Workshop 5: reflections

By Jessica Bradley 

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Wednesday was our final Leeds-based workshop, and the penultimate session for our local festival activities. It was also the last session that I was able to attend as I was due to fly to The Hague in the afternoon for the Society for Artistic Research conference at which I was presenting, meaning I missed the final workshop on Thursday.

We were intending to cram in a lot to the two hours we had with the group. Following on from the first two weeks in which we concentrated on silk paintings, we planned to complete the three large silk pieces which would be given to the organisations with whom we’ve been working. In addition, a composer, Maria, was attending the workshops this week to lead singing and voice activities. These would feed into the production of a piece of music which will provide the soundtrack for the performance that is being developed for the festival itself. At the same time, we were making a film about the process. Our plan – perhaps slightly ambitious – is to produce something that (like the project itself) serves a number of different purposes. We would like to have something that asks the question – ‘what is welcome in utopia?’ – in line with our project but something that also documents the process of the local festival workshops, that allows for a short glimpse into what we’ve been doing, and that also shows how one of the third sector organisations has been able to embed the project into their own activity. One of the interesting (and challenging) things about co-production, is trying to work out creative ways of meeting the (often different) needs of the different parties involved. What I’m learning is that the collectivity and diversity of the team working together on a project of this kind is its strength. We bring together people from diverse backgrounds and practices. We want everyone involved to input. We are working out how to do this collectively. Paul Cooke from the University of Leeds had kindly offered to produce this film and he’d been at the centre since 9am, setting up and starting to interview people.

RETAS 2

We had a slightly smaller group on Wednesday. We got started straight away with the painting, in order to try and get finished with the pieces themselves so they would be ready by the end of the workshop. Three student volunteers were working with us, alongside M, a volunteer from the local community whose input has been extremely valuable. As we painted we also filmed. Many of the group had been present at the previous workshops. Others dropped in for the first time.

The second half of the workshop was led by Maria, a composer originally from Norway, but now based locally. We stood in a circle and started to work together to produce some music. We started by making a repeated noise – one of our choice – and then walking towards someone else in the circle. We then gave another person that noise, they took it and created a new noise. By the end, we were moving four at a time, across the circle, building the sounds, layer upon layer. The next activity started with counting. 1,2,3,4,1,2,3,4,1,2,3,4 and we went round the circle choosing a sound and a number on which to make that sound. 1,mmmm, 3,4,1,mmmm,3,4. Gradually our sounds build up again. A rhythm. An emergent melody of sorts. We moved faster then slower, following the composer’s instructions. No clapping! But it’s hard to do without clapping. We then stopped. And started again, thinking of the sounds of the city. We chose a sound. I was to go first. I found it difficult to think of one – I asked for an example. Then I chose. MMMM. We went round again. What we created and what we built in such a short time was quite incredible.

Then we started to think about sharing our own songs. Not necessarily with words, but with sounds and melody. This means as a group that we can start to learn from each other – we are co-learners – but we don’t need a shared language. We were creating one through sound (as we created one through painting before). Maria started with a song from Norway. We started to join in. Then others brought their songs and sang them to us. A number of the group were from Syria, and they sang a song to us that was about feeling sadness for the home that has been lost. We learnt the melody and a couple of lines in Arabic together, and then sang together in the circle. There were a few Arabic speakers and they of course understood the words, the song. From across different countries. Yet, all with something in common – a homeland left, and lost.

In this project I have many roles. I’m a researcher, and I’m also a project manager. But mainly I feel like a learner. A learner with so much to learn, and so many people from whom to learn it. I don’t remember the songs, and I don’t remember the melodies. But I will remember being in the circle and listening as people within the group brought their songs, their melodies and their words together and we all sang together. Songs of places that are lost. I felt privileged to have been part of it and able to share these melodies and words.

RETAS 3

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What does it mean to co-produce?

By Jessica Bradley 

Our project has been funded as a co-production through the Connected Communities Utopias Festival for 2016. The complexity of what we are trying to achieve and in such a short time frame has become very clear, especially right now when we are in the thick of it.

But what exactly do we mean by co-production? How do we co-produce? What’s different?

And how does this work in our current project, with its different stages, different communities, and different organisations?

