The Foggy Dew at Swiss Cottage Gallery: Installation Shots



New Exhibition: The Foggy Dew at Swiss Cottage Gallery


The Foggy Dew
New works by Matthew Cowan feat. artifacts from the archives of the English Folk Dance and Song Society
Private View 25th February 6pm – 8pm

performance on PV evening by Matthew Cowan, Laurel Swift and Libby Chamberlain

Exhibition opens 26th February - 8th April 2010

Swiss Cottage Gallery
Swiss Cottage Library
88 Avenue Road, London NW3 3HA

Swiss Cottage Gallery is pleased to showcase artwork by Matthew Cowan, the 2009 English Folk Dance and Song Society Artist in Residence at Cecil Sharp House, alongside selected items from the archives of the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Exhibited are costumes, disguises and artefacts representing a history of folk dance, ritual and performance, which have been collected in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries from around England. Some artefacts on display show
traces of the performances they have been through; this very visible residue alludes to the occasion and importance of live performance in the folk realm.

The spectrum of folk performance owes a debt to Cecil Sharp (1859-1924), England's most important folk song and dance collector, for his work in recording what he saw and heard. This exhibition picks up on the work by Cecil Sharp keeping a flickering light aglow; the nature of folk is that it needs to be performed to remain alive. This ‘current day’ inhabitance of ritual and folk performance is by no means unusual as successive generations of singers, dancers and
performers remain true to a set of traditional folk values whilst introducing a contemporary discourse.

Contemporary artworks are placed directly alongside objects from the archives in a deliberate linking and exploration of the discourse and re-investment into and between folk history and the current contemporaneous existence of the real and imagined folk realm. We would like to question the nature of traditions themselves and how we view and realise their re-enactment wondering when and if the re-enactment becomes an enactment. The costume works and the video performances are very much in the vein of ‘folk’ but also look toward wider issues of strangeness, joy, ritual disguise and the performance of the everyday.

Swiss Cottage Gallery would like to give special thanks to both Matthew Cowan and to the EFDSS for their support
and help with this exhibition.

For opening times please see Swiss Cottage Library website
For EFDSS details

'to Lubberland' performance at the private view, Kennedy Hall, 10 December 2009


As far as anyone can remember, this was the first occaision that a Bouncy Castle has been installed in Kennedy Hall. The performance was primarily about using the inflatable castle to perform a morris jig. My work with Morris Dancing often stems from the fact that I was taught that to Morris Dance well, it should appear that you are not touching the ground.

To this end, a bouncy castle is fit for purpose.

'to Lubberland': Exhibition Notes


‘To Lubberland’
Matthew Cowan
Cecil Sharp House
11 December 2009 – 31 March 2010

“Lubberland” is an English word for the medieval fantasy land of Cockaigne. ‘to Lubberland’ by Matthew Cowan, raises a glass to Cockaigne, and its enduring influence in the folk idiom. Its place in folk consciousness can be traced through imagery and ritual in folk ballads, dances and mummers plays. As good an opening as any to this strange land of inversion is the question put to the quack doctor of the English Mummer’s play every Christmas. To which a classic answer begins:

I've travelled through Itty Titty, where there is neither house, land, nor city; wooden churches, leather bells, and black-puddings for bell-ropes... Bellerby Sword Dance Play, 1879

This introduction to the strange land is repeated throughout many mummers plays in seeming nonsensical recollections by quack doctors. As the basis for these vivid fragments Cockaigne is a medieval destination of luxury and pleasure, a descendant of the topsy turvy Roman celebrations of Saturnalia, the festivals of Misrule, and in turn a rich visual ancestor of the social inversion in folk ritual such as mummers plays and ritual dance today. Cockaigne is a land of the inverse, where all the restrictions of society are reversed – beggars and debters are pronounced kings and princes, sexual liberty is open and encouraged, and food is plentiful, animals even pleading to be eaten. It serves both as an severe illogical ideal and a extreme opposite to the restrictions of the reality of medieval life.

The works in this show serve to map a path to Lubberland, exploring the underlying theme of 'inverted place' and its fantastic promise of luxury, whilst referring to the cynical observation first noted in the 1820s that London is itself a version of Cockaigne. The set of four images ‘Cockaigne in London Town’, named after the Elgar concert overture of 1901, refers again to the paradoxical travels of the quack doctor of the mummers plays, through contemporary photographs of London streets.

Collages made from Victorian depictions of mummers in the Illustrated London News have the mummers and dancers rotated and turned on their heads. With the title ‘Holy Fools’, they deal with the hyper-romantic portrayals of both folk audiences and folk performers in the engravings, and hint at an audience’s need to develop a romantic history or ritualistic tradition to contextualise what they are watching.

