Tuesday 8 April 2014

Big hART at ICAF Rotterdam 2014

The ICAF conference for me was very inspiring and I attended some really thought-provoking and stimulating workshops – it is therefore hard to choose my favourite. However a workshop on the last day by Big hART stood out for me particularly.
Big hART is a participatory arts organisation in Australia that is dedicated to the arts and social change. They are particularly interesting in their approach to the work in that they are committed to experimentation and innovation. They are a small but progressive organisation, always looking for a new challenge and a new cause.

They bring marginalised issues into the public domain, but most importantly seek to influence change at a political/social policy level as one of their key aims and outcomes of the work. They devise projects that are all about the art, the community and policy.
Big hART is made up of community builders, field workers, researchers, artists, arts workers, and producers.
During their workshop Big hART spoke about a new project Blue Angel, stories of the sea and our slaves of convenience...

The workshop setting was at the Maritime Hotel which was built on an historic Seamen's House (Zeemanshuis) which is an official monument today. In the past seamen visited the house to relax and to stay overnight - to this day, ‘seafarers’ still frequent the bar.

Creative Producer Cecily Hardy introduced the project and we were also joined by a crew of real-life ‘old salt’ seafarers. They spoke about their lives at sea, taught us to tie ropes, sang songs they had written at sea and recited poems. Before this workshop and maybe because I have always lived in land locked places, I have never really given much thought about their lives and the gigantic role that they play internationally, delivering our consumer goods along a liquid highway to our doors” (Big hART) . Without them we wouldn’t have all of day to day luxuries and food that we eat. Their lives are global, rich, multi-faceted and demanding.

Thoughts about their lives included:

isolation, ill- health, camaraderie, issues for female staff, industrialisation, multi-skilled, disparity of pay scales globally, exploitation, different rules for different countries, immigration - global paranoia, complex histories, stories told, missing family members, experiencing the madness of humankind

This ambitious body of work seeks to work with 3 different global port cities and establish a network with shipping organisations and devise a series of festivals.

The seafarers' rich tales of adventure, solidarity, struggle, loneliness, love, sex, and laughter, act as a prism to expose the dire situation today for one million seafarers internationally; some of the most exploited workers on the planet. Blue Angel is a multi-layered project in development, which includes the creation of a performance work woven from actual stories from the ships that will be shaped into forming site specific shows due to set sail in 2015.
...Thoughts urge my heart, that I should myself experience the high seas and the tossing of the salt sea-waves again.

Kate, City Arts

Sunday 30 March 2014

Sin Palabras workshop with Marco Ferreira

The workshop room was almost in darkness and Marco Ferreira from Portugal welcomed us in silently.  Pens and paper on the floor showed us where we should settle in a circle and Marco set about explaining the first activity – in silence, but not ‘sin palabras’, without words – he had a handy notebook hanging from his neck to write key words and explain the aim.  We were to write (with words) our dreams for the future on sheets of A4 and then he led us with movement to peg these thoughts on to ‘washing lines’ in the room.  Next we wrote our names on paper and he explained how to speak our names using our body, and as we each got up to do this there was an interesting dynamic of self selecting the order, with no intervention from Marco.  Very Confident Man next to me went first, then Drama Girl across the way quickly followed.  I decided it best to get it done early, so got in next, then different lengths of pauses developed as people weighed up their options.  There were those who were thoroughly in tune with the methods, and everyone else seemed to think “in for a penny, in for a pound” (“In for a cent, in for euro”?) and pushed embarrassment to the side.

Just as well, as the following activities involved a range of interpretative movement, hugging and non-verbal communication which (In for a penny in for a pound) I found energising and refreshing.  Having been on tour for five days at that point, I was just at the point of feeling pretty ‘talked out’, and there was plenty to take from Marco’s work.  He performed his own piece for us in the middle, which showed how unspoken work can be mesmerising, beautiful and communicate a thousand words.

In choosing the workshop I wanted to reflect on how I work with ‘non-verbal’ participants, particularly those with learning difficulties, but also the shy characters who can easily be side-lined in a noisy group.  The programme had explained that Marco feels “that during artistic processes those with the loudest mouths tend to dominate” and when he works silently there is space for all to contribute.  I worried that the notebook puts pressure on the literacy of the group, but at the same time I could see the some instruction is necessary to get things started.  In spoken sessions the dominant individuals can sometimes take their opportunity to ‘say their piece’, as if broadcasting their views, without having to engage with or even acknowledge the reflections of others.  I can see that working in silence pushes everyone to take notice of every non-verbal cue.  It heightens the senses and instantly turns individuals into the cooperative team, as we are reliant on feedback and interaction to communicate, as if it were a puzzle to be solved.

As the session progressed I found myself reflecting on the ‘noise addiction’ suffered by most of the young groups I work with.  How lovely it would be to reduce the cacophony to total silence, to demonstrate what you miss when you must fill every second with sound.  I know some young people who would find this terrifying – and I might just try it!

Sophie, High Peak Community Arts

Friday 28 March 2014

Legend of the True Cross workshop with Peter Schumann

There was a certain degree of luck of finding myself in the Zuidplein Theatre Auditorium ready in time to start a workshop with Peter Schumann of Bread and Puppet Theatre. The session started at 5. The plane landed in Amsterdam at 3, the train to Rotterdam left at 4, the underground ran on time, and I arrived with 5 minutes to spare. If any of those elements had slipped then I would have been a no-show.  The Bread and Puppet Theater is a politically radical puppet theater, active since the 1960s, and was opening the ICAF conference with two pieces of work. The first was a piece premiered 50 years ago, and the second was developed in the last year. Their style is about sophisticated storytelling with simple puppets. Their puppets are rough and ready, but somehow develop a soul in their animation.  The first piece was based on a traditional Japanese story, about a body in a river. Taller than life puppets moved gracefully across the stage, gently telling a timeless story. The second, The Legend of the True Cross, was about the last twig that came out of paradise that grew over ages to become the wood of the cross.  The final moments of this second piece had a space in it at the end, left deliberately in order to find a local group of participants to fill it. 

