We love to share our work with the public and this usually happens here, on our website. We often host events at the end of a project to celebrate those who taken part and also as a platform to share what might have been made along the way. This Autumn, as we come to the closing phase of our 3-year Esmee Fairbairn project The Art of Transformation, we have begun to widen the audience with whom we share our practice.
In October we co-organised a networking event at the ATrium, University of South Wales with Rea Dennis. We have worked with Rea and her students for many years, so it is a natural partnership. Rea was interested in finding ways to develop a network for community-based artists in Wales. We were all able to reflect on how difficult the job of community artists can be, especially if you are working as a solo practitioner, without affiliation to any larger organisation. At Valley and Vale, we wanted to find other practitioners with whom we could celebrate our work, as a way of initiating a professional dialogue that might develop into further opportunities for publishing our work and also creating collaborative projects in the future.
The event was very successful. Both Ali Franks and I presented on some of the projects we have been doing this year, and explored some of the challenges and reflections we discovered from the work, which we thought might be common to other practitioners. Rea also contextualised the work we all do, and brought in some of the academic discourse around this practice. Each presentation was followed by an open-table discussion, which all practitioners fed into. There are hopes that this network might be able to be further developed in the coming months and years to benefit any performance-based artists working with communities in Wales.
The second event I attended this season was the Platforma Festival for Refugee Arts, organised by Counterpoint, held on the 1st of November 2013 in Manchester. The festival spanned three days with a variety of workshops, talks, discussions, exhibitions and performances. The people who attended and presented were a variety of artists who experienced the refugee experience themselves, and also artists and organisations who work with refuges all around the UK.
My presentation reflected on Voyage, a project we did with three African women last year, which ended with three short film portraits. You can view the films on our website. I also ran a workshop as part of the presentation in which I asked participants to go on a short walking journey with someone they didn’t know in silence. When they reached an unplanned ‘destination’ each person would share a story or a thought with the other, before returning in silence again to the room. The aim for the activity was to begin to explore the ways in which we listen to others and ￼the ways in which, as humans, we often want to ‘know’ the other person. This might be called appropriation.
Our Voyage films seek to do the opposite of this: the way they are filmed, suggest we can never really know the other. Each woman’s film is shot in a location which is familiar to us perhaps (always near water), but it is not their ‘own’. Until the final closing shot in which each woman turns to face the camera, all other shots are either profile, medium or long shots. The interviews which made up the text do not document each woman’s journey to the UK, but instead are based on the emotional journey through love, pain, hope, death, healing.
The films were well received and the ensuing discussion raised some interesting points of debate: what is the responsibility and ethics of working with refugees (and I would say any community group)? Can the artist have an aim for the work? Should all community-based work come from the communities themselves?
Sharing our work in these platforms allows us to see what we do in new, expanded ways, which is healthy and important for us. It gives us deeper insight into the nuances and subtleties of the work, and ultimately supports our growth as artists and facilitators on future projects.