Zephyr Liddell Blog

Week 5

A week of meeting makers! having a great time learning batik, doing lots of dressmaking with a local tailor and had a mask made by a wood carver! Hopefully some final pieces are now coming together!

The SBE – we’ve spent a day painting together – a wonderful and highly enjoyable time! its coming together well and the work is forming!

Cocoloco/Helen & Trevor made a performance in Galle reading to the sea ! very beautiful indeed!

Week 3

Going into week 3, I’m aware of the need to concentrate on my own research and work as well. I will try to create time for this in-between show meetings. Neil suggested a work everyday – I’ve taken this quite seriously, lol, I think I’ve now got a proposal for each day! but I’d like to define and work alone on just one idea in the coming weeks.

My hope is that in the final 2 weeks that I’ll be able to work with some of the performers to share movement scores and produce some batiks for the costume. sharing movements and dressing up together seam to be very important in the development of my own “solo”/not solo practice.

Sura Medura – Artist Residency – 30/10/2018

Having arrived in Sri Lanka and Hikkaduwa at night, when I wake I’m suddenly struck by the amazingly beautiful surroundings, the ocean, the tress and plants. All around the town there are wonderful leaves, flowers, colourful houses, as I make my way to Sura Medura in the morning the bright, oranges, yellows and pinks are so vivid against the green shades, some look screen printed! A half hour cycle up the road in Dodanduwa, the new Sura Medua building stands monolithic in white on the edge on a lagoon, the most beautiful and peaceful surroundings. The vegetation sings to me, vibrancy, form and deep undulating shadows.

The political upheaval in in full swing and many people are rallying in Colombo, I’ll provide some links for more information on this below, this situation, the abuse of powers, government and corruption will undoubtedly have a huge impact to us all while we work.

The residency space is still being built for the first week or so, but we get started with tours of the area, working together and meeting with the Sri Lankan artists. The Sri Lankan artists are here to work with a team from UK, France, Italy and Czech, their objective is to create a ‘format’ for a new show, The Snowball Effect, that will be re-created in many countries. Part of my residency I have to work for 2 weeks in collaboration, so I’ll join them for 2 of my 6 weeks here.

I spend the first week, traveling around the local area meeting people and learning where/what and how I will find/work with materials. Sudu takes me to visit The Jungle Batik Shop, and there I meet with an artist and craft maker to learn and research methods of batik and fabric dying. He’s very very busy and he is working alone at home in a very small work shop so I’m hoping that he will have space and time to teach or show me some small elements of his design/creation process.

I love working with others, to feel and sharing methods, ideas and process. I’m only Part time on the Snowball Effect but I am able to share some costume/prod design ideas, suggestions for divisive elements – also my stage mgmt/production skill come in very helpful.

The Snowball effect is a huge, highly ambitious project. I find that I’m checking in with the team everyday or hearing bits about the work, also as I love working with others its hard for me to leave to conversation. It also feels that maybe the physical manifestation of the costume is not the important factor, perhaps its the design brief that is the important – ? – the transferable thing. Balancing this with the perpetual feeling of needing to produce quality work, the fine line of time and attention.

No time for that – as we hit Colombo for a 3 night stay, to give a presentation at the University of Visual and Performing Arts. I separate from the group and have a wonderful time traveling by tuktuk and exploring the city, to Maharagama and Pettah markets for fabrics and dyes for Batik. To Barefoot store to meet with Manel and learn hand weaving (more info/pics ). The city is full and fun – so much more to see but in one weekend I hopefully got some useful materials, hard to tell as I’m not sure what the costumes will be yet or if I will use fabric in my ‘solo’ works…

Dave House Blog


Sura Medura is an international artist’s residency centre in Sri Lanka. I was invited on the six week residency programme in late 2018 as a sound artist and musician. This blog is an account of my experience. Read part 1 here.

In the last entry I talked about my intentions and expectations for the residency, how they were met and how they changed as I settled in and began experimenting. This time I’m networking in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital.

In order to realise my ambition of collaborating with Sri Lankan musicians it quickly became clear that I’d need to spend some time in Colombo. Arun and Venuri, two of the artists we’d worked with in the first week, put me in touch with some of their friends, so off I set on the rattling train.

After I’d checked in to my guesthouse in the Colombo 5 district I headed to a jazz gig at the nearby Hansa Coffee. Drummer Sumudi runs Musicmatters, a music school in the north of the city, and I was keen to chat to him. After a wonderful set accompanied by Roberto, a Mexican keyboardist, I described my plans, realising as I did so that I didn’t have a very clear idea beyond ‘meet Sri Lankan musicians’. Despite my vagueness, Sumudi was open to meeting again!

Thursday was spent researching; Friday was a day of coincidences. Sumudi looked vaguely familiar but I couldn’t think how I could possibly know him. However, some unconnected research led me to learn he studied in New Zealand, which was when the penny dropped. Whilst travelling in New Zealand in 2009 I happened upon a concert by some Sri Lankan musicians in Dunedin Art Gallery, one of whom was none other than Sumudi! Their intricate and experimental concert sticks in my mind because it was a small seed of inspiration in my decision to do my Masters.

