An Adventure Through Time & Space

By: Zeina Dghaim

www.zeinad.com

Every object tells a story.

I present to you an Adventure Through Time & Space. A story about four objects from the Aga Khan Museum collection. An astrolabe, a manuscript (101 Nights) – not 1001 -, a lampstand, and a basil pot (Alfabeguer). An innovative approach combining music and motion design to renew artefacts from museum collections, preserving their beauty, functionality, and stories. I hope to inspire kids and adults through this storytelling as much as these artefacts and musical repertoire have inspired people for centuries.

Repertoire: Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh, Sheherazade.

Title: The Story of the Kalendar Prince The St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, Yuri Temirkanov. Courtesy of Signum Records – thanks for supporting my endeavours in reviving the classics, making their magic and beauty accessible to people worldwide.

A special thanks to an incredible team at Beyond for their collaboration in the animation production.

About The Animation & Approach

The animation reinforces cultural literacy by engaging visitors with the history in cultural spaces like museums, notably a collection of artefacts dating back to Al-Andalus (Spain) consisting of metalwork, woodwork, and scientific instruments and manuscripts. The animation targets families of all ages, propelling a sense of curiosity and discovery about the objects, provenance, functionality, craftsmanship and material production. Furthermore, the animation approaches cultural literacy from a global lens and cultivates cross-cultural awareness by weaving connections between objects from different regions showcasing collaborations between scientists, artisans, and polymath.

The animation activates objects through motion design where modern meets tradition, emphasizing the spirit of collaboration, human utility, and craftsmanship, promoting the notion that diversity is an ancient space for collaboration.

Inspired by the collection, the model aims to renew objects from permanent collections minable for their cultural connections, from which emerges new object relationships and storylines that museums can leverage.  The value is an economical use of existing assets held in a museum coupled with a new approach to storytelling for audiences using pre-existing information in a new format. The model helps us reimagine the objects in a new way.


I created a model (in its prototype stages) integrating motion design, objects, and the concept of cultural networks. The model’s primary goal is to renew storytelling in museum collections. First, I study the objects and their provenance, create a database where I index the data and metadata, then use GIS (Geographical Information System) to map the information and identify cultural connections and clusters. Finally, I use the findings to outline the main concepts and build a storyline. 

Then the real fun begins…

Writing the story, coming up with the conceptual design, script, and scenes; incorporating cultural elements and patterns, designing and animating. In this case, Rimsky Korsakov’s Sheherazade directly correlates with the Nights tradition in the 101 Nights cultural cluster. Likewise, the Kalendar Prince is a perfect accompaniment to the animation due to its wonderous feel and tone. I take careful consideration to harmonize delicate design movements with the musical rhythm.

For Better or Worse: Socially Engaged Practices

Guest Blog by Anthony Schrag
www.anthonyschrag.com

Over the past few decades, there has been a growing interest in participatory processes. There is now a “necessity of ‘civil society’ participation in decision-making processes” (Saurugger, 2010). The realm of culture has not escaped this “participatory turn” (Bishop, 2012). ‘Socially Engaged Practices’ occupy a central place within the sector. Major cultural expressions in the form of exhibitions, projects, festivals etc. become mechanisms designed to integrate the cultural sector into different domains such as education, social work, health and so on. Problematically, this work often involves the expectation that the outcome will be ‘transformative’, where ‘transformative’ is often assumed to mean ‘making better’, without first having analysed who is defining this ‘better’ and on what terms?

This problem with the notion of ‘transformation’ is an ethical one. What are the real goals of artists (and arts organisations)?  What objectives inform their relationship with the participants involved in their projects? What does the term mean for them? Participants have their own goals, politics and desires. They are not inert materials which can be shaped and moulded like clay or paint. Sophie Hope’s brilliant PhD Participating In The Wrong Way (2012) brings this problem into relief by highlighting the fact that funded participation projects often focus on communities which are elderly, socio-economically deprived, non-white, women, or criminal. What does it mean to try and make these constituent communities ‘better’? And what are the underlying assumptions about these people’s identities and their role in the world?

