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 at the fair is about the referendum.

Perhaps now more than ever we have to think about utopia, and how we might think about futures in a period of uncertainty..

So, how do we think about welcome during uncertain times?

 

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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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More outputs

By Jessica Bradley 

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Border image created by Charlie Wells, Faceless Arts, from the silk paintings made in the local festival workshops

I’ve been reading about the different outputs of co-produced research in the Connected Communities report, Creating Living Knowledge (2016 – link here). The authors detail six different categories of ‘research outputs’ from projects funded under the Connected Communities umbrella.

It’s a very comprehensive and useful report, and one which works to shed light on the complexities of conducting research of this kind – collaboratively.

The six different kinds of outputs are summarised as follows (I’ve also written about these on my own blog). I’m going to discuss each kind of output in this blog post – these are very much my own personal musings and don’t necessarily reflect the views of the wider project team.

Products

Described by the authors as ‘tangible outputs’, these are, for example:

‘material objects, software, exhibitions, artworks, booklets, guidelines, performances, reports and papers’. (p.122)

For our project, therefore, these are the tangible outputs. The artistic products – the paintings, the film, the composition, the performance, the book. There are the workshops too, which take place next month. The preview is on the University of Leeds campus on 22nd June and the festival itself is 24-26 June.And of course the papers, the conferences, and the publications. I’m speaking about it at the Language, Literacy and Identity Conference in Sheffield in July. I make reference to our work in a book chapter I’m currently drafting.

The film is travelling too! It will be included in a showreel for the Yorkshire Festival as part of an event called ‘God’s Own Country’ and projected onto Weston Park Museum in Sheffield. The idea is that the projections will ‘create a contemporary utopia’. We’re delighted that our film is going to be part of this.

People

The authors describe the ’embodiment’ of research in ‘participants’:

‘this includes legacies for community members, as well as community and university partners. Such legacies relate to learning, to capacity building, to confidence and capabilities, to feelings and emotions, to the development of careers and personal security’. (p.123)

The second category is in many ways less tangible – it can’t be quantified. How can it be measured? It’s difficult. This relates also to the groups we’ve been working with and will continue to work with. What will the legacies be? And how will we gather this information? Some of the groups with whom we’ve been working are very transient. Many of the participants from one site will have left the city now and will be housed elsewhere. We can stay connected to the organisations with whom we’ve been working and collaborating. We are inviting the participants from one group onto campus for the preview and we’re looking forward to seeing them again and talking more about ‘welcome’ and what it might mean in contemporary utopia.

Networks

These refer to the ‘communities’ that co-produced projects bring into being. These ‘new connections, relationships and networks’ are a significant outcome of the research. According to the authors:

‘these networks have the potential to produce a form of what Danny Burns calls ‘systemic action research’ that leads to ‘wider structural changes’ (Burns, D. (2013). Systemic Action Research: A strategy for whole system change. Bristol: Policy Press). (p.123)

I’ve written about the community that has gathered around this project before. Researchers have got in touch to find out more about what we’re doing. People have travelled to observe and take part in the workshops. We gathered together a community to start the project in the first place. Is this a community that can work together – that has the potential for research that can lead to these ‘wider structural changes’?

Concepts 

Do co-produced research projects produce new ‘concepts’? According to the report,

‘a number of projects are beginning to develop new languages, tools and ideas for understanding community that are beginning to gain currency in academic, policy and practice fields’. (p.123)

The word ‘languages’ here is interesting, of course, given the focus of the TLANG project and given the way that we are researching this in one way as a linguistic project. What is the language of ‘welcome’? In the film, Bev talks about the language of visual arts in facilitating discussion and for articulating understandings. The multiplicity of the ‘outputs’ allow for not only different ways of expressing ourselves but also for different ‘things’ to be expressed. In song we expressed the sadness of exile – in a language many of us didn’t speak – Arabic. But the melody and the emotions that we expressed through singing – together – enabled us to share.

