2019 Unpacking Blake

William Blake was placed 38 in the BBC's poll of the 100 Greatest Britons. Considered mad by some contemporaries for his idiosyncratic views, he is now held in high regard for his expressiveness and creativity, and for the philosophical and mystical undercurrents within his work. He lived in London his entire life, except in 1800 he moved to ‘Rose Cottage’, Felpham for three years to take up a job illustrating the works of William Hayley. Whilst in the cottage Blake began Milton which includes a poem beginning "And did those feet in ancient time". Over time, Blake began to resent his patron, believing that Hayley was uninterested in true artistry.
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Today, Blake is still very much part of Felpham. Some 200 years since he walked our lanes, admired our fields and painted from our beach he is enshrined in the history of our ‘sweet Felpham’. So, it was fitting that finally Big Blake in conjunction with Felpham village Conservation Society put on an afternoon devoted to William Blake and offering local people a chance to come and understand a little of the man, his art and his visions.

After a year of planning, preparation and publicising, BlakeFest 2019 began the Sunday before the main event with "Unpacking Blake", a collection of art, a live music performance and a panel discussion, with talks by four Blake experts, at Felpham Village Memorial Hall. With no idea of how many people were going to be in attendance it wasn't heartening that it was absolutely pouring down with rain. Fortunately, the skies cleared after a while and people arrived, in their droves.

Prior to the musical performance, viewers were able to, while enjoying freshly made tea, coffee, cakes and scones, examine representations of some of Blake's art and to experience speaker/Artist Dr. Mikey Georgeson's 'Aesthetic Machines' immersive exhibition. This is a varied collection of, often, interactive installations (two of which have graced previous BlakeFests). Screens and sounds, a childhood bathing memory, a giant egg, a character called Kimey Peckpo, 'Actual Occasion' and 'the nonbifurcated man', among others, captivated and intrigued the curious and appreciative throng also foreshadowing Mikey's upcoming panel presentation, more of which later.

With around 120 people in attendance, the Hall ran out of seating so it was standing room only at the back with people still in the entrance hall when Across The Sea began their live music performance. A combination of textured acoustic guitar effects/ambience of Pete Ferguson with the angelic, expressive voice of Hannah Katy Lewis, Across The Sea best described their style as "Prog/Folk", building landscapes of sound with clever effects-pedal treatment from a single acoustic guitar allowing Hannah's voice to swoop and story tell over the sonic surface intertwining with the inventive shifts in rhythm and harmonic structure. This truly magical duo echoed the transportative and transformative spirit of Blake's work and even performed a spellbinding version of Jerusalem especially put together for this audience.

The four panellists all unpacked different aspects of the impact of William Blake on our society.

Dr Luke Walker spoke about Blake's work and his influence on British counter culture and radical politics in the 1960s and 1970s. Blake was 'rediscovered' and reassessed around 150 years after his death, after remaining virtually unknown and unappreciated during his own lifetime, by the likes of Ginsberg (famously pictured outside Blake's Felpham cottage, uncharacteristically beardless) and Dylan. Blake was finally given his true status as a visionary genius and influencing a shift in creative thought and art.

Dr Simon Mouatt covered how Blake and the Romantics challenged the Enlightenment ideals and informed contemporary psychology, neuroscience and philosophy. Very well-illustrated, this talk delved into Blake's understanding of the Mind, showing a deeper understanding, through his works, than was the accepted wisdom of the time. Far-reaching thoughts and illuminating another facet of Blake's visionary insight.

Dr Mikey Georgeson gave a talk which evolved into an aesthetic poetic performance demonstrating how Blake's thought and mysticism has inspired the philosophy that underpins the practice and dissemination of contemporary art. Captivating the audience with a talk explaining the aesthetic aspects of Blake which, as the presentation developed, backed by a video/audio experience, built to a half-enunciated/recited/sung crescendo exemplifying the effect and provoking spontaneous audience applause.

The panel talks were rounded off perfectly by Cultural Historian author John Higgs on why Blake matters now; a constant presence from video games to novels, from sporting events to political rallies and from horror films to designer fashions. Covering the emergence of Generation Z, a leap forward in society, social mobilisation and access to a whole internet of knowledge, Blake has now become deeply ingrained in our culture. One of the most surprising aspects of John's talk were clips of current video games featuring Blake's direct influence, one of which has a character which will verbally quote Blake at any given time.

There followed a 'Question & Answer' session which involved mainly local residents giving their perspectives of the 60s and opinions on some of the comments made during the talks. Some of these were so un-questionlike that they inspired present poet/Blakehead Stephen Micalef to write a poem entitled "Is that a question". After three hours of art, music, talks and highly-engaged discussion we closed the event and after uninstalling the artworks we adjourned to nearby Blake-era pub The Fox to unravel "Unpacking Blake" and hailing it a well-attended success and a positive, uplifting start to BlakeFest 2019