It also turned out that my guesthouse owner knew Sanchitha, owner of Sooriya Village, a performance space and music studio with a rich musical heritage. A meeting was set up and Sanchita gave me some great advice and contacts. It’s a small world indeed, and I do love a coincidence.

My fellow artists came up to the city for the weekend and on Friday night we headed to a gig at Musicmatters. Colombo 0200 Kinesthetics delivered a set of wonderfully freewheeling psychedelia, while aptly named The Soul complimented their titular style with doses of dub and indie. Both bands played brilliantly and there was a friendly, inclusive, joyful atmosphere that felt like a genuine slice of Colombo’s underground scene.

Meanwhile time was ticking on and I was very eager to do some tangible work. The residency is a rare and invaluable opportunity to devote 6 weeks to a project, but that brings with it a slight disconnect – most people remain in the ‘real world’ and their spare time is understandably precious, and so it was with the people I was meeting. I was also becoming increasingly aware that I needed to be clear and confident with my creative intentions in order for people to want to work with me.

This became embarrassingly clear when I visited the music department of the University of the Visual and Performing Arts. The woman with whom I spoke listened patiently to my vague request to meet traditional Sri Lankan musicians, but she was frustrated at my lack of specifics. Without an academic basis, why should their tutors and students give up their time and expertise for one foreign artist, especially during exam time? It was an awkward exchange but she had a point, and I’ve endeavoured to be clearer since then.

Colombo isn’t as frenetic as many South East Asian cities but it’s certainly more so than my adopted home of Edinburgh. As the days went on – me in Residency Time, everyone else in Real World Time – the city began wearing me down a bit. I took solace in good coffee, food and nighttime walks past illuminated banyan trees whilst I waited for something to happen.

As is often the way with networking, everything came good at the last minute. I’d got in touch with Thaji, lead dancer at the Chitrasena Dance Company, who invited me to attend their Monday evening rehearsal. On her suggestion I also messaged Sri Lankan dance, performance and drumming legend Ravibandu Vidyapathi. He called me back and offered to come with his son and work with me for a day in Hikkaduwa. I was humbled by his generosity and eagerness to help and greatly look forward to our time together.

On Monday we all presented our work to the Faculty of Visual Arts at the University. The students seemed engaged and it was interesting to see the setup at the University. That evening, my visit to Chitrasena Dance Company was inspiring. Three generations of women teach and/or dance there including Thaji, her aunt Upeka and grandmother Varija. They were incredibly open and passionate, giving me fascinating insights into the Kandyan ritual and tradition on which their contemporary practice is based. Most exciting for me was the final section of their rehearsal where the dancers took turns to lead as the other dancers and drummers followed. There is a formalised syntax of dance moves and corresponding drum patterns, and this semi-improvised section reverses the regular roles so the drummers take their cues from the lead dancer’s movements. The virtuosity, energy and syncopation was thrilling and moving. After the rehearsal I spoke to drummer Waruna, who allowed me to record some of his playing.

The next day was my last in Colombo and I visited Sumudi at Musicmatters for a jam. I trained a mic on his drum kit and fed his playing through a tried and tested array of effects for real-time augmentation of the sound. It was great to finally crack out my equipment and we had a fun improv session with some nice, serendipitous moments. Sumudi has been working for some years on transcribing traditional drum patterns to the kit, and I recorded some of these intricate, jazzy phrases.

I returned satisfied to Hikkaduwa on a packed, sweaty train, recording the rhythmic clatter and looking forward to jumping in the sea. I’d been in the city for longer than I intended but I’d met some talented, generous people and gathered some fantastic inspiration and material for my project. The semi-improvised finale to the dance rehearsal gave me ideas for call and response in my own work. Talking to Waruna and Sumudi (as well as recording their playing) gave me ideas about timing and structure. It was time to start bringing it all together, along with my field recordings and experiments from the first week.


Sura Medura is an international artist’s residency centre in Sri Lanka. I was invited on the six week residency programme in late 2018 as a sound artist and musician. This blog is an account of my experience.

I left for the residency with two loose ideas: Firstly, make field recordings exploring the sound-world I hear as a visitor compared to the one experienced by the local people. Secondly, compose a piece of music for electronics and Sri Lankan music in whatever form I encounter it (but preferably with some connection to the country’s musical traditions). I am also contributing to a collaborative, multidisciplinary production called The Snowball Effect.

20 hours of travelling with ideas and expectations pinballing around my head brought me dazed and sweaty to Sun Beach Hotel, Hikkaduwa, which is sandwiched between a ferocious road and an equally ferocious sea. My fellow artists arrived over the next few days as jetlag fogged names, times, itineraries and places.

After some orientation, settling in and fun (patchy sleep soundtracked by the hum of air conditioners, an affecting visit to the Tsunami Museum, lots of good curry, braving the waves at sunset, a lagoon trip…) work began in earnest with a weekend of devising for The Snowball Effect. We were joined by four Sri Lankan artists for group discussions, activities and games which I found both inspiring and challenging.

