The House of Fairy Tales

Gavin Turk and Deborah Curtis, The House of Fairy Tales Gavin Turk and Deborah Curtis, The House of Fairy Tales - Photo Rob Greig
Posted: Mon Jul 5 2010

Artistic partners Gavin Turk and Deborah Curtis are more than just busy parents of three. They also run The House of Fairy Tales, a self-styled 'Travelling Art Circus' that will be landing at Camp Bestival, Port Eliot Literary Festival and the Thames Festival among other summertime events. Inviting young people and adults alike to 'enter a parallel universe' of unfettered play and face-painting fun, the ever-changing troupe of performers, designers, writers, filmmakers and artists make the itinerant House of Fairy Tales more than just child-friendly edutainment.

How did The House of Fairy Tales begin?

Gavin Turk
'We had children but still wanted to keep our own creative energy going, so we started a crèche in our house. There were only 12 kids but one or two of the parents were always on the rota as main play leaders.'
Deborah Curtis 'We used some of those ideas for our first mini-festival at Port Eliot in 2006. Basically we tried to make the kids' area cool, but also have the adults hang out there too - an unusual phenomenon, even in today's society.'

The experience all begins with a House of Fairy Tales passport doesn't it?

'How it works is that you do workshops or engage with characters that activate tasks. Each task earns you a stamp in your passport; three stamps gets you a badge, and after five badges you get a medal for being a futurist, fabulist, an illusionist or extremist. Children really get motivated by reward but we're trying to get away from a system based on achievement or just working hard. We've got carte blanche to award kids for coming through the door in a dramatic way or doing a funny walk. The whole project is about rethinking and reinventing educational spaces and working in partnership with established institutions to free them up a little bit.'

Do you inhabit specific characters?

DC 'Last year Gavin was a few things: he was Andy Warhol looking a bit lost round the Tate, Robinson Crusoe at Glastonbury and a witch at Port Eliot.
GT 'That was supposed to be a Rosie Lee gypsy soothsayer! Then I was a weird zombie lumberjack in a checked shirt at the Walsall Art Gallery.'
DC 'We encourage people to remain in character throughout, but we're not strict about it. The public sphere is our stage and as any good teacher will tell you it's an acting job as much as anything else: you have to have someone to conduct the orchestra.'

I thought the rule was never work with children or animals. Does it ever go wrong?

'We don't rehearse, so it's all improvised. At one festival we were all set up to tell stories to kids on grandmother's bed, but the art wasn't scheduled to start until 10pm when the children were all winding down. So we ended up telling stories to people who were totally out of their heads on drugs at three in the morning.'
DC 'Quite often we get 20 year olds coming to win medals, so we attract audiences that wouldn't necessarily go into an art gallery. At an event last year, one family came back the next day even though they had booked to go to Alton Towers. Another dad who was cajoled into a drawing workshop had to be dragged away by his son. He hadn't drawn for 40 years.'

What have you got in store for your biggest gig of the summer?

'At Camp Bestival we're trying to hit them with all the different things we do, as well as a Giant's Kitchen in a yurt that explores the history, geography and seasonality of food in a new way. There's also Chopin's Salon where we'll be introducing classical music to a wide audience. We're working on sculptural equipment dispensers too, because it's annoying when you can't find the Sellotape.'

What's the future of the HoFT?

DC 'We're working with more than 350 artists over seven festivals this year, so one of the things we can do is to be a support system for emerging artists to do something that is complementary to their practice.'
GT 'It could also function as a pressure group or an agency by helping to launch new initiatives such as Jamie Kelsey-Fry's “Rax Active Citizen Toolkit”, which helps teach the new curriculum on citizenship by showing kids how to campaign or get involved with their local community.'
DC 'We're quite hands-on, so it's difficult to do all the fund-raising and everything else on top. It would be fine if we were just trustees, but someone has still got to go and pick the kids up after school.'

The House of Fairytales are at Camp Bestival from July 30 to August 1.