‘Euphoric Clashes’ is a specially created new piece in neon and a trolley full of Morris Dancing sticks. These words are an anagram of the “Cecil Sharp House” sign that adorns the outside of the English Folk Dance and Song Society building. It acts as an alternative designation for Cecil Sharp House, revealing a spiritual joy observed in the stick clashing of morris dancers.Other pieces in the exhibition are linked by their backwardness, their invertedness, and the fact that food is in such plentiful supply in the land of Lubberland that even the very buildings are constructed from it.

The animated video “lumps of plum pudding and pieces of pie” tells a sorry tale of gluttony and force feeding in a literal take on the solo morris jig. ‘Where Does This Noble Doctor Come From?’ is a map of the world turned upside-down re-outlining the quack doctor’s travel anecdote, with the addition of talking pigs and pancake thatching.

The exhibition continues until 31 March 2010.

Bruegel the Elder, Peter. The Land of Cockaigne. 1567:

Pleij, Herman. Dreaming of Cockaigne. Trans. Diane Webb. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.

Cockaigne to Diddy Wah Diddy : Fabulous Geographies and Geographic Fabulations Minton J. Folklore vol 102:i, 1991

Matthew Cowan is a New Zealand born artist who has been working in the UK since 2001. His practice delves into traditional British and European customs. His works are photographs, videos, installations and performances, which play with the inherent strangeness of the continued popularity of long established folk customs in a modern world. Recent shows have been in London, Newcastle upon Tyne, Poland and New York. During 2009 he has been Artist in Residence at Cecil Sharp House, the headquarters of the English Folk Dance and Song Society.

'To Lubberland' a new exhibition by Matthew Cowan

'To Lubberland' - a new exhibition by Matthew Cowan to open at the home of Folk

Exhibition dates:

11 December 2009 - 31 March 2010

Private view and performance with inflatable castle: Thursday 10 December 6.30pm at Cecil Sharp House.

Matthew Cowan has been the artist in residence at Cecil Sharp House, London throughout 2009. As an artist and curator he has been involved in directing and developing the visual arts at Cecil Sharp House (home of EFDSS), and over seventy artists have been involved in exhibitions and live art events during the year. The upcoming solo exhibition, 'To Lubberland' presents works he has made during this time.

This new work draws on the underlying influence of the medieval fantasy-land 'Cockaigne' in the folk consciousness. Topsy-turvy travelogues by quack doctors, plum pudding force feeding by overbearing mothers, and a new take in neon based quite literally on Cecil Sharp House itself, all contribute to this new show. The works serve to literally map a path to Lubberland, exploring the underlying theme of 'inverted place' and its fantastic promise of luxury, whilst referring to the observation first noted in the 1820s that London is itself a version of Cockaigne.

The exhibtion includes a specially created new piece in neon, an anagram of Cecil Sharp House that nods towards the joy of Morris Dancing.

The private view on 10 December 6.30 - 8.30 will host a performance by the artist, involving a Morris Dance and an inflatable Bouncy Castle set up especially in Kennedy Hall.

The show contains a new video piece based on the Cotswold Morris jig, "lumps of plum pudding" from the village of Bledington, made up of hundreds of still images. The film is a literal and contemporary take on the dance, which has an accompyanying song - a sorry tale of lies, plum pudding and death.

The exhibition will continue until 31 March 2010.

The exhibition will be on show at Cecil Sharp House, 2 Regent's Park Road, London NW1 7AY tel: 0207 485 2206

Davey Graham Concert


I have been helping out Stewart Morgan with the organisation of an exhibition at the Davey Graham concert. The exhibition in Storrow, in the basement at Cecil Sharp House showcases some of the record covers from his early career, and together with a number of quotes from his contemporaries paints a picture of his contribution to folk music.

Also on display is his guitar, which will be auctioned off soon.

Davey Graham Concert


Davy Graham:
A Life in Celebration

Saturday 28 November, 2 - 11pm

Martin Carthy and friends: Doors 2pm – 5pm
Evening concert: Doors 7pm 11pm

The English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) is honored to host a day of events celebrating the life of Davy Graham, ‘probably England's greatest guitarist’
(Paul Simon).

Davy Graham: A Life in Celebration brings together such luminaries of the folk and blues world as Martin Carthy, Ralph McTell, Wizz Jones and Sam Carter, with many more very special guests to be confirmed.

Davy Graham (1940 – 2008), through a unique and eclectic mixture of folk, blues, jazz, Middle Eastern sounds, and Indian ragas, was one of the most influential figures in the 1960s folk music revival in Britain. Probably best-known for his acoustic instrumental ‘Anji’, Graham inspired many practitioners (and imitators) of the finger style acoustic guitar. Indeed, his influence on musicians such as Bert Jansch, Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), Ray Davies (The Kinks), Johnny Marr (The Smiths) and Graham Coxon (Blur), to name but a few, highlight the huge debt the British music scene owes to his music.