The ambitious production is exploring themes of identity, society, alienation, privilege, communication and belonging (amongst others!) Being an introspective artist I usually seek inspiration by looking inwards at my emotions and outwards at science and nature, so the political themes pushed me out of my comfort zone at times. So did the more theatrical games, the structure of which I was unfamiliar with. I did a lot of listening and observing over the weekend – as ever, working with artists from different disciplines was insightful, revealing new ways of creatively responding to a challenge.

Our Sri Lankan friends left, having brought warmth, perspective and expertise to our devising. They’ll re-join The Snowball Effect later, as will I. In the meantime, I work on my solo project. I spent the first day building a quick, interactive sound game. You can’t escape the noise of the road and the sea at Sun Beach. Being sensitive to sound and a light sleeper I thought it would be fun to try and control the sounds that dominated my first week (I also have a lot of recordings of seas and roads, so wanted to do something different).

I pointed one mic at the beach and another at the traffic and fed the sound through 16 band-pass filters tuned loosely to the Carnatic scale used in some traditional Sri Lankan music. The gain of each of the 16 frequencies, as well as that of the unprocessed road and sea, could be controlled via sliders. You could thus isolate specific parts of the sound and sculpt your own, tuned soundscape – a rumble of bass from the road, the sibilant hiss of the surf. Things got interesting when fellow artist Sita sang in front of the sea-facing mic – a mermaid’s serenade.

The official residency workspace is not quite finished but the building is beautiful, set in a village beside a lagoon in the jungle. I spent the next day exploring the site, wondering what I could work on that wouldn’t be disturbed by the sounds of the builders. I quickly realised that here, as well as at Sun Beach, I was bringing too many expectations to bear. The sounds around me were the sounds of Sri Lanka. How to augment the sound and keep it interesting for myself, though, given that I’ve also recorded many a building site before?

Building sites mean detritus, and atop a pile of rubble lay some lengths of pipe. I attached a mic to the end of one and moved around the site, recording the sound through the pipe. The natural comb-filtering effect adds strange tonalities and tunings. Suddenly a soundscape that could have been a thousand different places became unique and alien.

I continued the experiments back at Sun Beach, repeating the process with two different lengths of pipe pointing at the sea. I then played the live audio back through a small speaker which I placed inside one of the tubes, generating feedback effects by inserting the smaller tube into the larger one. I also thrust the pipe into the sand and surf which created some pleasing percussive and tinkling sounds.

My original idea to record soundscapes exotic to my ears and familiar to the locals was evolving into an idea of ‘tunnel hearing’: that which we want to hear dictating what we choose to listen to, plus the way sounds can be modified in situ to make genuinely new soundscapes. I have some ideas for audio installations taking shape, plus these themes also resonate with some of those developing for The Snowball Effect. But what of my second idea – to work with Sri Lankan musicians? That called for a trip to the city.

Matteo Lanfranchi

This is my third time in Sri Lanka: in 2014 I travelled through the country as a tourist, in 2015 I was invited as an artist to the Suramedura residency, and now I’m here to direct the Snowball Effect residency. We have 6 weeks to deliver a show, a format, that can also travel to Europe. The starting point is pretty big: identity, family, us vs. them. On the 3rd and 4th of November, I held a workshop to all the artists involved to create common ground and a starting point. I proposed some of the activities that I use with my company, Effetto Larsen, to investigate topics with the public and to involve them in our artistic processes.

We started working on identity: what we think makes us who we are, what we feel close to and what we feel distant from, what moves us, what is important and meaningful for us. Divided into groups, we then played a game inventing 3 communities, each with social rules, language, songs, ethical principles, and rituals. We had good fun and it triggered interesting thoughts. We ended the first day with a game I normally use to create clusters: someone asks a question out loud, and then the participants can reply choosing a position in the room, where one side means yes and the other no. We laughed a lot and discovered that most of us share the same ideas and principles. I like the moments when the group is split in two because it always feels like a little revelation.  The second day I proposed working on our family connections, thinking about them as constellations and networks, and asking what could put them in danger or threaten them. What emerged was the need to preserve communication to keep the relationships alive and healthy. None of us perceived our families as physically in danger or exposed to particular threats. We ended the day talking about the whole process and choosing some focus points and topics for each of us to work on.

This residency is challenging and stimulating. We have to produce a show, we are a big group, some of the artists involved can only join us for the last week, we have very different backgrounds and we need to deliver something that can work for any kind of audience, e.g. city, village, South East Asian or European. I envisage inviting audiences to play a game where they will be divided into groups and be lead through different activities to eventually become a community. We are making a step forward every day in creating something flexible enough to merge with proposals by local artists that we are working with. My goal is to produce a simple format, which will we reach as a result of a ‘sedimentation’ process.


Cocoloco is a performance company based in London, run by Trevor Stuart and Helen Statman, specialising in dramatic and comical street actions based on eccentric or stereotypic characterization and in bizarre and shocking theatrical shows. Cocoloco believe in the possibility that visual art and entertainment can join in harmony in most public situations, in a manner that can be understood by all ages and nationalities. The aim is to amuse but always with an intelligent structure; it may seem like simple fun but there will always be a hidden layer of sophistication. Cocoloco like to use humour as a device and are very informed by psychology and the cinema.

