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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Utopia? Lessons from SAR 2016

By Jessica Bradley 

I spent the end of last week at the Society for Artistic Research conference in The Hague with my colleague, artist Louise Atkinson, with whom I presented a paper which was based on a work in progress that is our writing collaboration. The theme for the conference was ‘writing’ – writing as practice and practice as writing. Our paper was about writing in digital space, and the multimodalities of interdisciplinary collaborative work. It was a messy piece – very much work in progress. I really enjoyed presenting it, and the conference in general. We had some interesting feedback, heard some fascinating papers, and had some good conversations.

The morning before I left for The Hague, we held the penultimate of our local festival workshops in Leeds. I’ve written about this workshop here. I was disappointed to miss the final session on the Thursday, but very grateful that two of the TLANG team – Co-Investigator Mike Baynham and post-doctoral researcher Emilee Moore – were able to attend in my place and also to experience what we’ve been doing. I read emails from Emilee and Mike about the workshop while I was at the conference and was delighted to hear how they had found it all.

Being away was great for many reasons. First of all, being able to hear from such an array of speakers – from art, philosophy, literary studies, academia – was wonderful. Secondly, being away from the day-to-day on occasion really helps me to see what I’m doing from a different perspective – including getting a new perspective on this project. Thirdly, presenting my work with Louise – albeit our messy work in progress – enabled us to work out where we are going with what we are doing. I should add that the speakers in one of the plenaries mentioned that they had embarked on a similar kind of endeavour to ours – which is an emergent taxonomy of writing (see here for the current version, for which Louise should take the majority of the credit).

So what lessons can be drawn from the conference itself? For me, the main lesson is around the importance of conversation. The conference was about writing, yes. But in the conversations (with artists, with composers, with psychogeographers, with photographers) I learnt more about what I am doing. I learnt more about translanguaging. I spoke to a Finnish artist who carves out the words of letters that were written three generations ago into the snow using her feet. The words are in Tartar, a language spoken by fewer than 1000 people in Finland. Where is translanguaging here? Can we think about art of this kind as translanguaging? As translanguaging space, carefully created? As ephemeral space? What is it about the snow, what is it about its temporality that makes this the space in which she chooses to do this and the media which she chooses to use? What is it about carving out the words using her feet, the embodiment of the words? What is it about writing  directly onto the ground? Is it that she feels every word? And of every word affecting every part of her movement as she writes? I have been wondering about it since I first had the conversation with her over lunch on Thursday in the foyer of the Royal Conservatoire. We talked about translanguaging and she said that it does in some way conceptualise what she is doing with language, with embodiment, with the landscape.

In the opening plenary by Alva Noë, he compared choreography and writing. He said that we need to invent the means to write ourselves – to write what we are saying and what we are doing.

According to Noë, dancing is a way in which we organise. As human beings we are dancers and we are creatures of dancerly habit. Choreography does not make more dancing but it does create a perspicuous representation of our dancing selves (following Wittgenstein). This loops down and changes the way we dance. In the same way that writing loops down and changes the way we talk. Choreography and writing can reorganise the activities that are presupposed. Revolution by remaking as an inevitable by product. Writing entangled with the linguistic activity it presupposes. Choreography entangled with the dancing activity it presupposes.

Noë is suggesting, therefore, that writing and choreography have similar purposes and functions. So…choreography / writing is what is required of us if we are to thrive and survive…

But what does this mean for the Welcome Utopias project? How is this relevant? Why am I writing about this here, in this blog post? I have been considering this, and the conversation with the artist who writes in snow (my 3 year old also likes to use her feet to make art – she paints with her feet whenever she can). If writing loops down and changes the way we talk, is this not what has been happening in our workshops? The silk paintings, the writing out of words in different languages. The placing together of the words, the images, onto a larger piece. The bringing together of each individual’s piece of work into a whole. Does this loop down and change the way we think? And what of co-learning, what of co-production, what of collaboration? Do these loop down and change the way we work? The way we communicate with each other? Is it all completely entangled?

Mike sent this reflection on the workshop he attended in an email to the TLANG team. The photo shows a product of the silk painting part of the workshop, which as you can see is highly multilingual, the singing/voicework sequel also brought in a Persian song and Panjabi Sikh meditation chants.  When he left the man who gave us the Sikh chants took a photo with an imaginary mobile then touched his heart, as if to say “I will carry the memory of this morning in my heart”. 

The writing in the snow, the taking of imaginary photos. In the workshops I have been talking to people about what it means to be welcomed. So many of the people, when talking about welcome, touched their hearts. Hearts, phones, feet, snow. Pens. Ethics forms. Hearts, phones, feet, snow. Pens. Ethics forms. 1,2,HMMM,4,1,2,HMMM,4,1,2,HMMM,4.

On a completely different note, while I was in The Hague I saw a mouse. As I walked along the corridors of the Royal Conservatoire, passing rehearsal rooms and workshops, cellos, shopping trolleys and concert posters. A tiny, grey mouse scuttled along and into a cupboard right in front of me. Not in a windmill. Not in Amsterdam. Not quite like the song. But close enough to tell my children the tale when I got home.

