On Thursday 28 May artists, producers and makers who work in and with communities came together over Jitsi (an open-source video call platform) for another Project Night to discuss ‘safe next steps for projects.’
After the last Project Night discussion around ‘Self care and community well being’, where we reflected on our varying experiences of the present, it seemed timely to create a safe space to look towards the future.
We started the session by holding up a drawing or object that represented how we feel now and then a different one for how we feel about the future. The ‘future’ responses varied from blank pages to question marks to words like ‘unpredictable’.
We acknowledged how difficult it feels to imagine the future at the moment. How uncertain and different it is for everyone, with the easing of lockdown opening a sense of freedom for some and increasing fear and precariousness for others. The group didn’t discuss politics in detail, but we acknowledged feelings of confusion and frustration around recent government decisions and actions.
Against this backdrop, we were aware that some artists would have recently received emergency Arts Council England funding while others are starting to find ways to make work or think about projects post-lockdown. With this in mind, we wanted to support each other in imagining possible futures for projects as the situation continues to shift.
We shared some of the questions that our KWMC Arts Producers are asking themselves:
– How are we going to create safe spaces for participation?
– What does safe mean to different people?
– What might hybrid formats of projects look like?
– How do we make sure no one is left behind when everyone’s reality is so different?
– What kinds of impact could so much digital participation be having on our minds and bodies and what is ethical to ask people to participate in?
– What policies are in place to ensure good practice in online formats?
There are of course many more questions. KWMC is currently experimenting with different ways to mix the digital and physical through workshops such as the Making Together workshops in the citizen-led housing initiative We Can Make where people are building things at home using physical making packs and experiencing collective moments of collaboration over phones and video calls.
Before opening discussions around projects, we took a moment to think about two questions:
1.) What do we hope will carry on into the future after lockdown?
2.) What do we hope won’t keep happening after lockdown?
We wrote our thoughts on a virtual cork board at pinup.com or on bits of paper if people were more comfortable with this. Here are some of the things that came up:
The group hoped these things WILL carry on after lockdown:
that family and friends carry on helping each other out – neighbourly consideration in general
more reflection, being slower and more aware of small things in nature
caring for gardens and growing things
thinking about inclusion more deeply and on so many levels
being able to work in the community and noticing the importance of the little things
That people will carry on being kind and understanding that everyone’s circumstances are different
The group hoped these things WON’T carry on / will change:
the stress and emotion of the pandemic
separation – instead being able to hug people
stop using computers so much in our work – start using technology as a tool rather than the be all and end all of my area of work
flying, driving, burning coal and oil and gas to make electricity
so much pressure and things feeling so hectic
This led us to a really interesting open discussion around how we have all jumped to using video calling, as it seems the only viable option for participation at the moment – and how we don’t want to work in this singular restricted way. We expressed worries about digital inclusion, the physical, mental impacts and visual pressures of being present on these calls.
This sparked a brilliant moment of creative play where everyone started holding up eyes to the camera (puppet eyeballs, sticky eyes, eyes drawn on fingers!) – ‘we just don’t know where to look when we are on these calls!’ It was suggested that most of us aren’t really being that creative with video conference tools and that we should run a session on how to hack or ‘reclaim’ these tools – following inspiration from the ‘Women reclaiming AI for activism’ project.
Brilliant ideas were shared around how to:
– re-create those ‘notes under the table’ and informal ‘behind the scenes’ private chat moments that we are all missing – the naughty ‘back channel’ communication. (Wisterlitz)
– create a much needed de-brief moment, post-call, when ‘being with’ people suddenly vanishes.
– elicit confessionals from our ‘caged boxes’ (Claudia Collins)
-make more of the brilliant things people have to hand and the things you can hear in the backgrounds
Wisterlitz shared and got feedback on their new project ‘Knitwitter’ – exploring ideas of data and privacy through knitting! People are invited to convert secret text messages into knitting and contribute to a participatory artwork for Control Shift – a new art and tech programme coming to Bristol this Autumn.
Claudia Collins shared how her Grape-o-gram project has taken off during lockdown. The Grape-o-gram is a door to door wine and song service, delivered by Claudia dressed as a grape! She shared how she has been keeping safe – using wipes and hand sanitisers – and reflected that now feels like a really good time to do door knocking, even knocking many doors at once and standing back to help encourage neighbours to chat. Claudia noticed that people are really welcoming the chat and that ‘fun and silly is what we need now.’ Another project night artist suddenly recognised Claudia as a grape-o-gram had visited her!
We ended with someone sharing their spoon portraits and sang happy birthday as one of the creatives was surprised by a birthday cake and candles. A session full of honesty and joy.
A blog about online access called ‘Access is kindness’ by Lisette Auton, May 2020. The Inaccessibility of the Future (or What To Do When You Just Can’t Zoom).