The Snowball Effect

Identity & Movement

An IN SITU production Co-produced by UZ Arts (Scotland), Atelier 231 (France), La Strada Graz (Austria), Ctyri Dny (Czech Republic), Festival di Terni (Italy

Devised at Sura Medura by Matteo Lanfranci (Italy) and Neil Butler (Scotland) with Fabrice Depprois – Visual Artist (France), Aneta Fodorová – Performer, Dramaturge (Czech Republic), Florent Mehmeti – Performer/writer (Kosovo), Sita Pieraccini – Performer/Musician (Scotland), Zephyr Liddell – Sculpture/Costume (Scotland), Dave House – Sound Artist (Scotland) with Sri Lankan artists and performers.

Drawing upon Matteo Lanfranchi’s, “Mnemosyne Emotional maps” developed at Sura Medura and Stormo (Flock) an exploration of the movement of birds.

To be performed in Sri Lanka on 7-9th December 2018 and re-imagined in the UK, France, Austria, Italy and the Czech Republic in 2019/20 – adapting to each socio-political environment, accumulating momentum, artists, performers and the public.

STORMO/Flusso @Assab One 2017 from Effetto Larsen on Vimeo.

Zephyr Liddell

Zephyr Liddell Zephyr Liddell is a designer based in Glasgow, Scotland. Zephyr works with textiles, through fashion and live performance, using traditional and digital techniques. Her work involves finding innovative ways to dress and fabricate with materials, making space for movement and decorating space, using a material led design practice. From a shared studio in Glasgow she works collaboratively with artists and designers of all forms, facilitates creative workshops and works freelance as a Stage & Project Manager.

Dave House

Dave House Dave House is an electronic musician, sound artist and graphic designer based in Edinburgh. He is the founder of The Noisefloor, a DIY music studio in Leith, and a tutor at Edinburgh College of Art.

Residency Line Up Nov – Dec 2018

NOV – DEC 2018 Residency Line Up

Exciting new developments are afoot with new residency artists announced at Sura Medura and The Snowball Effect project about to take flight. Stay tuned for more information soon.

UZ Arts are delighted to announce the next artists in residence at Sura Medura, Sri Lanka artist residency centre.

Zephyr Liddell Zephyr Liddell is a designer based in Glasgow, Scotland. Zephyr works with textiles, through fashion and live performance, using traditional and digital techniques. Her work involves finding innovative ways to dress and fabricate with materials, making space for movement and decorating space, using a material led design practice. From a shared studio in Glasgow she works collaboratively with artists and designers of all forms, facilitates creative workshops and works freelance as a Stage & Project Manager.

Dave House Dave House is an electronic musician, sound artist and graphic designer based in Edinburgh. He is the founder of The Noisefloor, a DIY music studio in Leith, and a tutor at Edinburgh College of Art.

CocoLoco Cocoloco is a performance company based in London, run by Trevor Stuart and Helen Statman, specialising in dramatic and comical street actions based on eccentric or stereotypic characterization and in bizarre and shocking theatrical shows. Cocoloco believe in the possibility that visual art and entertainment can join in harmony in most public situations, in a manner that can be understood by all ages and nationalities. The aim is to amuse but always with an intelligent structure; it may seem like simple fun but there will always be a hidden layer of sophistication. Cocoloco like to use humour as a device and are very informed by psychology and the cinema.

The end of Sura Medura residency exhibition will be in Hikkaduwa 7-9th December. Keep up to date with the artists’ blogs and work during the November/December residency at the Sura Medura website.

Subathra Subramanium Blog


Week two was when I decided my soul was getting peckish and needed feeding. So off I went to see the country, meet more people and experience Sri Lanka outside my wonderful Hikkaduwa. A wonderful uncle I met in Colombo a couple of weeks ago had kindly offered to take us around Colombo. We then went to Kandy, followed by a seven hour train trip to Ella. It is reputed to be one of the most beautiful rail journeys in the world, and the reputation is deserved. Utterly spectacular!

I went to a weird and wonderful Buddhist temple in Colombo that had everything from this to incredible statues, to cupboards full of antique watches, cameras, and even real classic cars.


Another representation of Buddha. Not one I have seen before.

thin Buddha.jpg

Wonderful to go to a stone, Tamil temple and get swept up in the mantras and mystery, experiencing again all the rituals, sounds and smells that I grew up with in Malaysia, in temples in India and the UK.

Sri Lanka is the world’s largest producer of black tea. You can see why as we traveled by train from Colombo to Kandy. I never grew tired of the views.

Tea plantation en route Kandy.jpg

A crow at Kandy Lake.

Kandy Lake.jpg

Our train to Ella. A journey and a destination as beautiful as every guidebook describes. The ride was exhilarating, hot and sometimes chaotic, whereas Ella itself is languid, cool and serene.

beautiful Ella.jpg

One of the highlights of the Colombo trip was my Bharata Natyam class with Vasugi Jegadeeswaran at the Indian Cultural Institute. She is a much admired and respected teacher here. As I have been revisiting the dance form as part of my practice here in Sri Lanka, the opportunity to do an actual class was a privilege and a real treat. It is so rare that I get to do a class these days.