This blog post by Professor Kate Pahl is a useful summary of what co-production can be, and how it changes the balance between researcher and researched. She describes it as process and learning. She explains that co-production is different to ‘standard’ or more traditional academic research, in that it involves collaboration, working together, partnership. The research process as important as the outputs. The learning. Through co-production, the notion of the academic as being the one who knows is changed around- with research ‘built from the ground’ rather than the other way round.

It also takes academic research outside the university, quite literally, according to Pahl. It takes educational research into the outdoors, into streets, cafes, youth groups, portacabins (in the way that our research has for the TLANG project). Through this change in epistemology, alternative kinds of educational settings can be considered – as sites of learning. There is also a co-learning process (see Saturday’s blog post on translanguaging), in which translanguaging pedagogies enable the teacher to be positioned as a co-learner. Learning alongside each other.

This co-learning is embedded in the project we are carrying out. My background is in higher education. I’d worked in educational engagement for almost a decade before starting my PhD, which I’ve now been doing for just over 18 months. What this experience has taught me, is how different a co-created, co-produced research project is to an outreach project or engagement project. We’re framing this as a research project, in that it is, undoubtedly, research. Yet, unlike a research project that leads solely to academic outputs – publications, presentations, conferences, book chapters (etc) – this research project must also have a tangible outcome. That is, a contribution to the Utopias Fair at Somerset House. It has multiple outputs. And our project is pretty complex and complicated  – we squeezed a lot into our bid document. Over the weekend I went back to the expression of interest that we put together in December to consider our progress. We’re working well and within our allocated timings. The local festival activities are almost finished, or at least the first stage is – the silk painting.

Pahl describes it further:

Co-production here involves entwining knowledge created in community contexts and knowledge created in university contexts to produce something a bit different — knowledge that crosses and is useful in both contexts. Methodologies for making sense of this process include sensory and embodied forms of knowledge production that are attentive to the feelings and sensations of being with people in everyday contexts

So, the research that takes place, the process, is in fact an entwining of knowledge. An entwining of that which is created in universities and that which is created outside universities. Ethnography, therefore, is in some ways well-suited to this kind of knowledge production. Perhaps, all those involved in a research project that is co-produced are ethnographers. Certainly it’s something I want to explore and to write about. Is co-production as kind of ‘generous attentiveness’? (Ingold, 2014: http://www.haujournal.org/index.php/hau/article/view/hau4.1.021/665)

During our workshops so far, we’ve had a number of different people involved. The artists leading the workshops. The participants. The student volunteers. The community volunteers. The PhD researcher. The community organisations. Me (researcher, but also project coordinator). But we’ve all been taking part, done some painting, some drawing, some sketching. The setting, the activity, the process is co-produced and co-constructed.

There is a lot that goes into this behind the scenes to co-create these workshops and these activities. And for me, as researcher but also in my role of coordinating the project, it is complex. It’s not always easy. Co-production is, like the project we are working on together, reasonably utopian. We produce something together, of course, but we all come into it (and out of it) with some merging objectives, but some which diverge. How to manage this among multiple project partners from across different ecologies: university research, the arts sector, the third sector, undergraduate students, other people who have moved towards the project as it gradually becomes a hub? And how do we ‘co-produce’ and manage when one party holds the funding? And when that party is a large institution with complex administrative structures? What happens then?

Something that we are working on at the moment is how we can produce a film that brings together the theme of our research project (welcome in utopia) and also allows one of our partner organisations to benefit from the film. To produce something that works for all parties, for their intersecting but also divergent needs.

I’m reading and reading around this at the moment, making sense of the project as it unfolds and also starting to work out new and emerging frameworks to enable us to manage this project well, to work together, to co-produce.

Literature

Publications

Marshall, B. and Pahl, K. 2015.Who owns educational research? Disciplinary conundrums and considerations: A challenge to the funding councils and to education departments, Qualitative Research Journal, (15) 4, pp.472 – 488.

McMillan, A. and Pahl, K. 2015. Writing Out The Loss: Intersections and Conversations Between Poetry and Ethnography.Argument and Critique April 2015.

Pahl, K. Steadman-Jones, R. and Pool, S. (2013) Dividing the DrawersCreative Approaches to Research (6) 1, pp.71 – 88.