What is translanguaging?

The Utopias project links to and builds on the TLANG research project (http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/generic/tlang/index.aspx) which investigates linguistic and cultural transformations in superdiverse wards in four UK cities. The research project is described by Principal Investigator Professor Angela Creese:

‘The research will make a significant contribution to knowledge about the potential of multilingualism as a resource for communication, creativity, and civic participation’.

Therefore, mirroring this but also perhaps switching it round, we are exploring in the Utopias project what the potential of creativity is as a resource for communication. We can consider how research into multilingual practices might inform arts practice. We can also consider how arts practice might inform linguistic research into multilingualism. But also, and crucially, we can consider how multilingualism can be a resource for communication – in terms of how experiences of working with multilingual groups, the adaptation of workshops and consideration of ‘communication practices’ within these settings might feed into arts practice with community groups.

But where is translanguaging within this? And how do we explore translanguaging, and, for a public engagement project of this kind, explain translanguaging?

On the TLANG project website, we summarise translanguaging in the following way:

When people ‘translanguage’ they make meaning through linguistic signs accessed from diverse sources. Translanguaging leads us away from a focus on ‘languages’ as distinct codes to a focus on the agency of individuals engaged in creating, deploying, and interpreting signs for communication. Translanguaging includes the full range of linguistic performances of multilingual speakers, beyond the simple alternation between languages, or ‘code-switching’. A focus on translanguaging enables us to see how everyday practices and identities are rooted in the trajectories of the multiple communities to which individuals belong, and how they develop and transform.

Taking into account this description as being ‘the full range of linguistic performances’ we are applying translanguaging as a lens within arts workshops of this kind. How do people communicate with each other in a multilingual setting? What resources are employed? How does the activity intersect with the languaging practices within the workshops? Do particular settings or activities encourage translanguaging?

A conversation with a colleague, who has been researching translanguaging over a number of years, with work in Barcelona, New York, and now Leeds, that arose yesterday at one of our project meetings has led me to consider again translanguaging as an analytical tool and go back to some of the original conceptualisations of translanguaging. It is important as research moves and shifts, and all kinds of detours are taken, that I go back to the literature regularly and remind myself of the origins of the terms we are using (for example, translanguaging, super diversity). Are these applicable, or is something else happening entirely?

An interview with Ofelia Garcia has recently been published in Psychology Today. In it, she states: Only by drawing from their entire language repertoire will bilingual students be able to demonstrate what they know, and especially what they can do with language. Within settings of the kind that we are exploring with this project, the participants may have often only recently moved to the UK, and are in the early stages of learning English. The artists speak English. How do the artists and the participants communicate in order to complete the task? The task being a piece of silk painting. What is the role of the activity and how does that work to facilitate communication? The repertoires that are drawn on within these contexts – by the participants and by the artists – include the practice itself, the painting, the methods. Do we consider this as translanguaging, or as something else? Garcia goes on: Being able to perform with language-specific features legitimized in schools is not the same as having general language ability or being knowledgeable of content. All those participating in the workshops are able to produce a painting by the end of the workshops. And, interestingly, the workshops also become English classes in themselves. How do you say paintbrush? How do you say ‘welcome’? What does it mean to ‘welcome’ somebody? We have been considering this multilingually – by writing words on the silk paintings, by talking within the group. In the last workshop, I also painted a piece of silk. I was a novice – I’d never painted silk before. My paint bled outside the lines. We shared the experience of learning something new.

Garcia goes on to say:

Translanguaging pedagogy requires a different type of teacher, a co-learner. Classrooms are increasingly multilingual in the world. It is impossible for teachers to know all the languages of students. But it is possible for teachers to build a classroom ecology where there are books and signage in multiple languages; where collaborative groupings are constructed according to home language so that students can deeply discuss a text in the dominant school language with all their language resources; where students are allowed to write and speak with whatever resources they have and not wait until they have the “legitimate” ones to develop a voice; where all students language practices are included so as to work against the linguistic hierarchies that exist in schools; where families with different language practices are included. Any teacher, including a monolingual one, can take up translanguaging to enable their bilingual students to make deeper meaning and legitimize their home language practices.

Likewise, it is impossible for us to know the languages of all the participants in our groups. But by producing paintings and using different languages – we perhaps go a small way to develop a translanguaging pedagogy within the workshops. A small step, granted.

In one workshop, one of the participants wanted to talk to me about his home language – the language used in his tribe. He wanted to know how to preserve it. He showed me YouTube videos which showed examples of the language, and of its alphabet. He wrote words on the page and we worked together to produce the words so they could be incorporated into the larger silk painting. We were then able to direct him to people at the university who would be interested in finding out more about his language. Perhaps, in line with Garcia’s words on translanguaging in this article going some way to explore home languages, and legitimise their practice.