Yala Safari

Among the many highlights were: a sloth bear walking away from us then climbing a tree to get its yellow berries; a small family of elephants bathing; a leopard running across the track in front of us with what we think was a rabbit in its mouth; watching the rough seas at Yala and visiting a local fishing village. A memorable day spent with a wonderful bunch of people.

sloth bear.jpg
elephants bathing.jpg


As part of my residency I asked to work in a local school and hospital. The workshops in the hospital have been fascinating and eye opening. The first of the three ended up being for a group of 55 adults largely made up of psychiatrists, medical students, nurses, occupational therapists and psychiatric social workers. I had no idea there were going to be that many people. However it was one of the most fulfilling workshops I have ever done. I had to negotiate cultural nuances, gender issues, the fact that I was not a therapist or medical professional but a choreographer, the number of people, the space, the hierarchy, the initial lack of willingness to do movement…However when they did start moving and playing the games I invited them to, there was a room full of laughter, incredible creativity and most of all they genuinely seemed to be having fun. The second workshops involved the doctors going into the psychiatric wards and asking 15 or so patients to do the workshop if they wished to. Another incredible experience, and watching the patients move, be free to allow themselves to be immersed in something was humbling to watch and be a part of. The opportunity to be in the hospital and see life as it is was equally enriching.

I continue to miss my boys terribly especially my son Hal. The continuing frustration with an erratic internet signal means I can’t always talk to my family and especially see them. Those are my sad days, the days where I really miss being able to have my family in my arms.


I have never made work that is about my identity, my culture, where I am, who I am, where I fit into this world being Malaysian born, of Tamil decent and living in the UK. I have never felt inspired to make work that explores this. However, being here has opened up a whole new feeling I didn’t expect. I do a Bharata Natyam class with Brian most days. I have been to more temples since being here than I have done in the last few years. I have become fascinated and intrigued by the temple rituals that I have grown up with but seldom questioned as it became habitual. I am certain at this stage that I would like the work I make here to have an element of ritual about it.

What does “taking risks” means for me? Does that mean looking at my process and doing things I wouldn’t normally do? Or does it mean putting my work in different situations or in a different space, in a different context? For me right now, the risk is a cultural one. How does me feeling more Tamil inform what I make? How does that sit here in Hikkaduwa a predominantly Sinhalese place? How do I open up what I do to the audience and allow them in even more? Could I get the audience to help me put on the sari that I want to work with? That for me, is an intimate experience between the performer and the audience and one that really takes me out of my comfort zone.

I want to explore what it would feel like to ask Sinhala speakers to tear up a Tamil newspaper, which I then use as part of a ritual.

Time does not allow for the rigour to explore in detail all that I want to, but I hope the resonances are strong enough to instill a curiosity in the people watching and the imagery and movement strong enough to feel something that goes beyond the aesthetics of the form.

I have chosen to make a dance film on Brian Hartley. It will be filmed in three different locations – on a railway track, on the beach and on the main road in Hikkaduwa. I have learned so much about making a dance film from Brian through our collaboration. Choosing the locations came quite naturally but really looking at how the Bharata Natyam movement sits in each space has been a wonderful experience. We found ourselves filming on the beach at 6.30 in the morning just to make sure the light was right and that the tourists weren’t out in full force. We filmed on the Galle Road and loved hearing some passers by shouting “they are filming a Yoga dance video!”

My favourite so far was filming on the railway track. I was both operating the camera and on train guard! Not a great combination of jobs but exhilarating nonetheless.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my many trips to Galle to source costume fabrics, bells, Tamil newspapers, saris and especially visiting even more Tamil temples.

I continue to learn, enjoy and feel enriched by all the other artists and all that they bring to this residency. I have been working with Tim and Tanuja on the music for my work and the collaborative process has been effortless. They recorded me singing a few Carnatic songs and have incorporated them into the soundscape they are creating for me. I forgot just how much I love singing Carnatic music…albeit not necessarily very well. However they have managed to make me sound vaguely like I can sing!

The routine of going to Mangalika’s space in the village surrounded by greenery and sounds of all the animals, to do class and dance and make work, is a real treat. I am going to miss that so very much. It has become the safe haven of creativity, peace and a space where Hikkaduwa and the wonderful relationship we have built over the weeks with Mangalika’s family, especially Samadi her 3 year old granddaughter, informs the work. The tea and coconuts that they continue to bring us is always perfectly timed to nourish and refresh.

With the show on the 24th not that far away, we are all beginning to get things in place and have been doing workshops for each other to create a collaborative work. What a great way to collaborate! What we create as a group will be informed by what happens and what we learn and what we choose to put into the collaborative pot as a result of the workshops.

There are still many things I have not eaten yet so I am on a mission between now and the end of the residency to eat as many types of typical Sri Lankan dishes as possible. I am currently on the look out for egg hoppers.

This residency has been about looking at my own practice as an artist. I have never had the time and space and support to do that before. I feel incredibly privileged to have this space and time in an incredible place. It has also been about finding out – what do I mean by “my own practice”. Is that the work I make, the process of making work, how I as a dancer can still find the space and time to explore my own body as a moving body, how I engage my audiences and how much I want to interact with them in the work I do…..

