Conversations between passing strangers

Bold Festival_Entelechy Arts_Photo- Roswitha Chesher_May 18 HR-70.JPG
‘Bed’ at (B)old Festival, Southbank Centre, May 2018. Photograph by Roswitha Chesher

A week ago today eight older performers from Entelechy Arts performed their street art work ‘Bed’ in and around the terraces of Southbank Centre London as part of the (B)old Festival celebrating the work of older artists.

Last year the Gulbenkian Foundation published their Phase 1 report of their inquiry into the civic role of arts organisations. The report focused on arts organisations already reimagining their civic role in impactful and creative ways, seeking ‘both to engage more deeply with and involve their different publics’. The report found that organisations were playing several different civic roles in a number of different domains. They served to encompass arts organisations as:

  • Colleges (places of learning)
  • Town halls (places of debate)
  • Parks (public space open to everyone)
  • Temples (places that give meaning and provide solace); and
  • Home (a place of safety and belonging)

The presence of an older woman in a bed in one of the most public spaces at the centre of our city seemed to have created an intermingling of all these domains.

In her essay ‘The Space Crone’ Ursula K. Le Guin wrote:

‘If a space ship came by from the friendly natives of the fourth planet of Altair, and the polite captain of the space ship said, “We have room for one passenger…so that we can converse at leisure …and learn from an exemplary person the nature of the race” …I would go down to the local Woolworth’s…and pick an old woman…only a person who has experienced, accepted and acted the entire human condition – the essential quality of which is Change- can fairly represent humanity’

Over the last three years the presence of older artists lying with their wisdom and their vulnerability on beds in streets and public places across the country has provoked thousands of detailed and intimate conversations between passing strangers.  With permission, we have captured some of these conversations to glimpse into the ripples created by the simple and provocative act of making theatre by this group of older women. What follows is the transcript of one bedside conversation that took place last Sunday afternoon:

‘Is it an installation. Yes, that’s what I said to my son.’

‘There’s another one up there.’

‘There’s a lot of charities and this one deals with isolation.’

‘You know what’s so beautiful is people just coming up and just talking to you.’

‘Which is the whole point because you know elderly people get ignored because you’re getting on with your life thinking things are important and all it takes is a minute or two out of your time to stop and have a conversation…they have so many stories that could help us you know’

‘Over the last few days there have been events down here and at Tate Modern and I’ve been involved, there’s different dance groups for older people and they’ve all been performing today and it’s all free and I think there are three or four of these Bed installations’

‘You know that ‘J’ runs a charity for older people this could be something that they get involved in.’

‘How do you get involved?’

‘My son and I walked up. My son said: “Why is she there?” I said “I think it’s an installation son.” He said, “What’s that?” He didn’t know what an installation was. “Well look over there”

“Oh I’m interested, I want to find out”

‘It just remind me of, when we talking about the whole installation thing …it’s a statement to provoke conversation…let’s find out. ‘S’ ‘s instant response was “Your so nosey.” I said “No. I’m interested.” I think that’s the thing about being nosey…take some time because you never know if you can help them or they can help you, it’s that kind of exchange.’

‘I actually was going to have a conversation before I saw you.’

‘The lady’s got loads and loads of stories that can benefit a younger generation.’

‘And I think it’s this idea of making contact with people. I mean a lot of people walk by and think “Oh I don’t know. I don’t know about that.” ‘

‘But that’s society…that’s the way we’ve been made. To mind your own business.’

‘Not even mind your own business even like… “I haven’t got time to stop, cos its gonna stop me from doing what I wanna do which is get an ice cream, cos the ice cream is not going anywhere or its going to disturb me from the sun”…well the sun is still here…you can still speak to the lady. And that is the problem. Elderly people are forgotten and we don’t time out for them.’

‘It depends on the society because my dad’s eighty-three’

‘When you say society you mean as in ethnic’

‘As in culture.’

‘Like he’s just turned nine and I’d get my dad to pick him up from school for me if I’ve got something on.’

‘And they wanna still feel involved.’

‘In my family that will still happen.’

‘And I think sometimes people are anxious. “Oh I don’t want to say that” You don’t know how people are going to respond…they’ll ignore you.’

‘Then that’s your response.’

‘Many people are out of touch. Just someone smiling or saying hello to them.’


‘Something different in the day.’


‘And some people find smiling very difficult. Even if you smile back at them. They look at you. Why are you smiling? You’re showing too much teeth!’

‘It’s really nice. Because usually installations are something really abstract.’

‘And also because Southbank attracts so many different cultures, age groups and interests…you’ve got these guys, I don’t know where you guys are from?’



‘There’s interest. Back home how do you treat your elderly? Like are they part of the family unit still or?’

‘Well I’m here with my mum dad and brother we came seven years ago to live here, my grandma when we came here we offered to bring her with us but she didn’t want to because she looks after a cousin of mine and my cousin didn’t want to go she was seventeen…….’

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