosa, SeSotho, Setswana, Afrikaans & South African English. The ‘theatre capture’ video is straightforward but the stage production is gloriously musical, vivid and thrilling. Here is a wonderful mix of past and present, then and now, made available to us all – and for that I am truly thankful.

Other thoughts?


  1. Gail says:

    Thank you for this introductory guide, John. I haven’t yet had time to look at The Space (hope to do that this evening) but from the sound of it, I think I’d find it confusing if I’d visited the site without first reading your comments. It’s an exciting concept and I’m looking forward to seeing how it unfolds.

    Also – what’s for lunch? 😉

  2. A small note that the categorisation of artforms across the menu bar is of interest to me – despite the rhetoric around The Space, there’s no mention of digitally native work, interactive content or – heaven forfend! – games.

    • John Wyver says:

      Yes, Alex, the closest the categorisation comes is “media arts” as one half of the visual arts category. It does feel like a very traditional breakdown, especially when Dance gets its own standalone category when it might easily have been put in with Performance.

      Categories can certainly be very revealing about a project.

  3. bex says:


    follow up to my tweet… the FAQ says this

    Can I access The Space from outside the UK?

    We have primarily built The Space as a platform for audiences in the UK, but most content is available to be viewed by people outside the UK at http://www.thespace.org.

    so… I’m going to do some testing before I advertise it to my theatre/dance/music folks but I’m hopeful!!

  4. Stuart Ian Burns says:

    I was disappointed to find no low bandwidth streaming ala the iPlayer or an RSS feed for content updates (the twitter and facebook both being a bit noisy). Other than that, the surprise of having access to Globe to Globe is very welcome.

  5. John Wyver says:

    I was intrigued to note that a tagline that started out this morning including the words “Arts 2012” now just reads “The Arts”. Have the Olympics brand enforcers been at work already?

    Interesting too that – as far as I can see – neither the Intro to the Globe to Globe season nor the recording of Venus and Adonis carries any Festival 2012 or World Shakespeare Festival 2012 logos or other branding. I find that very odd.

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