Sunday, 27 March 2016

Project Shed. Whats it all about?

Working with Socially engaged artist Beth Barlow Salford Group LKYPG have been exploring giving and sharing in their local communinity. Based in the groups allotment shed Beth and Creative worker Stuart Blair  set out to gather stories, create artistic responses and try out new and novel ideas.

"There's an apple tree near our allotment and every year the fruit drops and rots."

Problem or opportunity we decide.
The project started in April 2015and culminated in a group exhibition in April 2016.
 To find out more about the group involved you can visit their webpage at:
 www.lkypg.co.uk
To find out more about the artist Beth Barlow visit:
www.bethbarlow.com


Monday, 25 January 2016

Inspiration Tennis

One day at "Project Shed" Mary Tombling pressed a list into my hand. It was a list she had compiled the night before whilst watching tv . The title was "10 Reasons We Are Good" and it went on to list all the things herself and her family do which are good. It stretched from helping the neighbour with their garden to the kids doing their homework. A few weeks later she came back with the list drawn and collaged onto a canvas.


The project went rumbling on, changed, got confused, became clearer again. There were a few reasons why we all ended up sat around a table making greetings cards. The first was that people had expressed an interest in making cards, it was a skills some already had. Throughout this project we've tried to harness the skills others bring to the table and grow new skills in others.   The second was that the idea for a "Project Shed" Gift shop was picking up steam. Thirdy, cards give us the chance to stop and think about somebody. Getting a card reminds you that you are in somebodies thoughts.

I didn't want Mary's early work to be forgotten. It was profound and a great act of thinking. So as my contribution to the groups card rack I designed 10 cards around the statements in Mary's work. To make them into statements for greeting cards they changed a little from things like:

"Help with their garden"
to
"If your stuck Ill help you with your garden."
They became almost like vouchers  which you could give to somebody as a reminder that you really meant it when you offered help. A way to gently say that you are there if somebody is struggling.

The original images for the cards were found on the internet, traced over and scanned back into the computer. Printed out at different sizes the left over ones are now a bank of images for future group card making sessions. This fits with the way the group chose to make cards, cutting images from old cards to create new ones. Repurposing images. The text was written on the computer and printed out. The cards were hand collaged and painted. Then scanned back in again. The original cards were given to "Project Shed" card rack. To be given free to those who can make use of them. Print outs of the 10 cards can go into the box  for card making sessions. As each original card goes on its journey so the left over bits are there to inspire more creative sessions. So it goes on until everybody runs out of steam.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

The Lower Kersal And Town Rules Of Giving

This is draft version of my thoughts today. It needs a bit of editing but feel free to read it in its raw state. I'll get back to it tomorrow. 
 
Each of us lives our lives in our own skins with our own experiences and expectations. I had the fortune of growing up in an area which was up and coming. My mother was a cleaner, my father an electrician. They landed on their feet and bought a house when prices were cheaper. My Mum always took us to galleries and museums so we never felt out of place there. One parents evening my geography teacher told my parents that I was bright enough to go to University. My parents came back to tell me, what was probably to them, unexpected news. None of my family had been to University before me. Growing up in Whythenshaw, it wasn't the path they took. But I did and it was good and it gave me a sense that I would be given the chances to succeed. Although I struggle financially as an artist I generally feel in control of my fate. There are never that many mishaps littering my path. I have very high expectations. Here are just a few of my expectations. I expect to live to around 75 or 80. I expect society to provide my son with a good place to build his talents. I expect to be treated with respect when I ring a company. I expect most things to go my way. Sometimes things don't live up to my expectations but most of the time, because I expect them to, they do. If my upbringing had been even more affluent I might have expected to get a good job through a family friend, to get a deposit on a house or be supported in an unpaid internship. Our expectations are all different depending on what we see around us and the experiences we have had. 

Each week or so I take all my expectations to "Project Shed". The shed is based on Kersal Vale allotments. A little oasis of green in a landscape of tight terraced houses and gaping derelict land.
 
My journey home from "Project Shed" takes me by bike from Kersal Vale Allotments in Lower Kersal (Salford) through Charlestown and up into Manchester City Centre to Piccadilly Station. I have visited Lower Kersal as an artist and project consultant many times over the past 8 years. I know some of the people and the people I know know lots of other local people. Although not without its woes Lower Kersal appears to  to have the remains of a tight knit community.  If you want something doing there will be somebody local who knows someone who can get it done. People may complain that they never get a minutes peace, somebody is always calling, everybody knows your business, but this contact means that help comes fairly naturally for those with strong roots here.  There are plenty of opportunities to help. Be it a sudden change to benefits, loss of a job or a dip in health people are often only a few steps away from needing help. There is probably a sense that the state has abandoned responsibility and the slack is silently picked up by kind soles for free. A local pragmatism seems to say "Well if I don't help no bugger else will.". People talk of a sense of inbuilt entitlement  in poor areas but I don't witness that. People appear to feel entitled to very little. People seem to accept that heavy industry will operate on their doorstep, they will live by derelict land (the mark of failed housing market renewal) and that their life span may be less than those living up the road in Manchester. Many people from Lower Kersal seem to accept that they will struggle and life will be littered with disadvantage and mishap. 
 