Reports

The following document has information about co-production and collaborative projects with museums, galleries and oral histories: https://partnershipandparticipation.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/earninglegipicjuly2012.pdf

This report from the N8 partnership is particularly useful and explains some of the benefits and challenges of co-produced research: http://www.n8research.org.uk/view/5163/Final-Report-Co-Production-2016-01-20.pdf

This from Connected Communities (which I’ve mentioned before): https://connected-communities.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Creating-Living-Knowledge.Final_.pdf

Blog posts

This blog post by Kate Pahl (cited earlier in the text) https://medium.com/@SheffSocScience/making-meaning-together-co-producing-knowledge-across-universities-and-communities-92fe4bd75026#.am1q95a6e

This blog post by Keri Facer on engaged research: https://nccpe.wordpress.com/2013/11/20/whose-public-good-does-engaged-research-serve/

This blog post from LSE Impact Blog on the impact of co-produced research: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2016/01/28/a-soup-of-different-inspirations-impact-and-co-produced-research/

Workshop 4: reflections

Jenny, one of our student volunteers, reflects on the fourth workshop, and the notion of ‘welcome’.

As a student reading History of Art, I scarcely find the opportunity to interact with others who are not students or lecturers! Hence by volunteering at this creative workshop was not only rather heartwarming and fun but also very inspiring.

The collaborative project between Faceless Arts (a community arts organisation) and TLANG (a research project from the University of Leeds) leads up to the major Utopia festival, being held later this year at Somerset House, London. It proposes to celebrate the iconic novel by Thomas More, published 500 years ago, whilst TLANG aims to investigate ‘what is the role of ‘welcome’ in contemporary Utopia?’.

After teaching us the art of silk painting, we were then asked to explore and depict the theme of ‘Welcome’, whilst getting to know more about each other. I particularly enjoyed talking to one of the participants. Daring to imagine the enormities he must have endured throughout his entire upbringing and adult life, I was suddenly in awe of how happy, composed and peaceful he and his daughter both seemed. To realise that so much of humanity’s key aim in life is to seek a peaceful environment, devoid of conflict and exclusion was undoubtedly humbling for me as this is all I have ever known.

In fact, all the workshop participants radiated a great sense of warmth and amiability which hugely inspired me after acknowledging what they have previously experienced and overcome. The silk painting turned out to be a very relaxing activity and allowed people to express their creativity as well as their identity. I particularly liked watching one of the children writing her name in sanskrit, seeing how intricate and artistic the letters were. Overall my conclusion from this experience was a realisation of the importance to promote a sense of welcome and community amongst all nationalities, races and cultures. I left fiercely aspiring to remember and cherish the intrinsic value of living in a safe and secure environment, surrounded by individuals one can trust and depend on.

What is translanguaging?

The Utopias project links to and builds on the TLANG research project (http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/generic/tlang/index.aspx) which investigates linguistic and cultural transformations in superdiverse wards in four UK cities. The research project is described by Principal Investigator Professor Angela Creese:

‘The research will make a significant contribution to knowledge about the potential of multilingualism as a resource for communication, creativity, and civic participation’.

Therefore, mirroring this but also perhaps switching it round, we are exploring in the Utopias project what the potential of creativity is as a resource for communication. We can consider how research into multilingual practices might inform arts practice. We can also consider how arts practice might inform linguistic research into multilingualism. But also, and crucially, we can consider how multilingualism can be a resource for communication – in terms of how experiences of working with multilingual groups, the adaptation of workshops and consideration of ‘communication practices’ within these settings might feed into arts practice with community groups.

But where is translanguaging within this? And how do we explore translanguaging, and, for a public engagement project of this kind, explain translanguaging?

On the TLANG project website, we summarise translanguaging in the following way:

When people ‘translanguage’ they make meaning through linguistic signs accessed from diverse sources. Translanguaging leads us away from a focus on ‘languages’ as distinct codes to a focus on the agency of individuals engaged in creating, deploying, and interpreting signs for communication. Translanguaging includes the full range of linguistic performances of multilingual speakers, beyond the simple alternation between languages, or ‘code-switching’. A focus on translanguaging enables us to see how everyday practices and identities are rooted in the trajectories of the multiple communities to which individuals belong, and how they develop and transform.

Taking into account this description as being ‘the full range of linguistic performances’ we are applying translanguaging as a lens within arts workshops of this kind. How do people communicate with each other in a multilingual setting? What resources are employed? How does the activity intersect with the languaging practices within the workshops? Do particular settings or activities encourage translanguaging?

