When performers Grace Surman and Gary Winters and their two children decided to form a family art collective, the results involved rolling in mud, mass school drumming and a homage to Greta Thunberg.
Every child is an artist. That’s what Pablo Picasso said.
Not every child, though, is an equal partner in a professional art collaboration with their mum and dad.
As well as being the bundles of innocent creativity that Picasso probably had in mind, Merrick, nine, and 12-year-old sister Hope have been involved in their parents’ performance art since before they knew that’s what it was.
When Merrick was one, he starred in his mum’s tender 12-minute video I Love My Baby And My Baby Loves Me.
Later, Grace would take the children along as she devised her performance routines. “They were watching us make our work and they were around when we were in rehearsals. They were playing in a studio while we were playing in a studio.” So it seemed natural to play together.
Grace choreographed a short performance duet for herself and Hope, and another for Gary and Merrick. The latter, titled Would You Rather Be Lost, went on tour – and looks like just about the most fun a father and son can have without the involvement of water slides or candy floss.
Those projects went so well that, a year ago, Grace and Gary decided they and the children should work together as a family.
They have now made two films for the National Trust to mark the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo massacre, when the cavalry charged a workers’ rights protest in Manchester, killing around a dozen people.
Artists Jeremy Deller and Bob and Roberta Smith and singer Jarvis Cocker are among the others taking part in the National Trust’s People’s Landscapes project. One of the family’s films will be shown at Quarry Bank, a historic mill in Cheshire, where the family have filmed around 100 local schoolchildren drumming around the site.
Doing interviews about their creations is not nearly as interesting as making them, and at Quarry Bank, Merrick gets bored and disappears from the cafe table less than three minutes after the family start telling me about their work. He’s bursting with energy. He’s a nine-year-old boy.
Hope is more patient but she too makes her escape before the interview is over, boarding a National Trust buggy to the next filming location where some steel drums are waiting. Merrick reappears from around the corner at one point and his mum suggests I ask him a question before he bolts again.