This residency has thrown up a whole load of questions at a very pertinent time in my career and practice. Questions that I hope I can continue to explore as an artist. It has also given me an insight into how other artists approach this and also how for some, the things that are most integral in their work, I have never even considered at any depth. It has opened my eyes to a myriad of possibilities, questions and risks that are worth taking and investigating.

I am getting quite excited about the show on the 24th. For the audience, I think they will be in for a treat of high quality art from an incredible bunch of artists who are all perfectionists in their own way. A whole afternoon of sculpture, dance, visual art, music, sound, drawings, poetry and to finish off, a rice and curry banquet and finally a disco! Can’t wait….

I am going to miss this place, the others, the heat, the freedom to think and be and be creative as and when I like, so much, but I am also very much looking forward to seeing my family, my little Hal and my big Q.

Neil, Mari and their son Jack have already made me feel so welcome.

I savoured the tranquility of being by myself. I went to Galle by train, watched some stilt fishing in Unawatuna, had an Ayurvedic massage, walked around Hikkaduwa and discovered the town. I also discovered Lyndon’s yoga classes which are super, mega hard but it gives me a focus for my own practice at least three times a week. I spoke to lots of the other guests at the hotel. I went for long walks on the beach. I met, or at least saw, the giant turtles that swim up to the shore just a short walk long the beach. Wherever I went I was asked if I was Sri Lankan purely because of the colour of my skin. Every time, I patiently explained that I was born in Malaysia but lived in the UK. I became increasingly aware that I was not saying I was Tamil. Was that subconscious or was it that I preferred being a tourist rather than a Tamil person? I’m not sure.

Week 1…The createful 8….

Meeting all the other artists (Brian Hartley, Rob Mullholland, Emma Brierly, Tanuja Amarasuriya and Timothy X Atack aka Sleepdogs and Claire Raftery and Damian Wright aka Periplum) has been really wonderful. Each of them seem to bring with them an openness to explore and exchange. Listening to each of them talk about their practices gave me so much to think about. I feel very humbled to be amongst such a diverse, highly skilled and talented bunch of artists. So much to learn, to experience and so much fun to be had!

Brian and I have already decided that we are going to do some form of sharing of our own dance practices as a daily routine…or at least as often as we can. He is interested in learning Bharata Natyam – the ancient South Indian classical dance form – and I am keen to understand contact improvisation but without going to a big class with a whole bunch of dancers! We have been working in a wonderful space with a roof but no walls in the jungle where all the villages are. The space belongs to Mangalika, a wonderful, warm woman who makes us welcome every time. Her three year old grand daughter Samadi always comes to play with us for the first few minutes of our sessions. It has become our little ritual. That space is our haven. It makes my Hikkaduwa bubble that little bit bigger and busier. I love working there. We are often interrupted by the sounds of weird and wonderful birds and Mangalika bringing us tea or coconuts.

Ideas are slowly creeping in about what I’d like to do, create and explore whilst here. The daily dance practice, yoga and conversations are feeding this process very nicely. As are the tea and coconuts.

I am missing my little boy terribly. I have to work really hard at compartmentalising my brain. Every time I speak to him on the phone albeit through the most frustrating internet signal, those compartments fall apart and I yearn to hug and hold him. I allow myself that time to be sad and then carry on. I have been given a wonderful opportunity to be here, explore my own practice in an unpressured, hotel on a beach environment with a bunch of amazing artists. I have laughed a lot, cried a lot, thought a lot, talked a lot, eaten a lot, danced a lot, done yoga a lot, been in the sea a lot and long may it continue into coming weeks.

Brian Hartley Blog

Sura Medura Sri Lanka residency: reflections

Apr 6, 2018 

Back in Glasgow watching the snow fall gently on an Easter Monday afternoon and reflecting on 6 weeks of sunshine and creativity at the Sura Medura residency in Sri Lanka, an inspiring, creative and immersive experience. Spending time in the company of the other artists; finding friendships, inspiring conversations, adventures in Hikkauwa and around Sri Lanka together, sharing our creative processes and explorations, and the many other parts of the experience; rice and curry, beach life, temples and landscapes sunshine and spectacular thunderstorms. Being able to focus on the creative work every day, away from the routines of everyday life, in a beautiful environment, in the sunshine, was a unique and invaluable experience, that I will treasure for a long time. Thanks to Neil, Maria and UZ arts for making it possible.


The Moving Out performance and exhibition on 24th March at Sunbeach Hotel was the culmination of our work together, featuring a selection of the individual and collaborative works that we had created, involving a wide range of media and creative approaches; sculpture, installation, drawing and painting, dance film, sound installations, video documentation, and performance. The event ran from afternoon until late in the evening and began with exhibited and film works, culminating in a sharing of performed work in early evening, a rice and curry banquet and a disco played out of a local tuk tuk and music mixed by the artists. We had a very engaged audience; from local people who had been part of our various works to curious tourists and surfers drawn in by unusual activities on the beach and artists and presenters we had met at an artists networking event in Columbo.