A conversation with a colleague, who has been researching translanguaging over a number of years, with work in Barcelona, New York, and now Leeds, that arose yesterday at one of our project meetings has led me to consider again translanguaging as an analytical tool and go back to some of the original conceptualisations of translanguaging. It is important as research moves and shifts, and all kinds of detours are taken, that I go back to the literature regularly and remind myself of the origins of the terms we are using (for example, translanguaging, super diversity). Are these applicable, or is something else happening entirely?

An interview with Ofelia Garcia has recently been published in Psychology Today. In it, she states: Only by drawing from their entire language repertoire will bilingual students be able to demonstrate what they know, and especially what they can do with language. Within settings of the kind that we are exploring with this project, the participants may have often only recently moved to the UK, and are in the early stages of learning English. The artists speak English. How do the artists and the participants communicate in order to complete the task? The task being a piece of silk painting. What is the role of the activity and how does that work to facilitate communication? The repertoires that are drawn on within these contexts – by the participants and by the artists – include the practice itself, the painting, the methods. Do we consider this as translanguaging, or as something else? Garcia goes on: Being able to perform with language-specific features legitimized in schools is not the same as having general language ability or being knowledgeable of content. All those participating in the workshops are able to produce a painting by the end of the workshops. And, interestingly, the workshops also become English classes in themselves. How do you say paintbrush? How do you say ‘welcome’? What does it mean to ‘welcome’ somebody? We have been considering this multilingually – by writing words on the silk paintings, by talking within the group. In the last workshop, I also painted a piece of silk. I was a novice – I’d never painted silk before. My paint bled outside the lines. We shared the experience of learning something new.

Garcia goes on to say:

Translanguaging pedagogy requires a different type of teacher, a co-learner. Classrooms are increasingly multilingual in the world. It is impossible for teachers to know all the languages of students. But it is possible for teachers to build a classroom ecology where there are books and signage in multiple languages; where collaborative groupings are constructed according to home language so that students can deeply discuss a text in the dominant school language with all their language resources; where students are allowed to write and speak with whatever resources they have and not wait until they have the “legitimate” ones to develop a voice; where all students language practices are included so as to work against the linguistic hierarchies that exist in schools; where families with different language practices are included. Any teacher, including a monolingual one, can take up translanguaging to enable their bilingual students to make deeper meaning and legitimize their home language practices.

Likewise, it is impossible for us to know the languages of all the participants in our groups. But by producing paintings and using different languages – we perhaps go a small way to develop a translanguaging pedagogy within the workshops. A small step, granted.

In one workshop, one of the participants wanted to talk to me about his home language – the language used in his tribe. He wanted to know how to preserve it. He showed me YouTube videos which showed examples of the language, and of its alphabet. He wrote words on the page and we worked together to produce the words so they could be incorporated into the larger silk painting. We were then able to direct him to people at the university who would be interested in finding out more about his language. Perhaps, in line with Garcia’s words on translanguaging in this article going some way to explore home languages, and legitimise their practice.

TLANG at Connected Communities Utopias Festival 2016

Here’s a blog post from the TLANG blog about our project.

 

tlang blog

By Jessica Bradley

At Leeds we’re currently working on a co-produced project with local arts organisation, Faceless Arts, funded by the AHRC for its Connected Communities Utopias Festival for 2016.

Background to the project

Back in December last year we wrote an expression of interest for this particular funding opportunity. I’d received an email from Angela Creese, TLANG project PI, asking whether there might be any possibility of putting something together for the festival, building on TLANG’s research. The call was for ‘high quality participatory arts research and research co-production activities’. The activities that would be supported would be those which built on current research funded by the AHRC and which could widen and deepen community engagement with ongoing work.

For the TLANG project, we’ve been looking into different ways in which we can broaden our engagement with different communities through working with artists and creative practitioners. At a meeting…

View original post 977 more words

Workshop 3: reflections

Laura, one of our undergraduate volunteers reflects on the third workshop, which took place today.

‘I decided to volunteer for the TLANG project as I am really interested in the idea of collaborating in language and the arts. In this particular workshop, we helped the participants to create silk paintings, exploring the links behind the words ‘Leeds’ and ‘Welcome’.