Mumchance and Guise Procession


Mumchance and Guise Procession & Performances at Cecil Sharp House


Gery Georgieva's "Autoethnography; Doing My Own Little Thing"

Woody's Traditional One Man Band

Megan Broadmeadow's one woman many charactered Mummers Performance:

Terry Frisch's Fool, distributing Soul Cakes to the audience:

Matthew Cowan's Morris Bellman peforming on the summit of Primrose Hill:

Mumchance and Guise | Procession & Performance


Saturday 31 October, from 4.15pm, free

This Procession and Performance is part of the archives and artefacts exhibition, 'Mumchance and Guise' at Cecil Sharp House. The event will begin at sunset (between 4.30 and 5pm) with a twilight procession of disguised performers and musicians from nearby Primrose Hill. The eclectic group will make the short walk to Cecil Sharp House, Trefusis Hall where a series of performances will take place.

Come in disguise and join the procession or simply watch the procession and following performances at Trefusis Hall. Artists from the exhibition at Cecil Sharp House will showcase a series of performances that tap into the dark underbelly of folk customs and disguise, using essential folk elements in presenting new performances by contemporary artists from the UK and Europe.

Meet in your own disguise at 4.15pm at the top of Primrose Hill

Apple Day


Join EFDSS and BBC Radio 3's Late Junction presenter Verity Sharp in a day of music, dancing, storytelling, crafts, games and all things appley as we celebrate Apple Day 2009.

Family Afternoon, 2-5pm
£6 adults, £4 conc.

Dance your socks off, listen to stories, sing apple songs, join in craft workshops, play apple games and eat apples. An afternoon for all ages with the Black Pig Band, story teller Debs Newbold, artist Matthew Cowan and singer Sam Lee.

Evening Performance, 8-11pm
£12 adv.

The days events culminate to performances from Anglo-Australian super-trio Kerr Fagan Harbron and groundbreaking English string quartet Methera as they team up for a virtuoso evening of music.

Apple Day


Above is the completed 'Apple Pie house' that was started for the Apple Day curated by Verity Sharp at Cecil Sharp House, and finished a few days later. It is made from over 200 packets of Sainsbury's own apple pies, some pancakes, some wire, and some cardboard.

I think I might have ruined my future enjoyment of Apple Pies for quite some time.

SHARE craft workshops

Wednesday 21 October
SHARE craft workshops
3-6pm, Free

Working in partnership with MLA and the Design Museum, the EFDSS is hosting an afternoon of drop in workshops designed to encourage a better awareness of the varied craft skills behind some of the sensitive artefacts from the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library's archive which are currently on display in the Mumchance & Guise exhibition at Cecil Sharp House.

Over 10 craft practitioners will be on hand to share their skills and techniques including basketry, beading, paper craft and felt stitching. Also, join visual artist in residence Matthew Cowan in the making of traditional paper mummers' costumes. Use this opportunity to make your own 'disguise' for the Mumchance & Guise performance event at Cecil Sharp House on Halloween.

New Exhibition: Mumchance and Guise


mumchance & guise

Friday 25 September - Saturday 28 November

Open: Monday to Friday (and some Saturdays) 10am to 6pm

Admission free

A new exhibition showcasing artifacts from the English Folk Dance and Song Society archives alongside new works by contemporary artists.

The performance of folk dance and ritual inevitably involves costumes and forms of disguise. This camouflage enshrouds folk performers and transforms them, removing them from everyday existence, separating performer and community.

Most folk costumes are precious, unique, hand-made and purpose built objects. This new exhibtion at Cecil Sharp House draws together some amazing costume artifacts from the EFDSS archives and shows them alongside costumes and performance works from contemporary artists whose work is concerned with tradition and folk ritual.

Included in the show are a selection of dolls which depict folk and dancing costumes from both English and European traditions. Some of these have been donated from visiting folk dancers, and some were made especially for EFDSS.

The works by contemporary artists have all been involved in performances, and they all bear traces of their ritual use. These costumes, and the performances they are involved in are very much ‘folk’ but all have at least an added extremity to them that highlights the strangeness and the joy of ritual disguise and performance.

Megan Broadmeadow
Matthew Cowan
Tim Johnson
Michelle Bloom
Gery Georgieva

Where Does This Noble Doctor Come From?


In the mummers play recorded at Longborough in 1923 the doctor lines are very special.
In his speech, the doctor outlines the following journey:

"I went down a long lane, a short lane, a narrow lane, a wide lane, and I come to a house built with apple dumplings and thatched with pancakes."

The doctor is of course refering to the topsy turvy world often alluded to in Mummers Plays. He goes on to mention maids, dogs, hedges and blood - all inversions of sense and order.

A very special street that I lived just around the corner from for many years in Tynemouth, but never dared venture down is Back Front Street.