Institutions

What are the legacies for institutions? All kinds of participating institutions. What are the implications for those who collaborate and co-produce? (p.124)

What does this mean for all the institutions involved – from large to small? We hope that it leads to further collaborations and partnerships. We would like to continue what we started. To perhaps do things slightly differently – to grow the project from this initial starting point. But it will also necessarily diverge into different offshoots. In the Centre for Language Education Research, a group of us are working together with researchers from a number of other institutions to consider different ways of what we are calling ‘transcreating knowledge’. The arts organisation wants to build on this initial research project. To create something from the prototypes they are putting together for this project. To take it into different places and into interactions with wider communities. The two community organisations have silk paintings which they can display in their buildings. A tangible legacy. But what are the intangible legacies? And for the individuals who participated in the workshops – who took home the small silk paintings they created – will this project mean a slight change in the way that they think about the institutions involved?

The research landscape

How do the effects of these projects affect the research landscape as a whole? (p.124)

This is a small project – and how it affects the research ‘landscape’ is not something that we can consider at this point. But at a ‘micro’ level it’s affected my own doctoral research. It’s given me a different way to consider translanguaging in visual arts settings – not solely as the interactions around the creative activity, but also as multimodal, as ‘within’ the paintings. The paintings as facilitators of translanguaging space (a place for ‘criticality’ and for ‘creativity’), following Li Wei (2011) and Ofelia GarcÍa and Li Wei (2014). It’s also given me new and more comprehensive understandings of co-production (following Lassiter 2005) and how collaborative projects across sectors can provide a space for developing empathic research relationships. These new understandings I take back to my PhD ‘project’, and although not the focus of my research, this side-project definitely feeds into it.

Of course, this side-project links to larger research projects. The TLANG project, of course. And therefore to the AHRC’s Translating Cultures theme. It’s part of the Utopias Festival which includes a variety of different artistic research collaborations. It’s also part of the Connected Communities programme. So it slots into and aligns with a number of different ‘communities’ research wise.

There is another arts project connected to the TLANG project that started in the Spring. Professor Zhu Hua at Birkbeck is working with a visual artist, Ella McCartney, to consider the ‘visual turn’ in translanguaging, (see, for example, TK Lee, 2015). It’s an exciting time to be researching these topics and to be able to contribute to this area. There will be a blog post on the TLANG Project blog very shortly about this (www.tlangblog.wordpress.com). There is also an event which will take place in London at Senate House on 13th June (details here)  on Translation, Translanguaging and Creativity, organised for the AHRC theme of Translating Cultures.

As a framework, therefore, the description of the six kinds of outputs in the report enables me to consider the different threads of the ‘welcome utopias’ project and how they weave together as a whole. It’s useful to think beyond the traditional academic outputs, and also to consider how outputs function for a group brought together for a short period of time to work on a specific project. At a meeting this week with a colleague from the TLANG team, Emilee Moore, and Lydia Catterall from East Street Arts (we looked round the newly opened Art Hostel), Lydia talked about a ‘collaboration of experts’ in co-production and how each individual is needed to perform a specific role. It struck me that this was the ideal way to describe a team working on a project of this kind.

References

Facer, K. and Enright, B. 2016. Creating Living Knowledge. [Online]. [Available from: https://connected-communities.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Creating-Living-Knowledge.Final_.pdf].

GarcÍa, O., & Li Wei. 2014. Translanguaging: Language Bilingualism and Education. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Lassiter, L.E. 2005. The Chicago Guide to Collaborative Ethnography. Chicago, London: The University of Chicago Press.

Lee, T-K. 2015. Translanguaging and visuality: Translingual practices in literary art. Applied Linguistics Review, 6(4), 441-465.

Li Wei. 2011. Moment Analysis and translanguaging space: Discursive construction of identities by multilingual Chinese youth in Britain. Journal of Pragmatics. 43(5), pp.1222-1235.

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