Artist in residence Charlotte Biszewski is working on the We Can Make…Homes project, exploring how communities could play a leading role in developing new housing for their communities.
The KWMC home-made commission has been an eventful one so far. It is a project which seems so relevant to so many critical debates and issues in Bristol today. Affordable housing, homelessness, the lack of government services. It has been the first project I have been involved in which has given me more than an artistic inspiration.
Being a born Bristolian, I have to admit the shameful truth: prior to this residency I had hardly travelled up into the hills of Knowle West, so for me it really did mean a chance to explore a new location and a new community.
In order to do this residency justice, it seemed important not just to come in and install another outside exhibition but to fully explore the people and community of Knowle West, and get their input into the work. Letting the citizens lead the housing project and not to make any assumptions.
So how do you get to know people when you join a new place? You go to classes, take up an interest and make friends. Wow, does Knowle West have a lot going on in this way. So far I have been to a gardening group, a sequence dance group, the Retired Gentleman’s Woodworking group, the Filwood Chase Historical Society, the baking group, and my two favourites: the knitting group and Hodge Health Bootcamp. My brain and body aches, but I finally recognise people in the street.
The next interest for me has been the home: what makes a home to the residents of Knowle West? How to explore what makes a home a personal space – is it the objects you have? The layout of the space? The neighbours? How do you represent this visually?
Knowle West has a unique landscape, the 1930s style housing, semi-detached red-brick islands are unlike the tight terrace housing seen in the rest of the city. The houses feel very separated, and it has been hard to find ways into people’s homes. A successful mission door-knocking and surveying has opened up the resident’s opinions on what new housing could mean for residents. It has also allowed me to experience many fascinating stories so far and I will be sharing some of their stories through work and documentation.
I have also been using the residency to occupy various locations around Knowle West, specific points of interest in the community – such as the re:work shop and the Filwood Library.
Cyanotype has become my weapon of choice, using it to capture objects and drawings from the project. The antique form of non-silver photography was used originally to make blueprints – it seems a fitting way to explore the home. As a printmaker originally I have had little [opportunity to] explore photography, but working with the Media Centre and the discovery of the Filwood Darkroom it seems only fitting.
I have been using it as a way of capturing object from the homes, in the forms of silhouette photograms. Running drawing and print workshops in Filwood Library using this technique has allowed me to open up conversations and further explore the residents’ experiences in a comfortable setting. I often find that people are more open to relaxed conversation when participating in creative activities.
So eventful so far. I am really looking forward to the test day on 4th March, when St Whytes Road will be taken over by the Media Centre. The We Can Make team will be trying out their ideas for the project, getting the residents engaged with Lego fabrication, interactive activities and cake.