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.

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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.

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