Hope’s work highlights the way in which assumptions such those described above are often reductive when defined as ‘democratic’. Hers is one of a litany of voices that challenge the instrumentalisation of artistic practice; her study The Cultural Policy Collective (2004) claimed that transformational programmes were indicative of a “growing crisis of democratic legitimation and social justice”.  More recently, Hewitt (2011) argued that artists were being positioned as “service providers” to a welfare state that was to-all-intents-and-purposes a “distortion of the public sphere”, while Vickery (2007) stated that such work was being utilised to “construct civic identities” amenable to a state.

The critique of commentaries such as these has become more rather than less relevant, even if Covid 19 has put its potency provisionally on hold. While responsibility for distorting the function of artistic practice is based squarely on the shoulders of governments and cultural institutions, artists themselves are not innocent of bending policy to their own ends, if only to secure their own material survival.

I would not want this blog to become a polemic for socially engaged practices to be more ‘political’ and driven by the missionary zeal of building a leftist utopia: no, this too would be an equally problematic form of instrumentalisation, one which would leave little space for complicated narratives and the pluralistic nature of the public domain.

I call this my “Grandmother Problem”. My Grandmother (all 4 foot 9 of her; hair permed like the Queen) would have thrown herself in front of a bus if she knew that it would mean I would be safe. She was also a staunch conservative, and deeply capitalist.  Most art activists would have written her off as ‘wrong-headed’, rather than someone who just had a different idea of how to make the world ‘better’.  Socially engaged practice shouldn’t play politics by trying to create an alternative exclusionary utopia.

Instead, I call on practitioners in this field to reflect on the intentions and functions of ‘participatory work’ and to consider the answer given by artist Anne-Marie Copstake when asked “Whom do you work with?”. She answered: “I work with people who are not me”. Her response reveals the radical dimension of participatory practices: to meet and interact with those who hold different political concepts, who speak to different priorities and have other ideas of how to make the world ‘better’. To participate with such people is not to eradicate their beliefs and replace them with our own: rather it means to explore how we exist together.

This is not about creating consensus: rather it is about ensuring dissensus. As Rosalind Deutsche (1996) argues: “Conflict, division, and instability […] do not ruin the democratic public sphere; they are conditions of its existence”. The work of socially engaged practices, therefore, is to advocate for the democratic sphere by ensuring a multiplicity of perspectives: including – and especially – those different from our own, and not to use the practice to transform others according to our own image. To ‘transform’ after all, can also mean ‘to make worse’. 

Changing Tack

Guest Blog in association with Artist Hannah Fox

I grew up in the 1970’s ‘on the road’ with the legendary collective of artists Welfare State International, a wild and evolving band of musicians, performers, dancers, pyrotechnicians, sculptors and writers. We lived in caravans and toured the World making work in communities, creating art and wonder, giving, teaching and usually leaving behind a creative impact in the places we visited.

Since then, for 30 years, I have been a professional freelance Artist undertaking my own work; making films, digital animations, projections, theatre shows, installations and constructions, all in a public context. I am asked into settings; a community, a landscape or a conundrum that needs an artistic response, process and outcome and I utilise whatever art form best suits the idea, the place, the purpose and the budget.

‘Running as a deer’ age 10, twice nightly. WSI show Lyme Park 1981
Image Credit: Ged Murray.

Reflecting on my recent past work I remember a project devised and undertaken with Kate Drummond in Paisley.
A close up, hands-on, socially engaged art work involving food, shared tables, intimate conversations and communal vinegar bottles.

Everything about this work seems an impossibility now;


The Fry-up

Over three days in March, 2019 we set up camp in Castelvecchi’s Fish & Chip shop in Paisley gathering true tales of adventure, love, life, loss and fish suppers from the cafe’s customers. In crisp white aprons we circulated around the tiny formica tables and slide in bench seats bringing tea, plates of chips and listening to tales told by the local customers visiting that lunchtime. All the stories where hastily noted down in our order books and then sifted and collated. We turned these stories into a newspaper – The Castelvecchi Chronicle. Hot off the press, the newspaper was then delivered back to the cafe for the classic ‘keep em warm and soak up the grease’ function. The wonderful proprieter, Alfredo Nutini, who made us welcome, made us chuckle and kept us well fed, wrapped the fresh daily orders at the Take-Away counter in The Castelvecchi Chronicle, to be taken home and read, warm and greasy, during supper.

