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  • Justin Cliffe

How being told that you're an Artist can make you feel like you're an Artist.

Updated: Jun 1

We've been dealing with so much in lockdown, and like a lot of other people I've experience tones of additional stress from my professional practice due to unclear pathways towards safety and success. Some of the secret ditches dug along my pathway have been about falling into failure, rejection and defeat, when it comes to applying for work. And although all us freelancers know we've got to be ox-strong-like to face the inevitable and numerous "no's", we still feel what we feel.


A few months ago I received a rejection email (rejection 268) that was so poorly constructed and thoughtless and sh*t that it actually made me feel less capable as an Artist and as a professional Theatre Maker. For some reason the tone, address, reasoning and copy/paste of this particular email created a kind of oblivion in my chest and left me floating hopeless for a few days.


But, luckily for me, the next commission I was given was something I never really expected it to be... healing, and not just because "I got it".



As part of the Creative Cardiff commission; Our Creative Place, Artists were given an opportunity to pitch and make a piece of work about the place in which they live. The aim, I think, was that in doing so they would express something about what it means to be creative where they live, and collectively shout out for a wily, robust, detailed, thoughtful and intricate creative Wales.


Joining a cohort of 11 other Artists from across the Cardiff region of South Wales, I entered a process that not only supported me to make the work I wanted to make, but treated me like an Artist. With the support of Vicki and Becky, I was introduced to other incredible creative professionals, both established and emerging, and I was given a frame work within which to create something meaningful.


With permission and autonomy to explore, think, create, re-think, talk and make in the way I wanted, I suddenly flourished! I was tapping into long lost instincts that had either perished or been blunted by the pandemic. I had an energy and desire to make work that not only captured my interpretation of something, but resonated with audiences in Newport (and wider). I was tasked with making a film, but because of this vital support, I was already going above and beyond the brief; physically exploring the city, photographing statues and monuments, creating additional video content, and making t-shirts. #tshirtsareart



I originally pitched to write a piece of spoken word and make a film for it. I don't know why, but I couldn't make that work. Not only during this process did I temporarily struggle due to ill mental health, creating 'the original' project just felt inauthentic and crap. When I asked Vicki if it was okay for me to creating something else, she explained the commission was for me to make what ever it is I wanted to make, and so I did. Thinking back, this was a really important moment. It was all about trust.


So abandoning ship on the spoken wordy thing, I did a last minute shop online, got an outfit, made my self a sign and hit the streets and roundabouts of Newport. Inspired by a contemporary clowning and aiming for a surrealist heightened reality, the lonely Mobile Tourist Information Centre Man was born.


Overall Tourist In Between, is a short film about my relationship to Newport as someone not from here, but of here, not born here but found here now. I love the city and it means a lot to me, but maybe only because of icons, memories and details.


The making of the film was an act of performance in it's self, with members of the public interacting/driving/walking/passing by perplexed by the existence of a tourist-information-man. In these moments I like to think this mad little portal was created through someones perception of something, making them question their truth and understanding of something. Is this real? I think the T Shirts do this too.


For me and this work/exploration this is the starting point, and more than ever I want to find interesting, detailed and heightened ways to explore Newport, finding out what it means to people internally and externally.



On Thursday all the Artists involved were joined together in a Zoom Call with the Creative Cardiff team, an invited audience and Prof Jon Anderson, to launch the map, share our work and talk about our art. It was amazing to see everyones BRISTLING, BEAUTIFUL, BRAVE and BIZARRE work. It was more amazing to know we had an extension of friends and family with us connecting to the work.


You can now watch it all online by interacting with the digital story map. CLICK HERE to see it.


And below you can see the access video that was created to support the Artists and promote the project to audiences online.

Depending on how you go into this, I think the collective power of the work is interpretive. For me it is in how individualism can lead to discovering universal connection, and by experiencing what one person feels, we can all be affected. There is power in ALL the work, but my personal ABSOLUTE FAVOURITE is Erin Mali Julian's Caerphilly based Yetti tale that has properly stolen my heart. It's so bold, and it reminds me that creativity is raw and multi-faceted and can function on so many different levels. CLICK HERE to go straight to that!


Through this process I have really reconnected with a significant part of myself and found a fearlessness that I want to keep when thinking and making stuff. I think I got this from other Artist's on the project, as well as from Becky Davies and Vicki Sutton, who I want to personally thank for their understanding and support. I also want to thank Prof Jon Anderson, who wrote a reflection on the overall project you can read if you CLICK HERE.


Here's a bit from it via imagined conversation:


Jon Anderson: "As I observed and participated in the artist workshops that supported this commission, I sensed this transformation in action."


Me: "100% mate. I'm somewhat better now."

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