Welcome to Utopia! The Utopias Fair, Somerset House

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I’m writing this blog post from the cafe at Somerset House. We’re here for the Utopias Fair which is taking place in the courtyard and includes stands and stalls and many different wares and ideas related to the idea of utopia…

And it’s been a very strange time to do this.

When we first started this project, I don’t think the referendum was particularly on anyone’s mind. Now, we’re here, with our paintings, books, craft activities, our film, our performance which are all around the ‘utopian’ idea of welcome. What does it mean to be welcome? What does it mean to welcome? How do we welcome people?

But the talk on the stand is all about the referendum. How the result yesterday puts our little ‘utopian’ project into a very different context.

Perhaps now more than ever we have to think about utopia, and how we might make a better future.

So, how do we think about welcome, how do we communicate welcome, when as a country we just decided to leave the EU.

This is an interesting analysis by Jan Blommaert:

https://alternative-democracy-research.org/2016/06/24/the-post-brexit-blues/

 

A book, a composition…

This was a busy week for many, many reasons. But progress has been incredible and there are a lot of people who need to be thanked. Faceless Arts for being unflappable and able to move mountains. Sam for his production work and for masterminding the preview logistics while I’m in Spain next week. Tony Shephard for being the quickest and most patient graphic designer.

So we have a vocal score now – thanks to Maria Jardardottir – and it’s beautiful. She’s taken the workshop activities she did in April for our local festival, the theme of the AHRC Connected Communities Festival 2016 (Utopia), the theme for Migration and Home (welcome) and the TLANG project themes (translation, translanguaging and super diversity) and woven everything together into two pieces of music. These will provide the soundtrack to the performance. I’ll be putting samples up here very soon.

Here’s a snapshot of the book cover (courtesy of Tony Shephard @Shephard Creative):

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and a snap shot of the sound file…

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Next it’s the puppets and the performance. And we’re hoping we won’t be obstructed by campus building work!

Utopia and the European project

By Bev Adams, Faceless Arts

A Brief Study of Utopia and the European project, written last week, in Brussels

I am sitting in a café just outside the European Parliament in Brussels. A circular walkway connects the various buildings of the parliament.  Its exterior presents a series of images of people from many countries working together and co-operating.  It is this spirit of co-operation (and in respect of our research project – co-production) that sparks a number of thoughts for me around Utopia, Europe and our project about welcoming refugees.

There are two major topics of conversation here in Brussels– The imminent British referendum of whether the UK wants to be “In or Out of the EU” in three weeks’ time and the refugee crisis.

Having just visited the Parlamentarium which is an interactive museum documenting the formation of the EU, what struck me was the Utopian vision of the EU founders, their desire to collaborate and co-operate by firstly co-owning  and co-managing commodities such as iron and coal in order that, post World War 2, we would cease fighting each other.

500 years ago Thomas More wrote Utopia, short book about a Utopian system of democracy, which is the starting point of our project and we are celebrating it through our Arts and Humanities Research Council funded work.  Thomas More observes that those in power are “more interested in (a) the science of war; (b) to acquire new kingdoms than to govern them properly (c) and too wise and conceited to take advice from anyone else” p8.  This is the counter-essence of the co-operative working principals of European Union, which closely fits More’s imaginary democracy of Utopia. However, critical we are of the EU’s bureaucracy, its democratic (or non-democratic as critics would say) structures, or its perceived legislative power over nation states, its intention is that 28 countries at various stages of development, speaking 24 different languages, sit in cross-national groups to peacefully debate, learn, collaborate and share power to co-organise a united Europe that fairly represents national interests whilst building stronger economies, communities and a cleaner environment for all its EU citizens.

My tour of the Parlamentarium concluded with a stunning photographic exhibition called “Displaced” about the plight of female refugees.  This is inspiring and emotive imagery for our Migration and Home project.  Thomas More observed 500 years ago that “There is never any shortage of horrible creatures who prey on human beings, snatch away their food or devour whole populations: but examples of wise social planning are not so easy to find” p6.  The EU is working together with its member states to provide necessary resources to alleviate the pressures of so many new arrivals on countries of Greece, Turkey and the Baltics.  Whilst many criticise the Shengen agreement as adding to the problem, it is the existence of Shengen which allows Europe to offer safe passage to many fleeing persecution.  The EU is co-ordinating a response, trying to “wisely plan” a social and economic solution to one of the major human catastrophes of our century and the need is great with the arrival of one million refugees and migrants last year – requiring basic provisions, health care, accommodation and education.  A fragmented Europe of independent nation states, each fighting to maintain their own sovereignty (and possibly fighting each other in the process),  would not be able to co-ordinate as an effective response.

