Planning and preparation part 1.

by Jessica Bradley, TLANG Project

Aside from numerous meetings with partners, update sessions and general catch ups, the first of the project sessions took place last week.

I arrive at the offices around 10am and the meeting has started. Bev and Tony (Faceless Arts directors) are sitting at the round table downstairs with local artists Helen and Stephanie. They are discussing what we are planning to do and starting to sketch out the workshop plan for the visual arts elements of what will be the local festival activities. Or, according to our EOI, stage one of the project. These will be six (possibly seven) workshops in two locations. Three in one, three in the other. These six workshops will form our local festival activities and will focus on visual arts, composition and story telling, in order to explore what ‘welcome’ means in  contemporary ‘utopia’.

We discuss how the workshops will be led, and what kind of structure they will have. We each talk about how we see the project, what are aims and objectives are, and how we can work together to achieve these. These, for each of us, are different. Of course, we all want the project to be a success. But what does that mean, and how does that look for each of us? Helen, one of the artists explains that for her, she wants the participants to have a high quality creative experience, and for them to be able to take something from it. This gets us thinking about what, exactly, the output could be in terms of creative product. We talk about creating something larger for the organisations with whom we are working. A banner of some sort to ‘welcome’. This will be given to the organisations with whom we are working. But we also talk about the significance of being able to take something away. I for one, have a house bursting with things we have made, with objects that my children and I have worked on together. Wire things. A big lump of plaster covered in glitter. Pieces of clay. Mobiles made from pipe cleaners and pieces of metallic card. And these are just the ones I can see from my sofa right now as I write this. We’re going to be working with silk to create the larger piece, and Helen and Stephanie discuss how we can also give the participants a small piece of silk to work on themselves. Stephanie refers to a ‘dudu’ and at first I assume, in my ignorance, that this might be the name for a particular piece of silk. Of course, in fact, she is referring to a child’s comfort blanket. To a small piece of material which might be carried around, which might be used to stroke a face, which is cuddled and kept. We decide that each of the participants should be given the opportunity to make something to take away. A small piece of silk is easily transportable. Folded into a pocket. Placed in a handbag. Our participants are not children – they are adults. But the take-away-able nature of a small piece of silk makes it a souvenir.

We discuss the sizes that are available and the kinds of frames. How can we make the banner? Will it be bunting? Helen is sketching on a sheet of white paper. Rectangular shapes, arranged horizontally. Attached together with pieces of string.

I explain the TLANG project and my own research. I talk about translanguaging, and how we consider a repertoire-based approach. How, when we think about translanguaging, we think about engaging all the parts of our language repertoire (or idiolect, following Otheguy, Garcia and Reid, 2015 – here). How does this fit with the kinds of visual arts work the artists will be doing? How do we consider this all together? How do all the elements that will form the project fit? How do we remain coherent?

We start to talk about language. We will be working with multilingual groups in both sites. Helen asks whether we can have some translations for the artists to use when delivering the sessions. We think about welcome. How will we ‘welcome’ in the workshops? We think about the word welcome. In doing so, we start to sketch out how the workshops will be structured, and how they will start.

At this point, Maria, the composer arrives. Maria will be working with the participants for two of the workshops, leading on voice and composition. She has brought her little boy along – it’s the school holidays – and he sits quietly as we talk. We go through the project and the aims and objectives with Maria. We talk about translanguaging – it’s normal, she says.

We then split into two groups. The visual artists, Tony, Helen and Stephanie stay downstairs to prepare the resources for the workshops and finalise the planning. Bev, Maria and I go upstairs to the main office to discuss the composition elements to the work. The idea is that Maria will work with the workshop participants and then from this, will be able to produce a vocal score for the resulting performance. We talk about how we can build in ideas and images of the city – the busyness, the movement, the sounds and work these together to create a piece of music. Thinking translanguaging as multimodal, as between modes (see also here), we can consider though these workshops and activities how we make meaning through words, through images, through sounds…and how we can think about the city – the fluidity, the mobility, the noise and the landscape (or lang-scape, perhaps, when considering in terms of the TLANG project – see here and here).

At lunch time we regroup. Helen presents their plans for the silk painting workshop, showing us the small silks that they will use and the ways that they have framed these. She also asks that we provide a translation sheet with the phrases and words that they will use most regularly. They have printed out ‘welcome’ in different languages and will be using this as a starting point. The artists would like to ‘welcome’ the participants through their work, but also in other ways – by ensuring that we provide refreshments for example (we welcome through hospitality). Maria and Bev talk about how the vocal workshops will be led and how these will work within the workshops settings. We then break for lunch.

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