We further presented our gathered work back in the chip shop one tea time delivering the ‘News of the Day’: a ten minute sketch show with an audience at the cafe tables. Everyone then tucked into a delicious poke of chips served up in the newspaper.

François Matarasso, artist, writer and researcher, author of ‘A Restless Art’ (London 2019) https://arestlessart.com  writes about this project;

“On Saturday, the postman brought a copy of the Castelvecchi Chronicle, a newspaper of goings on, in and around a fish and chip shop in Paisley. It’s a delight. Little stories from customers, organised under rubrics such as “Lost and Found’, ‘Good News!’ and ‘Wish of the Day’. Glimpses of life, change, hopes and losses. The words were gathered over three days in March by Kate Drummond and Hannah Fox, who met in the 1990s at Glasgow School of Art. The newspaper – printed using food-safe inks – was used to wrap up fish suppers on a Thursday in late May and the artists performed a 10 minute news bulletin to the diners too. A simple idea, perfectly executed, complete unto itself. It’s what participatory art can be, at its best: quietly nourishing, like a good fish supper. “

https://arestlessart.com/2019/06/17/castelvecchi-chronicle/

The Film

The Film, again in Paisley, again made in collaboration with Kate Drummond and this time also with spoken word Artist Cat Hepburn, was the first project of 2020 and the last pre-Covid,. It was the creation of a playful documentary film made with all the P7s at Gallowhill Primary School: The Gallowhill All Stars. This project required the essential, but now feared, human experiences of talking, playing, laughing and sharing:

Kate writes about it:

“It is a happy and humorous short film capturing a vital and transitional moment in the lives of these 2020 primary school leavers. The film celebrates each pupil’s identity and vision for their future. It was a joy to make. We had planned to have a ‘premiere’ with popcorn and a red carpet in the community centre – but this idea was scuppered by the lockdown.”

Work such as this screeched to an ugly halt at the onset of the pandemic.

Stunned for a while, I didn’t stand still for long;

The toad in the road which was Covid 19 and the lockdown months of 2020 were huge and disruptive but in many ways were another set of circumstances that I had to respond to. 30 years of freelancing means I take nothing for granted. No expectations of work arriving in a particular way or gigs being inevitable. Adaptability, imagination and resilience grown over decades of devising and delivering certainly served me well during the awful months that wiped out diary entries of projects that could no longer take place as planned. But from barren pages that briefly stopped me in my tracks, the same projects returned, this time needing to be rethought and reformed for the times we found ourselves in.


The Festival

I had planned to create an installation and community film at The Festival of Thrift, Redcar. Months of work leading to the September event, my build was to be a Cardboard Cinema open to welcoming hundreds of families over 3 days. Instead I created an alternative piece: an animated film accompanying the community choir anthem to open the newly invented digital Festival of Thrift.

The project was undertaken from my studio and sent via We Transfer.


The Fairytale

Due to create a rural touring theatre show with November Club in Northumberland from material developed in 2019, I headed to my studio and instead collaborated with the lead actor over several weeks at a distance of 300 miles. She against green screen and me directing and animating the worlds she existed in. The 5-part film, a hand-drawn adventure story of resilience and change, was taken on by several rural primary schools who were supporting isolated and battered children in lockdown in Northumberland.


The Fire Station

Having devised and facilitated workshops for Lakeland Arts across Cumbria early in 2020, in which communities created personal museums from paper, we kept the work safely in storage whilst seeking a new venue to exhibit in. Rather than the original Kendal Art Gallery, now closed to the public, we chose a beautiful drafty unused fire station in Windermere to show the work of 86 makers. “Museum of…” was safely visited by families over a month, one household at a time.

Image Credit: Hannah Fox

These projects and other digital conference contributions and design jobs meant a busy lockdown. All this output though, relied on experienced producers and commissioners who knew that the work must continue and that artists invariably bring creative solutions to overwhelming obstacles. Fundamentally they trusted me to adapt, consider the new context and come up with imaginative solutions. Good producers have moved swiftly with their thinking and have taken bold steps to find ways to keep delivering work to and with communities.


