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Slain McGough Davey

Made in Plymouth Community Reporter, Chi Bennett, explores the world of Slain McGough Davey, the visionary behind WonderZoo, discussing his unique performances, commitment to inclusivity, and aspirations for the future of WonderZoo.

In this interview, Made in Plymouth Community Reporter, Chi Bennett, explores the fascinating world of Slain McGough Davey, the dynamic figure behind WonderZoo, an arts organisation rooted in Stonehouse, Plymouth. Slain is also Chi’s husband.

Slain, a performance artist and visionary leader, shares insights into his ever-evolving performances, inspired by the quirkiness of 1920s, 30s, and 70s experimental art. He emphasises interactivity, drawing the audience into his dynamic and engaging shows. His proudest achievement with WonderZoo is fostering inclusivity and diversity in the Arts and Culture. Looking forward, Slain envisions supporting emerging artists, securing a dedicated theatrical space, and promoting marginalised voices. He actively collaborates with various organisations to champion inclusivity and fair compensation for artists. This interview provides insight into a creative force dedicated to positive change in the world of arts and culture.

Tell me a bit about yourself

I’m Slain, I run an arts organisation called WonderZoo which is based in Stonehouse and we have an office in The Plot. I’m also a performance artist in my own right. 

What are your performances like?

No performance is ever the same. They depend on what I feel the audience want, or what I’m commissioned to do, but always having the freedom to compose the performances I want to do in my own way. 

They’re often quirky, oddball, strange, based on my love for 1920’s, 30’s and 70’s experimental art and theatrical performances. I’m interested in not necessarily musical structure, but the way that sounds, words, visuals, interaction and even pantomime between performers and the audience, can come together. 

 I prefer things that have a really interactive feel that isn’t just passive between the audience and performer. I prefer it when the audience get involved and become part of the performance. 

With WonderZoo, what’s been your proudest moment?

Giving voices to other people and giving opportunities to others is my proudest moment. It’s not one thing, never has been. And also making sure that we are a multi-cultured organisation, always campaigning for everybody in society to have a place in the Arts and Culture. That’s always been my driving goal, it’s to be completely inclusive of everybody, and I think that’s one of the greatest achievements that WonderZoo’s ever done, and that’s my proudest moments. 

Where do you see WonderZoo going in the future?

To develop and to support emerging artists and organisations; to develop our theatrical side to acquire a space of our own in the city, to put on things that currently we don’t have in the city, and to use that space to support emerging and existing art platforms. 

To develop WonderZoo’s history side like archiving the Respect Festival, or the Hidden Figures of Plymouth Project – looking at other cultures that haven’t been represented properly in the city. It’s been really great to see certain art platforms emerge in the city, which we’ve had a hand in supporting, and seeing that change take place. 

The disappointing thing I feel at the moment, which is why WonderZoo exists and continues to exist, is that so many groups are not being inclusive of marginalised people or even women, in Arts and Culture. I feel there’s a long way to go yet to include others, and until this is fully done in the city, and we have more of a cultural makeup that we find in Bristol and London, I’ll stay in Plymouth and have WonderZoo as a beacon for making change. 

What has influenced you to be the person you are today?

I grew up on three of the worst housing estates in this country and I ended up in a boarding school. None of it was particularly rewarding, but it taught me to be tough, and it taught me how marginalised some people in society really are. This led to me being in bands, DJing and Sound Systems in the 90s, dance/reggae oriented stuff. I also spent a lot of time at festivals, living with travellers and bikers. I saw pretty much first-hand the oppression by the state and how others had been treated that live outside the system. It’s always been my desire since I ended up at university to fight for those changes in society, to make change, to be inclusive of others, and everything I do, including WonderZoo, has a human rights aspect. 

We work really closely with other groups, which I think are doing really well in the city to change some of that narrative. That includes Plymouth and Devon Racial Equality Council (PDREC), Plymouth Octopus Project (POP), Diversity Business Incubator (DBI), Plymouth Social Enterprise Network (PSEN), Global Plymouth, Plymouth Hope, Nudge Community Builders, and other groups. 

I think one of the things that could really benefit Plymouth a Union for Artists, to stop artists being used for free, which happens a lot in this city. Artists should be paid for their work. 

I also think it’d be really good to have a policy in this city that’s built into the cultural makeup – that inclusivity is required in any organisation or group working in Arts and Culture in this city. It should be seen as paramount. Some of our work now is also in schools, and I believe the educational is the way to change things.

What projects are you currently working on?

  • Celebrate Respect Project – archiving the Plymouth Respect Festival since it started in 1998; Supervising the Hidden Figures of Plymouth project that looks at highlighting people of the Global Majority, past and present, who have made an outstanding contribution to Plymouth; 
  • I’m also part of The Box’s Culture Club – working with 7 artists and activist to look at how to decolonise museums and gallery spaces. We’ve recently received funding for a year’s project researching the Windrush Generation of the South West; 
  • I’m a trainer for the Belong In Plymouth project with Plymouth Octopus Project
  • I’m working in the background on future projects and events with WonderZoo. 

What do you do for relaxation?

I love reading. I always carry a book in my bag and you’ll often find me in coffee shops, tucked away with a nice cup of tea with a book in my hand. 

My other thing I enjoy most is collecting records. You can find me in lots of second hand shops or vinyl record shops throughout the South West, where many of the owners of these establishments know me. It’s the enjoyment of looking for things. This builds into my radio show that happens at www.jannerradio.com on Monday nights, 7-9pm, with my co-host Kai Kuiama. We have a show that’s different to most other shows. We don’t include indie, rock or pop in that way. Our show is built around electronic, composers, reggae, dance music, ska, bluebeat, and stuff like soul and sound tracks. It’s become quite a popular show because we have a lot of banter, fun, and we talk in a lot of depth about the records and the artists we play. It’s probably my favourite thing I do every week for relaxation, but it is funded by WonderZoo. 

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