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Feature: Interview - Nick Hillel

Nick Hillel


Published: 26 January, 2012
by Emily Wight

The Heath “has a touch of magic about it... it is a place you can go and clear your head”.

So says multimedia artist Nick Hillel – and to celebrate this view, he has run a year-long arts programme that culminates this week in a new exhibition featuring over 50 artists at Burgh House, Hampstead.

Called Heathlife, the exhibition celebrates the Heath through a range of multimedia arts that feed the senses: you enter the gallery looking at photography while listening to a sound­sculpture, before going upstairs to watch films.

Meanwhile, branches collected from the Heath decorate the walls.

Nick’s project was prompted by a lifelong relationship with the open space. “I love the Heath,” he says. “It is a place I grew up in, I used to go up there after school or miss school to go up there. I went through all the stuff you go through as a teenager on the Heath... it’s a place to escape.”

Nick’s favourite aspect of the Heath is the ponds. He says: “I’m never happier than when I’m swimming in that pond.” It was at the ponds that he found inspiration for his own piece in the exhibition. He met swimmer Leo Currin, who, up until last year, travelled every day from his home in Croydon to swim in the ponds. Nick has made a short film following Leo’s three-hour journey, in which the 96-year-old calls the Heath “the nearest thing to paradise that I’ve known”.

Nick has helped Heath lovers express their feelings about the space in a series of workshops. He is a director of production company, Yeast Culture, which he founded in 1999.

The company, based in Islington, specialises in the digital media and film production that is neglected by mainstream television.

Nick explains: “It was set up primarily to make documentaries and films that don’t get the airplay on television. It was a response to the monotony of television and docu-soaps being boring and trying to find another way of exploring film.”

Nick has also passed on the Heath’s heritage to schoolchildren through workshops, with the help of historians and bio-diversity experts.

He has joined forces with an art group at Old Ford School in Tower Hamlets – 80 per cent of whom, he says, had never stepped outside the borough – and the Weekend Arts Centre in Belsize Park.

He also led a course encouraging pensioners to explore their creativity through art. He adds: “I wanted to bring people who had never been to the Heath before and see how they reacted.”

Their response, he says, has been “incredible”, inspiring many of Heathlife’s exhibits. Their collages and poetry document the diversity of natural life on the Heath. And the exhibition at Burgh House is not the end of the project, which has been part funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

A Heathlife website offers, on top of examples of the exhibition’s work, a downloadable audio tour and oral histories. “The website is designed to be a legacy to the project and to encourage people to also upload their own work,” says Nick, “so you can upload your own art work or photography that’s inspired by Hampstead Heath on the website. That will then live on.”

• Heathlife: A Portrait of Hampstead Heath runs until April 1 at Burgh House, New End Square, NW3 1LT, 020 7431 0144. Wednesday to Sunday 12-5pm, free. Explore the exhibition at


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