The Fantastic Fertility Fest

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I was in Birmingham yesterday for the first ever Fertility Fest which was a truly amazing day. Jessica Hepburn and Gabby Vautier put together the festival and had worked tirelessly to create something which managed to be moving, interesting, emotional, inspiring, uplifting, thought-provoking and exciting all in one day.

It was wonderful to have so many artists who have produced such different work about their experience of fertility problems gathered together under one roof – visual artists, playwrights, photographers, musicians and writers. To have them joined by leading fertility specialists added another context to the discussion and proved to be a fascinating mix.

I chaired the opening session where Jessica was joined by playwright Gareth Farr, whose play The Quiet House, which is about a couple going through IVF, forms a central part of the festival. They spoke about why they’d both wanted to write about their experiences of fertility problems, and about the stigma and taboo which still surrounds infertility and treatment. They set the tone for the day, explaining how the idea for Fertility Fest came about and what they hoped the day would achieve.

I went on to the session about IVF with writer Jo Ind and visual artist Tabitha Moses, where we were joined by Anya Sizer from the London Women’s Clinic. Jo read some passages and a poem she’d written at the time of her fertility problems and treatment, and then Tabitha presented some of her work about fertility – her beautiful embroidered hospital gowns featuring women’s fertility stories and the light-box embryos, pinpricked out using the syringes she used for her IVF. We had a fascinating discussion afterwards about their work, about infertility and treatment, about IVF pregnancy and parenthood and about the compulsion to explore fertility problems through art and writing.

In the afternoon, I was in the session on male fertility with photographer Aaron Deemer, musician and composer Fergus Davidson and fertility expert Professor Allan Pacey. Aaron began by talking about his extraordinary photos of the men’s rooms at fertility clinics, and about his visits to clinics in China and the UK – and explained how the photos have become a way into talking about men and fertility. Fergus gave an incredibly moving talk about his fertility problems and experience of miscarriage, and then played some music he had composed accompanied by pictures. I think most of the audience in the room were in tears by the time he had finished his courageous and honest account, and it made me realise how rare it is to hear a man speaking so openly about the pain of fertility problems and of miscarriage. Aaron and Fergus were joined by Professor Allan Pacey for the discussion afterwards who added a professional view to the debate which gave a forum for a subject so often overlooked. It was great that Dr Robin Hadley, an academic who has researched men’s responses to childlessness, joined us in the audience for the debate.

The final session of the day on the Future of Fertility was started by Amanda Gore from Liminal Space who talked about their most recent project involving the creation of a fictional beauty brand and pop-up shop designed to unlock the facts around egg freezing. Chair Peter Guttridge skilfully led the panel of experts – Professor Geeta Nargund, Professor Jacky Boivin, Dr Gillian Lockwood and Professor Allan Pacey – as they discussed what they felt lay ahead. Egg freezing, synthetic sperm and eggs, a dwindling population and the future of NHS-funded fertility treatment were up for discussion!

The day ended with a production of Gareth Farr’s play The Quiet House. I couldn’t stay for that but am really looking forward to seeing the play in London. There were so many amazing artists and experts, and I just wish I could have attended all the sessions. If you are anywhere near London and haven’t got tickets for Fertility Fest on June 11 – book one right now here before they sell out. It promises to be another truly fascinating day.

Have you booked for Fertility Fest?

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It’s just a week away, but there are still some tickets left for Fertility Fest which opens in Birmingham next Saturday. If you don’t know about this unique event, linking art and science in a day of performances and discussions, you can find out more by visiting the Fertility Fest website.

The Festival takes place in London too, but opens in Birmingham next weekend with leading experts in the field including Allan Pacey, Sue Avery, Geeta Nargund, HFEA Chair Sally Cheshire, fertility counsellor Tracey Sainsbury, the NGDT’s Laura Witjens, Gillian Lockwood and Jacky Boivin. Artists featured include Jude Christian, Milli Bhatia, Ronke Adekoluejo, Satinder Chohan, Somalia Seaton, Katie Barlow, Tina Reid-Peršin, Jo Ind, Tabitha Moses,  Amy Rosenthal, Kazuko Hohki, Sarah Esdaile,  Jody Day, Louise Ann Wilson,  Aaron Deemer, Fergus Davidson and Amanda Gore.

The day will conclude with a performance of award-winning playwright Gareth Farr’s latest production, The Quiet House, which addresses IVF and fertility. Fertility Fest has been organised by Jessica Hepburn and Gaby Vautier. It promises to be a really fascinating event, so if you are anywhere near Birmingham – book your tickets now!