This was what my smooth running travel schedule had allowed me to be part of.  A group of about 30 ICAF delegates made up the willing participants, and in the next couple of hours we built something to go in the space. Led by Peter Schumann with his supporting cast of puppeteers, our group became a single entity, and was 'operated'. It was an interesting process, very physical, with a sudden breaking down of personal barriers...30 new friends whose names I didn't know, but who were standing very close!  The overall performance was about an hour, and our group were part of the final moments. Elements started to unfold, from a cast of 30 hidden in plain site in the auditorium, we moved on stage for a stylised battle scene. No sides, no goodies or baddies, but everyone dies in the end.  What was a mystery to us was the story that took us there. 

To that end, we were back to being audience again, all be it audience in a black suit and tie. A small clue was given by one of the performers when he told the audience that the second piece was an hour long. That was all we knew.  Our cue was the small tap of a hammer on a nail, as the True Cross was used for the first time. We all stood up, one on the end of every row of seats, looming suddenly over the audience. Simple physical gestures were communicated up and down the line as we moved together. Gradually, we made our way onto the stage. Again, simple clear cues, the crash of a symbol, the line of a song, meant our single unit of 30 moved together, slowly, with clear and deliberate movements. This time, there was a sense of understanding, not just because we were performing in front of a live audience, but because we too had been told the story, and now knew how we were part of it.  This was a simple shared moment with the rest of the 30. 

What did it do for me as a participant? It opened up another company's process for a moment that gave me an insight into the 50 years of artistry that Bread and Puppet Theater have developed. It took me out of my comfort zone, and demanded a leap of faith in the process, because there was a moment in there that meant, without context, we were just puppets.

Alison, City Arts

Feeding into CAL-XL training

Tuesday afternoon saw the Caravan of Dreams rolling up at the Kunst-Balie venue in Tilburg to join a training session organised by Sikko Cleveringa of CAL-XL.

As far as we understood some arts centres had been awarded contracts to use the arts for community development by housing associations and this was training for the appointed workers. We came in towards the end of their day to give some insight into our experiences. Each EMPAF organisation gave a short presentation illustrating how they had tackled a particular issue through using the arts. Afterwards the training participants chose one EMPAF presenter to talk with further with the task of coming up with a mind map at the end.  

I was very surprised to learn that some (maybe all?) had contracts of only one year to undertake their work and wondered about the expectations of what they might achieve in so short a time. But it was not my role to ask them questions rather to try and answer theirs.  

We had a lively discussion about engaging young people through on street activities and how you might try to manage the dilemma of younger children joining in and potentially driving the older ones away.  

Talk then turned to working with elders and I had to admit that this wasn't an area of my work but that I had had my 88 year old mum living with me for the past 4 years which I was told was a very unusual phenomenon here in the Netherlands.  The session then continued with much laughter and many questions about my experience and before we knew it time was up and no mind map had been produced.  

The verbal feedback by one of the group focused primarily on the latter discussion so I hope this was also valuable for them for their work. I really enjoyed meeting with the group and wish I had had more time to find out about what they were going to be doing and how. I had been very impressed with the achievements and dedication of Wikke Peters in a Eindhoven neighbourhood who had hosted us the previous day and if members of this group approach their challenges with the same determination as her then who knows what they will be able to achieve in one year?

Sally, Soft Touch

Notes from Incubate Festival, Tilburg

Joost Heijuthuijsen from Incubate hosted us on the first part of our visit to Tilburg. Based in an elegant and stylish building that they managed to get for a knock-down price, Joost gave us a presentation about the Incubate Festival.

This is an annual week-long event featuring 'cutting edge' art work, that, in the 9 years since it began, has developed into what has been described as "one of the most interesting festivals in Europe".

What makes this festival interesting and distinctive is its combination of cutting edge work and community involvement. These are some of the words and phrases that Joost used to describe the values and flavour of Incubate:
"do it yourself - use what you have around you to get things done"
"Don't fear mistakes, learn from them"
"It's better being different than being average"
"Be innovators not imitators"
"Content is king"
"Value your values"

From a small start with hardly any funding, the festival has grown into a full-time operation with a turnover in the region of €900k and income from local and national funds, sponsors and ticket sales. The event now attracts visitors - and artists - from around the world while still retaining the involvement and spirit of Tilburg's local communities.

We were struck by how the festival organiser's radical approach and commitment to leftish ideals were being embraced by authorities who could see the tourist and economic benefits of 'doing something different'.  We were also impressed by some of the different ways that local communities were engaged, starting with internationally renowned artists being hosted by local people not hotels.

Although the festival has grown significantly, this open and welcoming practice continues. Using familiar music, such as folk, audiences who wouldn't normally be interested in other art forms and especially cutting edge work, are drawn in to new experiences and social spheres. Community forums have been created to involve local people in curating aspects of the festival and, despite some fears that this might 'dumb down' the content, this more open approach has helped keep a bold, exploratory edge to the programme.

Madeline, City Arts

Thursday 27 March 2014

Brief thoughts from our interviews

We have lots of work to do on the masses of video we have collected - but while we wait for the final results here are just a few samples.  They represent a few of the ideas we've found repeated in themes across many of our encounters.

Wednesday 26 March 2014

Caravan of Dreams - Intro Video!

So finally after waiting for what seems like days and days and days....

I have managed to upload the short film made which introduces the Caravan of Dreams nicely! Please enjoy - and if you really enjoy - please share and tell all your friends!

Millie =)