Interview with Ellye Van Grieken of Silver-Tongue Collective

Words by Sarah Lapinsky.

Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Ellye Van Grieken (she/her), the creative producer of Silver-Tongue, about their new work, Devil Fish, premiering on the 7th of February as part of Resolution Festival at The Place.

I started us off with a discussion of the Silver-Tongue’s beginning (mostly because I really enjoy the creative names for their collective and piece). Van Grieken explained that Silver-Tongue was established back in 2020 as “a collective of story makers that give voice to tales which aren’t usually heard.” Their work has since developed through multi-medium collaborations that build thought-provoking works about whatever takes their interest. Devil Fish grew from Van Grieken’s research conducted at the Royal College of Art into the performance of mermaids in 19th century Britain, a time when ideas of evolution, scientific discoveries and explorations of the ocean were prevalent in society.

The ‘Devil Fish’ in their work actually refers to octopuses (not mermaids) that upon their discovery were fished, captured and sensationalized in pop-up aquariums and side-shows. However, people weren’t attending these events to marvel at the octopus’s many tentacles or learn about their fascinating skills of adaptation. To build the crowds (and profits), the octopuses were marketed as terrifying, fanged blood-sucking monsters. Misinformation engulfed the 8-tentacled spectacle as society flocked to gawk at the captive creature, now in their minds, a terrifying monster.

Silver-Tongue uses Devil Fish to explore how and why monsters are created and what can ultimately result from being othered. The first iteration of this work began 4 years ago with a soundscape capturing sounds of ocean life mixed with first-person descriptions of the monstrous octopus from the time period recorded by the creative team. In the work premiering on the 7th, Guy-Stephane Kone and Ben Sanders have further developed the soundscape and choreographer, Maddison Campbell, along with fellow performers Maeve Nolan and Antonia Latz have used the story to create an abstractive narrative embodying the journey of the octopus.

In the words of Campbell, before they could “create a physical representation of ‘creating a monster’ [they] first build the octopus” by forming an image building an octopus “from a pile messy pile of beings on the ground” before “fusing together as one body”. The performers use a shimmering, two-toned piece of organza to mimic water elements while also moving them in a way that represents the feelings of the octopus. Campbell describes the “swirling movement” and building tension as the journey continues and the octopus becomes a monster (you’ll have to go see the full piece for yourself on the 7th). I, however, am not a very patient person, so Van Grieken was kind enough to describe to me how the octopus “falls into its new traits” before learning to accept its fate and resolving to own it (well done, octopus).

It would be difficult to miss the relevance of this work beyond rehabilitating the image of the octopus. At a time when racism, xenophobia, bullying, demonising and otherness plague our societies, it couldn’t be more important to question how and why this can happen. When I posed the query to Van Grieken as to why she thinks othering occurs, she pondered and responded that when greeted with the unknown, “curiosity can fall into fear.” I appreciate her use of the word “fall” and how it leaves us the responsibility to appropriately direct our course for curiosity and empowers us to choose a different direction than fear. It’s important to note also that the work offers an additional conversation about the detrimental impacts of over-fishing and fish-farming.

Premiering the work at Resolution festival is more than appropriate as the festival harmoniously aligns with Silver-Tongue’s mission in its support of new work, new voices and accessibility. By doing this festival, Silver-Tongue hopes to reach new audiences and offer the chance for people to connect with the story, feel its relevance and question how othering affects their own existence, perhaps even pondering how we can find beauty in the otherness. Van Grieken also mentioned an appreciation for the workshops to support the collective’s always expanding skill set. 

In continuing the work, Silver-Tongue hopes to share workshops inspired by the work and themes of Devil Fish while beginning research of their next work about butterflies (Van Grieken made a point to say that this was just a coincidence and not all of their works are to be animal inspired).

Devil Fish premiers at The Place as part of Resolution Festival

Wednesday, 7th of February at 7:30 pm

Link to tickets:

Cast & Creatives

Creative direction: Ellye Van Grieken

Sound design: Guy-Stephane Kone and Ben Sanders

Choreography: Maddison Campbell

Movement: Maddison Campbell, Maeve Nolan and Antonia Latz