Working in the New Normal

In the dark months of Winter 2021, The Studio Morland, based in a tiny community in the Eden Valley, East Cumbria, reimagined their annual Festival of Light Light Up Morland. They commissioned me to make an online tutorial for the creation of hand-made lanterns. My considerations had to be how to create beautiful work from the kitchen table for free, with no resources or tools other than those already lying around at home and for others to enjoy during socially distanced night time walks. This was my response: Doorstep Lanterns

Image Credit: Hannah Fox

During the summer term of 2021 and with schools still under strict Covid measures, I devised and ran hands-on animation workshops from my studio live over Zoom for a month with Signal Film and Media based in Barrow-in-Furness. Four Cumbrian primary schools explored and celebrated the incredible archive of photographs of their area: The Sankey Family

Photography Collection, a priceless 70-year study of life, work and leisure in the North from 1900. The children, working in the classroom each on their own tablet, created moving and playful Digital Postcards, putting themselves into the scenes, to send as a gift and virtual ‘hello’ to the children in the other three isolated schools.

Image Credit: Hannah Fox

Adaptability has been my life boat during these troubling times. Changing tack, repeatedly, to navigate the rising tides and head o! the stormy challenges, happily not going under, has kept me and the work moving forward.


The door of my studio

Image Credit: Hannah Fox

www.hannahonthehill.co.uk

https://www.instagram.com/hannahonthefoxhill/

https://www.facebook.com/hannah.fox.5203

link to blog article; https://cleurope.eu/2020/07/30/holding-on-to-wonder/

‘Making sense’: An enquiry into the relationship between research, cultural literacy and citizenship

‘Is it possible that we cannot even define a specimen object-unit of a science of action without thus abandoning the role of observer and becoming a partner in a social relationship. […]  If we become participants, do we lose our objectivity? If we remain mere observers, do we lose the very object of our science, namely the subjective meaning of the action?  Is there any way out of this dilemma?[1]

It was in these terms that George Walsh’s magisterial 1967 review of Alfred Schutz’s 1932 phenomenological study of social science described the challenge which still faces the would-be sociologist or ethnographer in the exploded cultural environment of 2021.  Can any student of culture justifiably claim that ‘their’ method of analysing a contemporary social issue is ‘value free’ (‘wertfrei’)? What is the scientific status of ‘evidence-based’ investigation into social behaviour? What is the relationship between subjectivity and objectivity? Between personal psychology and communal belonging or ‘citizenship’? Between those who consider themselves to be ‘culturally literate’ and others whom they believe to be less so? What does it mean, in any case, to be ‘culturally literate’?  What ethical principle informs the relationship between the researcher and the researched, between those who create and those who take it on themselves to comment on the creativity of others? Between the colonisers and the colonised? Between atheists and the advocates of different religious creeds? Between people of different sexes? If ‘literacy’ is assumed to mean ‘the capacity to read’, what is ‘read-ability’ and to which category of object or creative action can the term be meaningfully applied?  What does it mean to be ‘enlightened’ in a post-Enlightenment, post-colonial, corporately manipulated global culture which is politically divided and cripplingly unequal?

 It is against the background of what Walsh refers to as this ‘unorganised manifold’[2] that the privileged position of the academically trained, post-Enlightenment, post-colonial, post-post-modern researcher has increasingly been called into question, leaving the field open to a multiplicity of viewpoints, built on a pluralistic ethos which struggles politically to accommodate socio-economic reality. This is not an attack on diversity. On the contrary, it simply underlines the fact that sociology’s claim to scientific validity is qualified at every turn by the situational construction of particular epistemologies, leaving little if any theoretical space for claims to transcendence. Michel Foucault himself confronted this paradox in 1970 in his celebrated inaugural address to the Collège de France. He acknowledged that his position in the pantheon of French scholarship was forcing him to claim transcendent authority for an open-ended, evolving theory of discourse which was itself based on the principle of reflexive, power-driven, political contingency[3].