After cycling through Lower Kersal I go on through Lower Broughton and turn right at a half abandoned shopping precinct called Mocha Parade. This is where my accent into Manchester City centre seems to begin.  The low level houses are replaced with posher apartment blocks.  Whilst the landscape of Lower Kersal and Broughton seems to echo the greyness of a Lowry painting town seems to glow. Not just  in terms of its brighter lights but in the materials used to create it. The difference in the built environments seems to be nothing and yet everything to do with the people who occupy them. Or rather it is perhaps to do with both the expectations of the people who occupy them and the expectations placed on them by those who build for them. Let me try to explain my thinking. What we think we deserve we tend to get. If the powers that be can leave a large proportion of the world population living with poor expectations they can negate their responsibility to give them the good stuff. So a building in town must be made of the best stuff because that is what the people who pass through expect whereas one in a poorer area can afford to be poorly made from poor materials. So town glows before me. As I cycle/walk on through the streets of town I attain an anonymity which I haven't had for the rest of the ride.  I feel like I'm occupying places which don't belong to anybody.  Places I am allowed to occupy temporarily whilst being encouraged to move on quickly. If the open town spaces don't belong to anybody perhaps they belong to everybody? Myself and another artist Simon Kennedy found this to be very much untrue when we set about doing a piece of Manchester town centre based work called "Urban Interventions". The piece saw us performing tiny changes in various environments and noting how people reacted. On Piccadilly approach we placed two cardboard signs with arrows which directed people between one set of bollards as opposed to another. Within minutes of placing the signs a network rail official appeared. We were told that we were not allowed to photograph the station as its logos were copyright and we were not allowed to do anything other than walk on the approach to the station as it was owned by Network Rail. A homeless man joined our debate with a list of things he was not allowed to do. Like good citizens we of course desisted but it outlined just how owned and managed our public spaces and our use of them can be. We are of course all aware of this at a subconscious level and most of the time, unless engaged in artistic mischief, we alter our behaviours accordingly. Most of the time the spaces work for us and our town persona's work for the space. 
 
Along my route there has been a bottle neck created by some building work at Victoria Station. It has forced us usually remote commuters into closer proximity than we would like.  Rather than seeing the fenced space as a temporary inconvenience we become grumpy and intolerant with each other. A mans dog gets tangled up with a lady walking by. My bike causes an obstacle for a man texting and walking. We could just apologies or join in mutual moaning about the space but instead we tut or shout and leave the encounters wondering why the world is full of such idiots. Why doesn't somebody do something about them?

I feel an expectation for the ever watchful state or other powers that be to police this town space. I feel less responsibility to care for my fellow man. Space allowing the people who pass me by are as anonymous to me as I am to them.
 

 




The journey I take each week throws up so many thoughts. A few are noted above. The piece of work I created in response is called " Lower Kersal and Town Centre Rules for Giving". Through the work I'm trying to work out what the unwritten rules might be in these neighbouring places. Its an art work not an exact science so I'm very likely to be wrong. To gather peoples thoughts the rules will be posted on facebook as an online interactive performance tomorrow (Friday 15th January). People are welcome to disagree or agree via comments. The extract below told people visiting the Facebook event what it is all about.

"Throughout the day artist Beth Barlow will be posting a list of rules she has made up. The rules are created from personal observations and conversations she has had in Manchester Town centre and Lower Kersal. These rules are posted on facebook in order that we might chat about them. Are they right or wrong? Is it more complicated than the rule implies? They are designed to look like the phrases which people post on facebook all the time; inspirational phrases with pictures behind them.
Where do the rules come from?
During her residency at "Project Shed" Beth has cycled each week from Piccadilly station to Kersal Vale Allotments. The theme of "Project Shed" was Giving and Sharing. Conversations were generated in Kersal and the thoughts from them played out in Beth's head during her cycle ride back to Piccadilly station. Along the route she noted that there were changes in both her own attitude and the attitude of those around her. It seemed that there was a different way of reacting to others depending on the place. Town seemed to be a place you pass through anonymously, normally quickly. A set of unspoken rules denote the way you walk , where you look and how much interaction with others is allowed. At a point, somewhere near the shopping centre, Mocha Parade a change occurs. The roads narrow, the height of the building changes from apartment block to single dwellings. Here Beth was a stranger. Tiny ques in the way she dressed, her bike etc probably told people this. Whilst there are people who shout hello to each other across the road. Beth knows nobody here. In town knowing nobody doesn't matter, here it might. As Beth gets closer to the place where she has worked for eight years attitude changes again. There are sometimes people she knows and the people she knows know lots of local people. There is a sense of safety, which is perhaps misplaced but there all the same. Each and every day every one of us picks up tiny ques from our environment and the behaviour of others. Nobody writes them down but in our heads they do stick like rules. In the two sets of rules Beth is making the unsaid written. Sometimes it sounds comical, sometimes it seems profound and sometimes it sounds boring. They are written in an objective way, as if they are real. By making them sound so solid and strong it is hoped that they create strong reactions in the reader. Reactions which will provoke people to comment back. If you want to know more about the work you can read Beth's Blog here http://projectshedlkypg.blogspot.co.uk/" 
Facebook post 14/1/16
POSTS