The European Union does need to evolve, as all major organisations do from time to time.  It may need a root and branch review, a pruning here and there, but we must not forget what it has achieved – peace between European countries for nearly 60 years.

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Migration and home: preview 22nd June 2016

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‘Migration and Home’ Preview

Wednesday 22nd June 2016, University of Leeds

We will be holding a preview of the Migration and Home project at the University of Leeds on Wednesday 22nd June 2016. Details below.

Time Location Activity Duration
11.00am Parkinson Steps Arrival, meet student ambassadors, walk across campus to the workshop 30 minutes
11.30am The grass behind stage@leeds and the students’ union, Faceless Arts Gazebo Community welcome workshop 1 hour
12.30pm The grass behind stage@leeds and the students’ union, Faceless Arts Gazebo Lunch 1 hour
1.30pm Across campus Driftwood Performance travels to workshop space 30 minutes
2pm The grass behind stage@leeds and the students’ union, Faceless Arts Gazebo Driftwood Performance arrives at workshop space Welcome finale 20 minutes 30 minutes
2.20pm The grass behind stage@leeds and the students’ union, Faceless Arts Gazebo End of day, evaluations 10 minutes
2.30pm The grass behind stage@leeds and the students’ union, Faceless Arts Gazebo Leave/Faceless Arts

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Contact Jessica Bradley, TLANG Project, School of Education, University of Leeds

E: j.m.bradley@leeds.ac.uk ; www.welcomeutopia2016.wordpress.com

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Production of a presentation

By Bev Adams, Faceless Arts

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We have reached the next phase of our project – production – and are preparing our presentation for the Utopia Fair at Somerset House in London in June. The project is multi-faceted, as all Faceless Arts’ projects are, this time with the added facet of co-production with Leeds University TLANG. What will we present? It will include research findings; documentation from our “Welcome” workshops with refugees and asylum seekers in Leeds and Wakefield; a “drop in” workshop and a performance, called Driftwood, that will move through the Utopia Festival site.

The presentation is centered around a market stall. On this stall we will display the “wares” of our project. We will divide the stall in half – half for research findings and half for a “drop” in visual arts workshop. On the research half of the stall we will display the 5 wall hangings on the theme of “Welcome” created with refugees and asylum seekers in Leeds and Wakefield, along with a booklet explaining our research process, photographs from the visual arts and song workshops in Leeds and Wakefield, as well as a media player for the 3 minute DVD created by Paul Cooke. On the “workshop” part of the stall, we will invite visitors to the fair to make a “Welcome” sign, using silver survival blanket fabric to as a base and coloured adhesive vinyls for the lettering. We have also designed a “welcome banner” from the refugee artwork which hang from the stall canopy.

We have designed the puppets and the boat for the Driftwood performance. In brief the performance concept is that of a Driftwood boat with Driftwood puppets sailing through a public space. The boat will be constructed of a light material to look like Driftwood as Driftwood is too heavy at the 6ft size of boat we wish to make. We are also working with the idea of flotsam, so the puppets have driftwood arms and a plastic milk bottle head sporting scarves/hats made from fruit nets.

The idea of the production is that conversations about welcome and arriving newcomers ensue during the drop in workshop, with our artists paving the way for the workshop participants to welcome the refugees. The boat will then arrive at the workshop and we will facilitate participants and audience to provide a safe haven for the boat and its passengers. The participants can wave their welcome “flags” to guide the boat to shore and then use the survival fabric to help the puppets feel warm and safe.

  • Our next stage is construction and final preparation. The “to do” list is as follows:
  • Agree booklet content, choose and print images
  • Print canopy banner
  • Make 20-30 Driftwood/Flotsam puppets, clothe them and make life-jackets
  • Make the boat to carry the puppets
  • Rehearse the show – 3 performers
  • Prepare workshop materials – for preview at Leeds University and a weekend of presentations at the Utopia Fair
  • Site visit to Leeds campus for preview
  • Pack for transportation.

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