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.
Time to hit the streets: Knowle West never saw it coming. Except they did, from a mile away, and it looked like a big blue ice cream trolley.
A bit of a backstory: so, this residency has been about two things, firstly getting to know how people in Knowle West relate to their homes and then getting them involved in creating a collaborative piece of art for the upcoming exhibition.
I wanted to open up questions of home and what makes home… well, ‘home’ really. I wanted to look at objects, what we surround ourselves with, how we adorn the place with live and why we do this. How the physical space inside our homes makes us feel ‘at home’. Admittedly it has been a bit of a challenge – to get people to let me in their homes and have a nose around really.
I couldn’t imagine that asking up-front would work. So I built a mobile cyanotype unit using a bike trailer; it was something I could take door to door, asking people to bring me an object and take part in making long wallpaper hangings. This is how a typical encounter looked:
‘Hello, my name is Charlotte, I work at the Media Centre.’
The door remains ajar, the owner unwilling to open it fully to this stranger, who has just turned up at their house uninvited. There is a silence.
‘Do you know it? Yes? Well I work there, I am an artist. I am creating a large wallpaper hanging. In my trailer here I have wallpaper covered in this photographic formula.’
I bring out my scraggly piece of tattered blue demonstration wallpaper – it shows the silhouettes of coat hangers and lace curtains, captured in the deep blue of cyanotype. They look at me curiously – untrusting but interest.
‘I’m sorry we already have wallpaper and we don’t want to buy anymore.’
‘No, I’m not selling it, I am making it. I am asking residents of Knowle West to bring me an object. I put it in the trailer, and I expose the silhouette onto the wallpaper, it will be a long hanging artwork out of everyone’s objects from the area. It will be exhibited in the Media Centre in May.’
They pause, their face continues to be unimpressed, dead-pan.
We wait like that for a few seconds, me expecting them to slam the door on my face, or tell me to politely jog-on.
Hang on a minute! They turn back for a minute and return, triumphant-looking, with a child’s toy/ glass ornament/ frog statue/ brass ring/ some strange cooking implement.
‘Will this do?’
And then we put it in the trailer and wait for ten minutes. In this ten minutes we are locked into a conversation. In this time they tell me their stories. Their lives in Knowle West, how they came to acquire the object, the way their neighbourhood has changed, their successes in Weight Watchers, the pain of losing a partner, mother, son, the difficulties in finding a job, a place to live, a recent pregnancy. They show me war medals, Crufts awards, trinkets, gifts, tools and cups of tea. I am sniffed by a hundred different pugs, poodles, dobermans and a Jack Russell who licks my leg for about 10 minutes.
The people of Knowle West are as generous with their personal life stories as they are with their offers of tea and biscuits. It has been eye-opening – not just to the objects and stories but the people behind each door who surprised me every time.
I’m looking forward to seeing it all now at the Test Space Launch on Thursday 11th of May…