New Work: Exotic England, A Morris Tour by Bus. Cecil Sharp House


Saint George and the Dragon


Open Studio

I am over half way through my residency at Cecil Sharp House.
As part of the opening of the new work by James Johnson-Perkins and Sarah Foque, I had an open studio for a couple of days to showcase the work that I have been developing.

There are some sculptures and wall based pieces. My favourite is the sculpture that I have made from a broken set of practice Abbots Bromley Horn Dance horns.

At the moment all roadsigns are pointing to Cockaigne. Its both a low road and a high road to travel.

James Johnson-Perkins and Sarah Foqué: New Work


Sarah Foqué & James Johnson-Perkins: New Work
10 July – 29 August 2009
Open: 10 – 6pm, Tuesday – Saturday

private view: 6pm, Thursday 9th July
Cecil Sharp House
2 Regents Park Road

nearest tube: Camden Town

The English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) are pleased to present
an exhibition of new site specific work from artists Sarah Foqué and
James Johnson-Perkins.

Through vividly coloured materials, both artists will respond to the
Cecil Sharp House building, the home of the EFDSS, as a starting point
for work as they attempt to directly interact with its community and

Responding to a site's history and the movement of people through it,
Sarah Foqué creates installations with straight bands of colour.
Drawing on histories of philosophy and anthropology, Foqué focuses on
the mapping and exploration of space and boundaries. Typically using
coloured tape as a material to visualise her understanding of the
space she is working in, Foqué will create a fluid portrait of the
space and its activities, alluding to traditional dance figures.

James Johnson-Perkins utilises references to popular culture of the
1980s to create works of play and nostalgia. His installation,
spanning all four storeys of the building stairwell, will attempt to
build the tallest structure ever made from Mega-Bloks. This
construction will represent an absurd May Pole in the centre of the
building, at odds with the surrounding architecture.

Artist-in-residence Matthew Cowan will be holding a free open studio
event during the private view and on Friday 10 July, 10am - 5pm.

a Hawk and a Hacksaw

I saw Hack and a Hacksaw play in Kennedy Hall last night. I was sharing my space with them for a bit in the afternoon. The sound was not the best, but it did mean that they decided to forgo the PA system and play in the dark in the middle of the room for quite a while.

Everyone gathered round them like a fight in a playground.

Also, it was my first time seeing a trumpet violin played.

The House: Architecture


As an 'artist in residence' it seems pretty important to be thinking about the building that you are resident in. Cecil Sharp House has a resonance that stretched around the world to me in Auckland, when Morris Dance was first revealing itself to me, and I visited it first in the 1990s.

The headquarters of the English Folk Dance and Song society sounded like a repository of unrivalled and strange folk knowledge. The Vaughn Williams Memorial Library and Archives certainly fulfull this promise even if the main library room itself, which initially took control of Sharp's personal library has long since overflowed upstairs and downstairs into other archive spaces. The building itself is much more than a house for the library and a dancing hall however.

This year I have an opportunity to spend more time in 'the House' and think about how people use its spaces. Its pretty apparent from spending a few months working here that the building means a lot of different things to a lot of different communities. A good proportion of the rooms and halls are in constant use, hired out to users as practice halls, exam venues, a theatre school, salsa dance venue, a vintage clothes fair and a variety of choir practice spaces.

This gives the building a feeling that it is owned by much more than just the folk community, with up to a thousand people coming through the doors each week. This leads me to think about the existence of 'folk' in cities and how the EFDSS work as a folk art centre. I guess the history of the building is at the core of an urban folk locus in London, and has been since its inception. Even though the actual location of 'folk' occuring could be anywhere from a city pub to playground to a country fete, the focus for the drawing together of the national character of folk - especially the vital role that the archives and library play in this, is at the essence of what Cecil Sharp House is about.

A book by Brenda Godrich, 'the Building of Cecil Sharp House' details the history of the building.

The images in the book show the building before it was bombed during the Second World War, and the subsequent rebuilding work. (Though it must have been a tragic event at the time, having only just been finished, I understand the logic of the Luftwaffe in their targetting of Cecil Sharp House. To the Nazi era German army the folk repository must have seemed like a pretty important target.) Its a great shame that the building today doesn't reflect the simple grandeur of the original. Its obvious from the strange backwards and sideways facing entraceway, and extra walls inserted in the foyer area, that the last half century has seen a number of unconcerted and half hearted alterations.

Thankfully in the last month one such alteration - an annoying an unnecessary steel security gate is going to be removed. It will restore visual access to the impressive central staircase and at least open up the lobby area. It will remove any obstacles to hanging artwork in this space too.

As Cecil Sharp House means so much to so many people, I am becoming interested in how they actually use the building. I'm currently working with some artists who are going to create new work that will directly relate to people's use of the space, and its site.