The same challenge can be applied to current theories governing social science research methodology. Their relative shortcomings are made transparent by Schutz’s comprehensive analysis of the different factors involved in making sense of the qualities of mind that bind communities through grounded action or separate them from each other. There was only so far that he and his contemporaries could go in formulating a method capable of providing a reliable practical account of the conflicting tensions between ‘sense’ (Sinn): the feeling response of human beings to perceived reality, and ‘understanding’ (Verstehen): the cognitive operations which ‘made sense’ of humans’ perceptions in logical or rational terms. Neurological data, while physiologically valid in itself, was and still is of limited value when applied to culturally grounded facets of behaviour. While neuro-science has been the focus of psychological theory since at least the beginning of the 20th century in terms of the individual and has burgeoned of late, it is self-evident that the task becomes all the more challenging when dealing with collective ‘mindfulness’. The feasibility of pinning down and somehow measuring the process whereby individuals identify with the affective impulses which inform the perceptual processes of others is what Schutz refers to as ‘Fremdverstehen’, more recently verbalised as ‘inter-subjectivity’ and even more loosely as ‘empathy’. And then there are the further questions surrounding the links between shared feeling ‘in the moment’, the creative actions which express it, the deterministic forces of the context, the artefacts which emerge from them and the more durable symbols with which groups of different constitutions identify in different circumstances.

Phenomenological approaches which lend empirical status to shared emotion and identity are tested to destruction at moments of social fragmentation. The potential for the theorist and for the empirical researcher to ‘make sense’ of collective behaviour depends on there being a degree of stability in the way in which groups in society translate reality into symbolic terms. As industrialisation gave way to modernism, such abstract stability was a theoretical principle developed by de Saussure and applied empirically by Lévi-Strauss and the avatars of the structuralist movement. However, while universal as a principle, one of structuralism’s unfortunate consequences was that culture was all too easily characterised in national qua linguistic terms and had trouble dealing with the pragmatic reality of the everyday, especially that involving individuals and groups from mixed cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Another problem was the outsider status of the person responsible for ascribing meaning to the everyday life of another community.  The capacity to ‘make sense’ of the relationship between routine behaviour and a superordinate ‘mythological’ structure vested in shared symbols: ‘read-ability’, was reserved for those with ‘educational capital’, thought by some, even now, to be collateral with the informed insight referred to as ‘cultural literacy’.

It was only with the demise of structuralism, leaving it to be superseded by the onslaught of postmodernism’s verbal, financial and symbolic liquidity that national cultural hegemony expressed in linguistic terms could be finally put to rest, though it has persisted long past its sell-by date. As Niklas Luhmann bluntly put it in 1997 ‘Es gibt kein letztes Wort’ (There’s no such thing as the last word)’[4].  As the polyphonic model developed by Bakhtin, and the theory of différance espoused by Derrida and Deleuze became more widely adopted in the West, sociological epistemology was to take a cultural turn.  Affect theory, symbolic imagination, the growth of identity politics and the vagaries of academic fashion became the driving forces. Postmodernism was to insert a methodological wedge between a qualitative approach to cultural studies research and sociology’s established claim to scientific status. The counterpoint, as all of us recognise only too well, has been that the power of mathematical abstraction has hugely strengthened technology’s ability to model human behaviour and to analyse big data in quantitative terms.[5]  It has followed that the pressure for qualitative sociological research to be rigorous in its procedures whilst remaining open-ended in the types of behaviour it is seeking to evaluate has, if anything, increased. As Crossick and Kazcinska put it, ‘data is not the plural of anecdote’.[6]  It is this paradox which makes the incorporation of emotional iconicity into cultural studies research so hard to articulate in methodological terms: the challenge which affect theory has sought to meet over the last twenty years by drawing on the evidence of unsolicited public discourse[7].

All the above propositions place would-be project directors in the current cultural environment in the invidious position of ‘sense-maker’; they are taking on the role of ascribing meaning to the lived experience (Erlebnis) and actions (Handeln) of others, where ‘meaning’ is an incalculable amalgam of emotion and cognition at the individual level which is then extended through reiteration and symbolic translation into a shared property of culture. On the other hand, algorithmic modelling’s claim to be ‘scientific’ does not stand up to closer scrutiny when it comes to ascribing ‘meaning’ to human action. Rather It has the status of an instrumental hypothesis which can only be verified retrospectively in the light of human experience. According to this logic, it is inevitable that the social researcher be cast not as a scientist but rather as a mediator or facilitator whose task is to establish flexible, kaleidoscopic frames within which the expression of grounded experience and its translation into symbolic forms of representation become empirically representative of a given social reality. In the paradigmatic shadows of Michel Foucault and the versions of frame theory developed amongst others by Erwin Goffman and Deborah Tannen, it still remains the case that in the absence of mathematical models within which cultural collegiality can be tested (pace on-line dating and visual recognition software), a theoretical framework is discursively necessary for ‘good practice’ to be meaningfully identified and convincingly communicated to others (‘impact’).  Recent experiential methodologies aimed at creating life-changing group experiences such as that exemplified by the work of François Matarasso[8], Brian Massumi and Erin Manning[9] and Dylan McGarry[10] offer ways forward whose mainstream application is work in progress.  However, their sustainability in terms of lasting social change is still open to question.