 My main role within the team was to communicate with the participants in order to make sure that they fully understood the activity, and offer my help if needed. I was also given the chance record and take photos of the art works produced in the session (these will also be available on the blog!). The group of people who came today had a very diverse linguistic repertoire and were really lovely to work with. 

At the end of the workshop, we played a fun game of Pictionary and took some group photos; there was a real sense of friendship and community. I am very much looking forward to coming back next week to complete the pieces of art we started today!’

Local festival workshop 1

Our project officially started this week and we had our first two workshops. Yesterday was the first – which took place in Leeds. The research team has developed links with organisations and ESOL providers in the area over a number of years. The workshops here were aimed at the participants on one of the courses and we had a full room of people ready to start painting by about 10.10am. The organisers have kindly provided us with a space in which to run our sessions.

The Leeds workshops are being led by a local artist, and, as with the Wakefield workshops, we are working mainly with silk painting. The workshop format is three part. Firstly, participants will work on a small silk painting which they can then take away. Secondly, we will work on a large piece (or rather 2/3 pieces per location) which will be for the organisation itself to display. The two organisations will be given the paintings which they can use in their offices/reception. The organisations involved in the workshops were pleased to have something that they could use and which would be used to welcome people, and also as a reminder of the workshops and the kinds of activities and projects that people can do together. Thirdly, a composer will come and work with the group on a vocal score.

There are five of us facilitating and assisting the workshops. S. is leading the painting. B. is coordinating and assisting. M. is taking photos and circulating in the room. S. is assisting and writing his own notes on the project – which will feed into his own doctoral research into practitioners in performance and theatre. I am circulating, talking to people, and aiming to gather up some oral histories about ‘welcome’ and what we mean when we ‘welcome people’.

We’re in the upstairs room. This is a large, airy classroom space with tables put together in the middle of the room and windows at each end – front and back. We’ve covered the tables with a clear plastic table cloth and put out each item in front of each place setting. A pencil, a piece of kitchen roll, and a piece of card with silk taped onto it with masking tape. On the table, erasers and tape.

Ethical practice/research

We start by explaining the forms that are in front of them. These are the ethics forms for the research side of this project. As a theme, this is interesting. An arts group has its own procedures and forms. But when a research element is introduced, researchers also have processes which must be followed. Put the two together – visual arts and research – and the paperwork can be lengthy. Yet the workshops are only 2 hours in duration and time spent going through the forms can cut into the arts activities. At both workshops this week, all the team has considered the paperwork side of our work and how we can manage this in a way that is ethical and which fits with all the organisations’ aims and objectives – and which also protects the participants. We have to balance the macro (institutional requirements) with the micro (the workshop-level ethical issues which might arise, and our own management of these as artists and researchers)

In our discussions we considered the following as ongoing ethical practice (in addition to the ethics forms):

We will always ask permission when taking a photo, and, always focus on the piece of art work.

When collecting ‘stories of welcome’ (which is part of the research element of this project) we will always ask before recording. If someone seems unsure, we won’t record. We ask for a first name when starting the conversation, and we record the verbal consent.

The workshops 

The artist starts by explaining what we are doing in the session and by demonstrating the process herself, using one of the pre-prepared cardboards and silks. Then the group each start to consider their own piece. The artists have print outs with the word ‘welcome’ written in different languages. The group are asked to consider the idea of ‘welcome’ and what it means. They can interpret it however they like on their silks. The piece of card behind the silk is for the initial drawing. (Erasers are provided for the shaping and reshaping of the designs). Most of the group start with a word. Welcome. Some write in English. Others write in Arabic. The majority of the group speak Arabic and have asked for Arabic versions of the information sheets.

As they start to sketch our their designs, we observe the different ideas and images which are linked. After the words, come pictures. There’s a hesitation at first, but then the participants start to become immersed in what they are doing. I notice as I work my way round the room, just how precise some of the pencil work is. There is one piece which is essentially calligraphy, the strokes so beautifully placed – with care and attention. It’s just one word – there are no images. But it is strong and striking.

‘Welcome to Leeds’, one of the pictures states. Do you feel welcome in Leeds?, I ask? Yes, he replies. I didn’t at first, but now I do. We talk in groups about welcome and what it means, while the group are painting. People talk about where they feel welcome and why. The organisation itself is mentioned as a place in which people feel welcome.