Utopia in progress!: project update

By Jessica Bradley, University of Leeds

We have had a few days to pause. Our local festival activities finished last Thursday and the artists are tidying up the silk paintings, creating borders for the silk edges and finishing off the pieces ready for displaying at the Utopias Fair in June. After the Fair, we’ll be giving these back to the organisations with whom we’ve had the pleasure of working over the past month. These are the almost finished paintings :

More pictures to follow!

The larger pieces incorporated the individual designs of the smaller silk paintings that were created by the workshop participants. Helen and Steph then worked on the banners to transpose the original drawings onto the silks. This enabled everyone who took part to take something away with them as a souvenir, or memento, and also to leave something behind.

The vocal workshops led by Maria were recorded, and she will be using the voices, the sounds, the singing, and the shared songs and melodies to create a piece of music – a composition – which will be part of the main performance. This piece of music will also be given to the organisations involved and shared, where possible, with the participants. In this way, we experiment with creative ways of ‘giving voice’ to the people with whom we are working, and with whom we are collaborating. This project is all about experimentation.

During the penultimate session we made a short film. We’re currently in the process of editing the film, of making little adjustments and ensuring the details are all accurate. There are a number of people from the project who feature in the film and we are awaiting their feedback. The vocal workshop provided a soundtrack to this – as did an interview with one of the workshop participants. Paul Cooke from the University of Leeds is producing the film and we are very grateful for his input and expertise. The film will be screened as part of our festival stand at the Utopias Fair. It will also be made available to one of the organisations involved, RETAS, and we hope that they will be able to use it in their work. We also hope, perhaps most of all, that those who feature in the film are proud of their involvement and pleased with the final piece. Because more than anything, this film is about the workshop participants themselves. Mastanash, one of our community volunteers, sent the following in an email after she saw the first edit of the film: ‘…thanks for counting me and my words in it’. In linguistic ethnography we talk often of giving voice, and we talk about trying to flatten the research relationship (see for example, Copland and Creese 2016)- in co-production we get the opportunity to really try and put this into practice. It’s a learning curve in many ways and we’re both supported and restricted by our different institutional guidelines and processes – and our different practices. The filming, and seeing the (extremely fast) way in which the many bits and piece that were filmed by Paul and Rosie were put together into a coherent piece, has been illuminating for me – it seems to be a very interesting and very powerful way of putting (quite literally) words into action. I’m learning so much from this.

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