To sum up the argument so far.  A number of consequences have followed from the ‘de-objectivisation’ of cultural research.  One is that the status of social philosophy and the hegemonic role of the trained researcher have been irreversibly undermined.  The open acknowledgement that social research methodology is only as valid as the constructed status of the premise on which it is based has called into question the ethical position of the researcher and the extent of ‘their’ authority.  Second, as revealed by the phenomenological investigations of the mid-20th century German school of philosophers and the modern-day avatars of affect theory, the factors causing individuals to identify with others is considerably more complex than the popular appeal to ‘empathy’ as a cultural catalyst would have us believe. Before becoming ‘cultural’, the experience of shared reality has to emerge over time as the outcome of co-creative action. Third, the speed and global outreach of mass communication fuelled by the power of international corporations have made the factual basis of scientific evidence very difficult to ascertain, making an alternative dialogic, dynamic approach more viable as a social diagnostic but challenging to achieve in practice.

Paradoxically, in the face of such uncertainties, it is hardly surprising that university based researchers and the institutions who support their projects should insist all the more strongly on the scientific rigour of their methods. Nor that in a cultural environment dominated by the need to promote collective ‘well-being’ against a background of crisis-ridden economic and cultural disparities, the shift towards qualitative research methods should become simultaneously more widespread and ethically fragile.  It is this which makes the responsibility of ‘making sense’ less exclusive and, by extension, less credible when defined in strictly scientific terms.  Weber and his followers, notably Henri Bergson, Husserl and Schutz himself, were aware that while the emotional components of shared cultural values were hard to reduce to scientifically verifiable categories, they could be ‘read’ (Bergson’s term) as reflections of experience embodied in material outputs and the symbolic representations with which they were associated. Identification with totemic archetypes on the part of participant actors would allow wider inferences to be drawn about the cultural context in which they had been created and the ‘moment in time’ to which they corresponded. The complex of factors inherent in the artefact would offer pointers or aesthetic indicators which could be ‘read’. The questions remain: by whom? how? and What action should follow?

To put these questions differently: what associations exist between the structure and content, verbal or material, of artefacts and the world of lived reality to which they correspond? And conversely, what is the dynamic which causes the artefact to attain the distilled status of symbol or ‘myth’ such that it becomes a cultural point of reference or localised ‘habitus’ with which people identify?  These are hardly new questions. The process of interpreting the translation of artefact into socially significant symbol has been the subject matter of research by ethnographic trail-blazers such as Lévi-Strauss and the hermeneutic (‘philological’) method applied to literary text by German scholars such as Gadamer and Spitzer for whom a specific stylistic feature or ‘etymon’ could act as the microcosm of a cultural and historical environment. A more recent analogy of this approach has been Neil Macgregor’s encyclopaedic representation of world history through the informed analysis of emblematic objects in which insight and knowledge are necessary pre-requisites. As he memorably states in the introduction to his book based on his classic series on BBC Radio 4:

‘Can we ever really understand others?  Perhaps, but only through feats of poetic imagination combined with knowledge rigorously acquired and ordered’ [11]

However, as we have seen, the difference between cultural historiography and the type of methodology required by ethno-cultural studies today is that the object of study reaches beyond the attributes of the object to creative acts which have become virtualised and infinitely diversified. This demands a more pluralistic source of data grounded in the act of creation combined with an awareness of its social significance which goes beyond the act itself. The insight and intuition which accompanies what Schutz called the ‘unit of action’ (see above) extends beyond enactment to an appreciation – a ‘making sense’ – of its qualitative contribution to its context. The capacity to ‘make sense’ of creative action in terms of its social value applies as much to the actor as to the observer participant, even if the discursive idiolect in which it is articulated is different.  Is the sentient singularity (oneness) of an experience sufficient for it to qualify as ‘research’? Probably not, even if for the individual concerned it may be part of a process of self-discovery. Compare Aldous Huxley’s experiments with LSD with the excitement of participation in high risk sport or the collective trance or spiritual ecstasy experienced in religious ritual or at mass sporting or cultural events? The difference is surely that Huxley’s experiment involved agency and forethought, though whether it could be described as a ‘unit of action’ in the Weberian sense is at best debatable. Similarly, to be a ‘consumer of culture’ or ‘shopper’, while it may invite reflection on its socio-economic significance is hardly in itself a creative act.  To be an actor researcher must arguably involve creative initiative. In addition, a degree of reflection is needed so that the experience can in some way be relativized and understood in comparative terms. What form this process should take is, however, another key question which still remains to be answered.