Thoughts on translation

This arts-language project is both practice and research – and we have been through a full ethical review process at the university. We have created documentation relating to the research elements of this work and also to the visual arts elements. We are asking participants if we can take photographs, if we can record our conversations about ‘welcome’ and if we can, eventually, produce a short film. Although we have tried to keep the documentation concise – it has, inevitably, become a four-page document. One of our project volunteers has translated the document into Farsi and Kurdish, and asked a couple of her contacts to translate it into Arabic and Urdu. She did this over the course of just one weekend – and we are so grateful for her input. She also translated a poster and some words and phrases for the artists to use during their workshops.

As the participants arrived for the workshop this morning, we started to give out the documents. A large proportion of the group wanted the Arabic version – and it was a relief that we were able to provide this for them.

Translation became something that took place throughout the workshop. The activities themselves – the preparing of the silk, the sketching out of the image/text, the ‘guttering’ process, the painting – all needed to be explained and translated. This was done through a range of different modes. Through demonstration. Through an example. Through explanation. And in the conversations that I had throughout the workshops, which will eventually form part of a book around the theme of ‘welcome’ in ‘utopia’, became conversations about translation. About words for welcome, and where these words come from. What these words mean and where and when they are used. Where do the words come from – two of the workshop participants talked about ‘welcome’ being ‘in your heart’ – which reminded me of Brigitta Busch’s work on the lived experience of language (see here, for example).

For the silk painting workshop, the group were given examples of the kind of work that they could do – using words or pictures. Most of the group started with a word – the word ‘welcome’ in English, the word ‘welcome’ in Arabic. Then images, then colours. One of the participants drew a house, with two clouds in the sky, raindrops falling. He said, my house is for sheltering people from the rain – this is how I welcome.

We will start to gradually put some of the images of the work on this blog.

Exploring translanguaging?

by Jessica Bradley, TLANG Project

The interdisciplinary approach which draws from language research and visual and creative methods, the diversity of methods, and the expertise of the team means we can make a clear and valuable contribution to the project theme of community futures and utopia. A superdiverse society denotes a mobility and movement of people. We believe that the exploration of notions and ideas around ‘welcome’ presents an important interpretation of utopia. The connections between ‘utopia’ and ‘welcome’ are central to this project: we want to feel ‘welcome’ when we travel, when we move neighbourhood, when we move country, when we meet new people. What is it that makes us feel ‘welcome’? How can we explore these ideas with language and creative practice?

Linking to and leading from TLANG, which focuses on multilingualism and translanguaging, allows us to reach wider and more diverse audiences to both engage and to further develop and interrogate our research aims and outcomes. This also enables us to contribute to the broader Connected Communities themes of developing arts and humanities-centred research in and with communities.

The original funding call asked for projects that could build on existing research that is being funded by the AHRC. The TLANG project (funded under its Translating Cultures theme – see website here: http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/generic/tlang/index.aspx) is investigating how people communicate across languages and cultures. The project is being led by Professor Angela Creese at the University of Birmingham.The researchers are conducting ethnographic research in four cities across the UK – Birmingham, Cardiff, Leeds and London – across four case studies: business, heritage, sport and law.

Our interest is in translanguaging practices, or how people make meaning using their communicative repertoires. (For a useful and comprehensive introduction to translanguaging see Ofelia Garcia and Li Wei’s book, Translanguaging: Language, Bilingualism and Education (2015)). There are also an increasing number of working papers on the TLANG website in which you can read more about the initial research findings (see here: http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/generic/tlang/working-papers/index.aspx) and about translanguaging practices in superdiverse cities. We are adding to these working papers throughout the project. Four working papers from the first case study – business – are there currently, alongside a growing body of work which is emerging from our research, developed and written by members of the team.

A starting point for the TLANG project in terms of how we are thinking about translanguaging is how people ‘make meaning through linguistic signs accessed from diverse sources’ (http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/generic/tlang/methodology/index.aspx). Li Wei describes translanguaging as being ‘both going between different linguistic structures and systems, including different modalities (speaking, writing, signing, listening, reading, remembering) and going beyond them.’ (2011: 1223, my italics). Our ‘Utopias’ project therefore explores translanguaging through developing understandings of how people consider ‘welcome’ to be in contemporary ‘utopia’, using different arts practices as a way to facilitate but also to communicate people’s ideas and stories.

How will the participants use silk paintings to consider ‘welcome’? Will the paintings be created with words, with symbols, with pictures? What kind of conversations will arise over the course of the workshops around these themes? We will start to talk about what ‘welcome’ means, and how we can consider ‘welcome’ in a utopian sense. How do we want to be welcomed when we travel? When we move location? When we move country, city? When we leave everything and start somewhere new? A composer will come to two of the workshops and lead a song and composition session, in which she will use vocals to explore the idea of ‘the city’. This links again to our TLANG research, which takes place in superdiverse wards in four UK cities. What are the sounds of the city? Where do we feel welcome in the city? The composer will work through these questions using sounds and vocal improvisation. How can we consider translanguaging practices in a setting of this kind? How can we capture, document and consider the moving ‘between’ different modalities?

We start, therefore, with many questions. No doubt we will find more questions across the process. We hope to find new ways of exploring these questions, and new ways of interpreting the answers. We also hope to build on this initial project and find new collaborations, new research avenues and new questions