Fertility Fest – when art meets science

images-6It will be the first event of its kind in the UK taking place in London and Birmingham, and it’s called Fertility Fest. The event, devised by writer Jessica Hepburn and producer Gabby Vautier, will bring together some of the country’s leading writers, visual artists, theatre-makers, film-directors and composers alongside some of the country’s foremost fertility experts for a day of performance, discussion and debate. Topics under the artistic microscope include facing the diagnosis of infertility, IVF, donation, surrogacy, the male experience, egg freezing, involuntary childlessness and alternative routes to parenthood.The full day of events concludes with a performance of a new play from award-winning writer Gareth Farr called The Quiet House about one couple’s journey when they enter the world of IVF.

Fertility Fest is in London on Saturday June 11 at the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park and in Birmingham on Saturday May 28 at Birmingham Repertory Theatre. The artists involved in the days include Aaron Deemer, Amanda Gore, Amy Rosenthal, Fergus Davidson, Fiona Duffelen, Gabby Vautier, Gareth Farr, Jessica Hepburn, Jo Ind, Jody Day, Julia Copus, Jude Christian, Kazuko Hohki, Katie Barlow, Louise Ann Wilson, Matthew Dunster, Paula Knight, Peter Guttridge, Stander Chohan, Ronke Adekoluejo, Sarah Esdaile, Somalia Seaton, Steve Ball, Tabitha Moses, Tina Reid-Persin and Yann Seznec. The experts in the field joining them for the day will include Professor Allan, Pacey, Professor Geeta Nargund, Laura Witjens, Professor Jacky Boivin, Janine Elson, Juliet Tizzard, Kate Brian, Natalie Silverman, Sally Cheshire, Dr Sofia Gameiro, Dr Sue Avery, Professor Susan Bewley, Professor Susan Golombok, Tracey Sainsbury and Victoria MacDonald.

Tickets cost £25 a day which include all workshops, talks and a performance of The Quiet House – for more details and booking, visit the website www.fertilityfest.com

Fertility in art

If you haven’t seen it already, you may be interested in this article from The Guardian about award-winning artist Tabitha Moses, who currently has an exhibition about her experiences of fertility treatment at Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery.  Tabitha had two unsuccessful attempts at IVF before finally getting pregnant using eggs from a donor, and now has a young daughter. Her exhibition, which is titled Investment, uses white gowns like the hospital gowns you wear for egg collection and she has embroidered them with images that symbolise her own experiences of fertility treatment. She worked with two other women and features the images of their experiences on other gowns.

The embroidered gowns are beautiful and will resonate with anyone who has personal experience of fertility problems and treatment. Tabitha’s exhibition has now been extended through to the spring, so there is plenty of time to catch it if you are in Liverpool over the next few months!

Creative fertility workshops in Liverpool

If you’re based near Liverpool, you may already know about the exhibition of work by award-winning artist Tabitha Moses at the Walker Art Gallery called Investment, which is her response to her experiences of fertility problems and IVF. Working closely with other women undergoing IVF, Tabitha explores their hopes and fears in a series of hand-embroidered hospital gowns with photographic portraits by Jon Barraclough.

Tabitha is also running some really interesting workshops called the Fertile Minds Creative Workshops for people with experience of assisted conception along with Rebecca Sharp. They will lead creative play using poetry and visual art techniques to explore participants’ experiences of assisted reproduction. No previous art or writing experience necessary.

Rebecca is a writer, artist and educator whose work in poetry, performance and prose can be seen through a series of acclaimed projects incorporating visual art, film, music and sound art. She has worked with a variety of community groups to explore identity, boundaries and the power of words, often in collaboration with other artists. She is based in Fife and works nationally and internationally. Rebecca was artist-in-residence with Metal in 2009-2010 and lived in Liverpool for ten years.

Tabitha Moses makes work about people; she likes to tell the stories of the overlooked and aims to do it with sensitivity and eloquence. She enjoys exploring art, crafts, cooking and gardening with people of all ages,. Tabitha has worked with residencies and galleries in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Poland, Greece and across the UK. She lives in Liverpool with her husband, daughter and two cats.

The remaining sessions are 11.00am to 4.00pm on Saturday 15 November and Saturday 6 December. All sessions are free and will include lunch and refreshments. Venue: Metal, Edge Hill Station, for more information call (0151) 7097 2277 or email edgehill@metalculture.com. To book click here: tabithamosesinvestment.eventbrite.co.uk