Reflecting on my own visual arts practice and ideas after being in Sri Lanka, I was interested to develop some work around typography and lettering following visits to China in 2016 and 2017, and beginning to learn Chinese calligraphy. Through research into Sri Lankan arts and history I had started to look at historical cave and temple paintings showing images of dance and movement and Sinhala lettering as a letterform and language that might lead to new ways for me to explore creating new ways of capturing of dance. In meeting Suba and working together, training and sharing our movement practices together, through shared interests in dance film and making performance, we developed a highly collaborative body of work which deepened my initial ideas into a much more focused investigation. Learning about Tamil culture and Bharata Natyam through Suba’s expertise opened up a more deeper way of working and resulted in a body of work integrating many elements of my practice and also opened up new collaborative approaches, in dance film, drawings, paintings, digital images and performance.

Working as a performer I began to learn a new dance practice through daily training in Bharata Natyam which found its way into a series of dance films conceived and choreographed by Suba. I worked in the studio to refine the details in the choreography and accumulated over the residency, added a precision and clarity to my movement vocabulary.  It was refreshing and challenging to learn and explore a more precise and refined movement form and through our daily class I began to understand the basic elements of the practice, inspired also by working in our studio with view of the coconut trees, fields and sights and sounds of the local wildlife, certainly very different to rehearsal studios back in Scotland! I also worked with Suba to film the dance films, in the position of being the performer and not being behind the camera on this occasion, we worked together to stage and film the work.

The performance we created was presented at the final sharing and featured an evocative and atmospheric sound score performed by Tim and Tanuja. After creating the work in the studio throughout the residency it felt time to share with an audience and it created a dramatic and powerful focal point for the audience, engaging with Tamil culture and identity and relationships, with the audience surrounding us in a small circle, it made for an intense and powerful work, I painted Tamil script on a long piece of sari fabric, while Suba sang some Carnatic Indian traditional song, and performed a Bharata Natyam dance solo, moving into a more physical duet, the sari woven into the choreography, towards the end Suba wore the sari with help from members of the audience and the piece finished on the beach. Both works feel that they have more opportunities to develop into more in-great depth investigations and we are keen to explore further collaborative potential with these works.


My photographic work developed through documenting the daily sights and experiences, in digital devices and for the first time in many years, a 35mm film camera, all of which helped refine attention to detail, colour and texture and life in Sri Lanka. I created a series of photos of Suba dancing phrases from her Bharata Natyam choreography, responding to classical Indian sculptures of the Hindu deity, Shiva, and classical sculptural depictions of dance, that we had seen in the National Museum in Columbo. Through learning more about the dance, Tamil culture and and Hindu deities through the residency offered a deeper investigation into making images of dance than I had previously been able to explore, and integrating elements of the drawings and photography  into digital prints was a useful outcome at this stage and points to an ongoing investigation in the future.

Sura Medura Sri Lanka residency: half way

Mar 15, 2018

This week marks the halfway point of the Sura Medura residency project. We have all settled into a working pattern at the Sunbeach hotel, sharing mealtimes together and then working on each of our own projects during the days, sharing ideas and developments with each other over food and evening gin and tonic watching the sunset from the beach bars lining the beach here at Hikkaduwa. It is always fascinating hearing how everyone’s work is developing, our different perspective and experiences of collaborative and creative work,  and how we are each interacting and engaging with the local community in different ways adds a level of connection to a life beyond the transient beach life in front of the hotel everyday, surfers waiting in the surf for an elusive surf break and a flurry of movement, and a multitude of selfies and tourists watching the sunset.

As much as possible Suba and I have left the beach for the creative haven of the small studio in the village, the space has been used for arts activities by local people from the the village so it feels like we are continuing the creative work here by dancing, drawing and creating here each day. As we cross the busy Galle Road from the hotel and the noise of tuk tuks, high speed buses and tourist traffic, we soon move into the slower and quieter village pace of life. The studio is surrounded by the sounds of local wildlife, each day an opportunity to see reptiles, birds, animals, insects; one day a host of noisy and boisterous monkeys crashing through the trees above us, another day two peacocks regally walking across the meadow in front of the studio being attached by a flock of other smaller noisy birds. Each day we are welcome by Mangalika and her daughter and granddaughter and each day have fresh tea, fruit juice and occasionally hand made coconut roti and sambal, a delicious spicy lunchtime treat, a friendship developing in fragments of English and shared experience between cultures, generations and lives.