Before finally considering the link between ‘making-sense’ and ‘citizenship’ as an object of research, it is worth reminding ourselves of the forces which have highlighted the need for co-participation in project design and implementation.  Much has to do with a culture of ‘sensibility’, readily promoted by the combination of corporate capitalism and popular media already alluded to; much too to population mobility, ethnic diversity, and economic crisis which have together highlighted the need to improve conditions of life in otherwise divided communities.  A third factor, not yet fully explored, has been the blurring of the boundaries between art, nature and everyday life. The emphasis on creativity as an end in itself has created an intercultural space in which diversity of expression and its capacity to promote social change has become paramount but open to self-abuse by artists themselves. Creative art does not exist in its own aesthetic bubble. The distinctions between high and low art, performance and installation, film and technology, art, craft and the creative actions of the everyday have been revolutionised. It is this more than anything else which, while redefining the very nature of citizenship, has made it all the more important to create experimental situations in which the expression of local voices has material as well as symbolic status and to enable these voices themselves to define the parameters of project design.

It is for all the above reasons that ‘citizenship’, cultural literacy and social research methodology have become so intimately interdependent, in practical as much as in conceptual terms; why it is no longer acceptable for centres of higher education driven by policy-led, competitive ideologies to appropriate data from fieldwork for their own theory-led ends without there being reciprocal benefits for actors on the ground who share the power to control the durable application of research processes and outcomes. Co-participation in social research is a demonstration of ‘active citizenship’ which carries with it the civic entitlement to benefit from its findings. It supersedes the intellectual dichotomy which separates ‘making sense’ from ‘sense-making’: the traditional model in which ‘citizen-actors’ provide the data and ‘trained experts’ offer the analysis according to independent priorities.  Instead, creative action arises out of collectively articulated local needs: co-action which ‘makes sense’ according to its own terms and sets its own standards.  The initiators of such action become catalysts: de facto ‘citizen researchers’ who enable creative opportunities to attain the status of inter-active symbols with which local populations can identify in their everyday lives.

According to the terms of this research model, ‘cultural literacy’ is removed from the exclusive realm of critical understanding. Instead, it becomes absorbed into acts of participation which are meaningful to the participants and out of which knowledge is re-generated.  In such a model, the trained researcher, like the artist, becomes a co-creator.  In environments marked by ethnic and cultural diversity, ‘co-creation’ means joint activity which allows meaning to emerge organically through collective learning processes within secular spaces, where experiential knowledge understood in phenomenological terms is fused with practice informed by imagination. In such research environments, ‘trained researchers’ become cultural mediators or ‘entrepreneurs’ in the best sense of the word, in that their work is informed first and foremost by social interaction which ‘makes sense’ in terms of collective fulfilment. Only then can it become translated into imaginary constructs which are emblematic of the practices which they symbolise, which are communicable to other cultural contexts to be ‘read’ and practised accordingly.   


[1] George Walsh ‘Introduction’ Alfred Schutz The Phenomenology of the Social World (London: Heinemann, 1972) p.xviii.

[2] ibid. p.xvi.

[3] Michel Foucault L’ordre du discours (Paris: Gallimard, 1971) pp.7-8.

[4] Niklas Luhmann Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft (Frankfurt: Surkamp, 1997) p.141

[5] Geoffrey Crossick and Patrycja Kaszinska Understanding the value of arts and culture (London: AHRC, 2016) pp.156-157.

[6] Ibid p.157.

[7] Robert Crawshaw ‘Beyond Emotion: Empathy, Social Contagion and Cultural Literacy’ Open Cultural Studies December 2018 2.1 pp. 676-685.

