Nathan Jones is a poet and Creative Director at Mercy, a creative agency based in Liverpool. By day, Mercy produce graphic design and art direction for the creative industries, and by night create cutting edge literature-arts happenings, exhibitions, publications and film.
Between June 2009 and June 2010 Nathan took on the role of Poet in Residence at the Bluecoat, exploring the connections between interpretations of modern art, contemporary poetry, and arts audiences.
In 2010, as part of the Liverpool Biennial festival, Mercy hosted a series of experimental literature-art events at The Cooperative‘s temporary space at The Old Paint Shop on Renshaw Street.
AF: Hello Nathan, how are you and the folks at Mercy?
Great thanks! Relatively relaxed. Aside from the design studio – which is always really busy these days – the Mercy operation is having some breathing space. Because we’re a little company we have some crazy periods where we never sit down or sleep, and then we have these little lulls while we recover and plot. Right now is one of these times.
So we’re having lots of conversations with artists about new commissions, and sorting out partnerships for this new 2010-11 programme called Overlap, which will be a big step on in our activity bringing literature into the critical sphere of the fine arts and performance.
It’s all about finding where the overlaps lie in performance, literature and music – as well as how this is reflected in current cultural platforms. The most exciting prospect for me is investigating how our new commissions can interact and interlock across three strands: Live, Public Sphere and Online, over the course of a two-year programme, and how we can sustain collaborative relationships within the group of artists that we love.
The timelines are mostly laid down now, so we’re just waiting to see what actual content the artists come up with.
In the meantime, we’ve just taken down Sam Skinner’s installation at the Shops Up Front project in Lewis’s, and we’re developing new in-house material for a little office-warming at our swish new place in Hope Street – which will be a party with a little experimental content, in partnership with Diesel, on 17th May. Also, Henningham Family Press have published a book of my poetry made with Sam Meech as part of his Noah’s Ark project.
AF: We love the idea of the magazine internship Mercy are running – what’s the reaction been and what do you hope to achieve?
It’s really just a way to make something positive happen with all the requests we’ve been getting for internships. I think the design world is so competitive at the moment, people are looking to agencies like us for guidance and an opportunity to get some great creative portfolio – and emerging writers are knocking on the door too. It’s strange, because in a way we don’t feel so far away from that moment ourselves.
Anyway, a zine is how we started, so we figured that it would be a good starting point for our interns too – although I’m guessing, by the quality of the portfolios we’ve been receiving, and how high the bar is set in terms of production values, that the product will be very different from what we were producing. And rightly so! I think that’s what’s necessary, to be experimental and to be moving things forward in the level of finish you can bring. The response has been great. We’ve had twenty or so portfolios through specifically for this project, and we’ll also be picking from good people who’ve been in touch in the past.
What do we hope to achieve?
Something for audiences – a quality art-work that’s available on the street. Something for emerging artists – an opportunity to make something real which has an audience (with some guidance from those of us who have made tons of mistakes to learn from)… And something for ourselves – I am not sure what that is yet – new friends maybe?
AF: As discussed, Mercy started out as a fanzine – what are your favourite ‘zines current or past and why?
The all-time classic was Shoreditch Twat. That was the epitome of the irreverent piss-takey sort of thing that we started out doing.
Right now, we’re not so in touch with the zine scene – maybe because it wasn’t that sort of network when we were publishing. But there is really a cohesive movement now, bringing independent presses together, and supporting each other. Most people, rightly, will point you towards Alex Zamora of Fever Zine, who knows where it’s at.
We also really love Article Magazine, which is coming out of Sheffield and getting a decent distribution across the North. It’s more than a zine, but I think it’s done with the same kind of DIY ethos – just that the bar is higher now.
AF: Art in 2011 – what are you looking out for?
Of the artists we’re in contact with, I want to see what John O’Shea does this year. He’s producing some really special work. Same goes for the other artists around Re-dock, and people like Markus Soukup, Laurence Payot too. It’s a strong resident-based scene, especially with regard to digital work and participation. As always in Liverpool, you have to be keeping an eye on what the innovative musicians and promoters are up to also – Andrew Ellis, Hive, Sound Network and Apatt all have a huge impact on the arts scene, and if they’re active then we’re all happy.
As far as the institutions go, perhaps the highlight on the horizon will be the return to Liverpool of AND Festival, which is a festival with a lot to offer the city in a truly international sense.
AF: We enjoyed your work at the Biennial with The Cooperative – do you plan to host more evening events in the future?
Yes. Absolutely. We learned a lot from those events. Definitely we like this model for smaller-scale things with a genuinely experimental edge – still fun to be at, but hopefully more critically-engaged than we’ve been before.
In the autumn we’ll have some of these night-events that we run on our own, and add to this with the Overlap programme, injecting our literature-art work into existing programmes at other art venues and festivals like the Bluecoat, The Royal Standard, and AND, plus some more surprising cultural spaces also.
AF: And when are your podcasts coming back? We still have the Mercy podcast title rap in our head…
Ah! Nick Holloway will be chuffed to hear that. Podcasts will be up and running over the summer. I think it’s probably a separate interview what we’re going to include – Nick has lots of ideas up his sleeve, and we’re totally committed to giving him a platform for his unique mix of skills and style – from journalism to technical stuff, to creative content, he’s boss. So we’ll just have to see what he and his connections come up with!