Our research together has evolved into a daily class where Suba is teaching some of her Bharata Natyam practice, a classical South Indian dance, and a very different physical training to any dance work I’ve done before, requiring focus and strength to sustain accurate and still postures whilst doing fast moving rhythmic step patterns, it would take a lifetime to perfect but good to be learning gradually, step by step every day. I am sharing elements of a more contemporary improvisation practice, exploring sharing weight, contact and lifts. In learning these practices together we are also discussing how we deepen these practices into making a work together for the final presentations at the end of the residency, seeing the work gradually emerge day by day through the process of making. Currently a body of work is emerging, taking shape into a series of short dance films where I will perform a short Bharata Natyam solo choreographed and directed by Suba, to be filmed in several locations on and around Hikkaduwa. Our dialogue around the artistic work has grown into conversations around identity and politics, Tamil and Sinhala culture and it’s legacy after years of bitter conflict and political unrest, reconciliation and recent political unrest amongst other minority communities, which has flared up in other parts of the country during our stay, and has been present in conversations with local people in our travels around Sri Lanka. How this history has met European identity and culture through colonialism and independence. Through these discussions we have begun to explore ideas for creating a duet, choreographed and directed by Suba, bringing our respective performance skills and identities with the intention to explore intersections between gender, Tamil, Sinhala and European cultures and relationships. Through Suba’s Tamil cultural heritage we have been exploring Tamil identity and visiting Tamil Hindu temples and culture. In one visit to Columbo attending a Bharata Natyam dance class led by a very revered teacher in Sri Lanka, where we shared an early version of the dance material from the dance film much to the delight and curiosity of the young students in the class and their insightful questions seeing a white man dance Bharata Natyam and how we had changed the natural tempo of the dance to a much slower pace for the films.

I have been leaning to write Tamil script and characters, and exploring ways of drawing Bharata Natyam classical dance through watching Suba dance in the studio and making drawings with ink and brushes, using a calligraphic approach, which is beginning to generate some interesting ways of creating hybrid drawings of movement that are expanding my visual repertoire and connecting with seeing the typographic shapes in the Tamil and Sinhala signs here in Sri Lanka.


I have been fascinated and transported by spiritual ceremonies and rituals in Hindu temples in Columbo, Kandy and Galle, leaning about Hindu mythology and ceremonies and attending the prayer rituals, puja, in small local temples and larger more grand temples, all with intricate carvings, ancient paintings and filled with heavily scented incense and hypnotic music.


Connecting a strand of my work from home and passion for working with children and young people I have been thoroughly enjoying our interactions with a beautiful three year old, Samadhi, the granddaughter of Mangalika , whose studio we work in every day. Each day we work Samadhi joins us to play and we create short playful improvised dances, it is always joyous and so creative seeing this little girl interact with us and grow in confidence and capacity, and the joy in her mother and grandmother sharing these interactions.

Taking this interaction further I wanted to work in a local school and contacted Galle International College, where Neil’s son Jack attends nursery.  The school has been developed by a very passionate and knowledgeable head teacher with many years of teaching experience in England and she has set up a very dynamic school in Galle with many international families attending from nursery age through to school leaving age, it was a very welcoming and creative learning environment and I led a session with the nursery children. Despite planning to run a session connecting my drawing work with dance when I met the group I felt that a more creative cultural exchange could be possible, so led an improvised ceilidh with the children and staff to a soundtrack of shooglenifty and other contemporary Scottish folk bands, much to the enjoyment of the staff and children!

Galle International School. Brian Hartley workshop 6 March

Sura Medura Sri Lanka residency: arrivals

Feb 23, 2018

Arrivals in Hikkaduwa

Writing after our first week in Hikkaduwa, gathering thoughts and slightly losing track of time, 5.5 hours ahead of UK time, on the Sura Medura artists residency with a fascinating and inspiring group of artists from Scotland and England: Tanuja Amarasuriya and writer/composer Timothy X Atack from SleepdogsRob MulhollandEmma Brierley, Claire Raftery and Damian Wright from PeriplumSubathra Subramaniam

Leaving Scottish winter for Sri Lankan climate, immediately on arrival the colours, temperature, humidity and scent of the air in Columbo announced that we had arrived, and our creative residency adventure began, a journey to the small coastal village of Hikkaduwa on Sri Lanka’s south west coast

To begin, a series of short presentations on our work, many insights into the diversity of our shared experience here, the range of practice across theatre making, sound, dramaturgy, visual art, puppet making, dance  and design provides for a very fertile, experienced and open minded community to work along side and collaborate with as the weeks go by. For me, hearing Claire’s presentation of her work with Periplum Theatre reminded me of performances of provocative and innovative physical theatre that I watched and was inspired by many years ago at St Stephens Church in Edinburgh Fringe. Finding common reference points may well inform some avenues of my work here, a chance to revisit and re-evaluate my practice in some interesting new ways.

Meeting the culture here in Sri Lanka feels integral to the experience, from visiting the poignant and heartbreaking Tsunami Museum on our first day to the openness and generosity from so many local people to watching local baby turtles rescued by a small charity and released into the sea and their odds of survival and incredible ability to return to these beaches in many years to nest,  brings to mind the fragility of life and human and nature’s resilience on a daily basis, and a question to all of us in how we live and work as artists in the world.

I have spent the several days working in a wonderful small studio belonging to a friend of Neil and Maria, a creative haven filled with the sounds of nature, curious green lizards, agile squirrels, chatter of tropical birds and insects, cows and egrets and the bustle Sri Lankan daily family life,  and am currently collaborating with Subathra, a Bharata Natyam dancer and learning about Tamil culture, and dance, which is developing into a daily practice sharing elements of our respective dance practices.

Where these ideas go as we spend all more time working together, evolving into more detailed investigations, through conversations at mealtimes, in walking and exploring Hikkaduwa and further afield, practical explorations towards our presentations later in the residency will present themselves as time goes by.