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Christmas Giving?

A post popped up on facebook about Operation Christmas Child which operates in our schools. It is ran by the Evangelist Billy Graham. The article states that the religious converting motivations of the project should be kept from people in Britain. The article can be read here:
http://humanistlife.org.uk/2015/10/14/why-parents-shouldnt-support-operation-christmas-child/

It got me thinking about the idea of gift and it seemed relevant to post my response in this blog.

"I have no issue with religion and the spark it gives to do good. I just think that we should try to be as transparent as we can in our motivations. Of course that is a constant personal effort when working with people whether you are religious or not. Am I saying one thing and expecting something else. Am I promising one thing and giving something else? To give something and say in return I would like this to happen is probably the core of reciprocation, a corner stone of our human society. If its explicit perhaps that is ok. Example of mixed messages was when the pilgrims went to The Americas and were given peace pipes. They took them and put them in their museums. The tribes who gave the pipes had a strict structure with the pipe. At a gathering it was smoked and given to a guest, they would then invite everybody for a do at there's pipe smoked and past on. In this way the pipe was a shared asset kept circulating within the community. The pilgrims took the gift in their own cultural spirit, an asset which they could keep and do what they wanted with. Hench the phrase Indian giver, one who gives a thing but then expects it back. The different cultures felt that the rules of gift were so clear that there was no need to converse about them (or they deliberately misunderstood if you are being cynical about it). Perhaps it is better to make the terms of a gift explicit at the off especially when operating within other peoples cultures. The idea of gift is a much more complex one than we at first think. The reason this article shocked me was because operation Christmas child were marketing savvy enough to realise that in an increasingly secular or religiously diverse Britain the truth of the religious backbone should be deliberately hidden in order to make parents give to them. That's pretty cynical. If they had kept to the same policy given in America, where evangelism is more accepted, each parent could make a choice about if this was the best way for them to give to others this Christmas."

 What are our unwritten rules when we give a gift? What would the rules of Christmas giving look like if we tried to write them down for an alien from outer space? That might be an interesting exercise.

Friday, 11 September 2015

The Unexpected Gift

Today I met with a group from Street Soccer and Mark from the Manchester Anglican Diocese. We chatted about the difference between physical courage, (rescuing somebody from a burning building) easy perhaps and moral courage, (being open to new relationships and having the strength to heal old ones) harder perhaps.

We talked about asking for help.How its hard when you don't have family around you or you've burnt some bridges. Hard when you have been rejected or the people who should be part of your solution (family and friends)are actually part of your problem.  Simple things like finding a baby sitter become tricky. Home isn't all its cracked up to be perhaps and places like St Aidan's become important as a place to seek refuge and reflection, a support network.

One story shone through as a symbol of what we are talking about when we consider the wider power of a gift. Two group members were having a tough time with each other. One decided to build bridges and brought in a cookbook the other liked. Given as a gift from one to the other a new bond was formed around a simple gift and a thought. We talked about how unexpected gifts with a meaning for the giver and the receiver where better than the ones we are obliged to give.  Flowers bought hurriedly from the garage when you forget an anniversary can be an insult but the same flowers bought just because you needed cheering up can mean a lot.

The group talked about their sadness when people leave the group under tricky circumstances. How they would like to see them again or tell them that they still think about them. And at the other end how do they welcome new people? Those who are wondering what the expect and we might be wondering about. We talked about words sent hurriedly over facebook and how slowing down what we want to send makes a difference. Illuminated texts likes monks created, text etched into wood, melted into glass, edited stories or poems or words sewn give us time to consider what we want to say and its meaning. When given gifts of words poured over can mean more.

We are hoping to keep chatting about ideas around the title "The Unexpected Gift" and perhaps we will create something profound together.