[8] Francois Matarasso A Restless art (London: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, 2019).

[9] Brian Massumi Politics of Affect (Cambridge: Polity, 2015).

[10]Dylan McGarry ‘The Listening Train: A Collaborative, Connective Aesthetics Approach to Transgressive Social   Learning’ Southern African Journal of Environmental Education Vol.31 2015 pp. 8-21. See also https://www.empatheatre.com/ .

[11] Neil MacGregor A History of the World in 100 objects (London: Allen Lane, 2010) p.xviii.

CLE 2021

You can register for the symposium using the link below.

The booklet of abstracts and bios can be viewed here:

Symposium Programme can be viewed here:

A TWO DAY ONLINE SYMPOSIUM OF ACTIVITIES AND WORKSHOPS

Ask busy children what they’re doing and they’ll say ‘I’m playing’. Ask an adult and they will be playing the piano, the fool, or a video game. While playfulness forms an integral part of cultural expression and communication, its interpretation often depends on cultural expectations and limited interdisciplinary research can be found on the aesthetics of playfulness, or its role in intercultural communication. For D W Winnicott, playfulness takes place in the area between inside (self) and the outside (other/wider cultural experiences) in an intermediate, transitional area. Melanie Klein and Anna Freud both pioneered their own ways of utilizing children’s playfulness within the psychotherapeutic setting as a way of accessing unconscious processes. 

Kant’s definition of art as ‘purposeless purposiveness’ sites it at exactly the point where play & seriousness meet. The reification of play occurs when ambiguity, humour & laughter, irony or satire, are deployed in music, literary or visual culture to achieve specific aims (eg. to critique or lampoon extreme or repressive regimes) – for example Molière’s play Le bourgeois gentilhomme, or Buñuel’s film Cet obscur objet du désir), or in postmodern resistance as formulated in Jacques Derrida’s concept of “play” and Jean Baudrillard’s “simulacra”, or to counteract the rigidity of institutions and systems —see for example Pippa Hale’s recent work “Play Rebellion” (2018). The search for meaning in a chaotic world is eschewed, often playfully, and the postmodern medium becomes a parody of this quest. ‘Play’ then also becomes a powerful form of political resistance—of displacing hegemonic narratives not for the purpose of creating something new, but to destroy and reveal the constructed nature of what previously existed. 

The act of ‘objectless’, or intransitive playfulness, and its experiential dimension, however, remain largely unexplored. One example of such ‘play’ can be found in Zen Buddhism, as expressed in the arts of the Japanese Edo period and in the visual culture of the Japanese Design Movement of the late 1970s and ‘80s. Another example is the acting method developed by Oleksandr Tokarchuk at his school of creative acting in Kyiv, summed up by the phrase “conducting your self” (written as two separate words). Playfulness, then, becomes part of the artistic personality, when the real world is understood as a theatre stage and its decor. 

In a world of increasingly transcultural and transmedial forms of expression, exploring notions of playfulness in their socio-cultural context offers an approach to cultural literacy which can arguably foster intercultural understanding in a manner less readily accessible than through purely experiential means. At the same time, experimenting with the process and aesthetics of playfulness, facilitated by instant communication technologies, which cross-fertilise between ages, cultures and media with remarkable resilience (eg. surrealism), can also offer valuable insights in fostering intercultural literacy. The aim of this conference, therefore, is to invite scholars from a wide range of backgrounds and interests to engage in thoughtful and critical discussion around the multiple manifestations of playfulness and their contributions to cultural literacy. 

FEATURING


This two-day online Symposium is designed to generate active discussion, focusing on thinking and talking rather than formal presentations, using simple online platforms and apps to foster a virtual experience. If your proposal is accepted, it will be included in a digital ‘book of presentations’ that all participants will be asked to read in advance of the Symposium. The contributions will be grouped together into parallel break-out sessions of 90 minutes during which each presenter will briefly summarise their points in a presentation of max 5 minutes & three slides, and the subsequent discussion will aim to explore the key theme of the panel.

Prior membership of CLE is required; become a member 

SYMPOSIUM FEES

Students (+ ID)/ Unwaged £20
Standard £50


CALL FOR PROPOSALS (NOW CLOSED)

PROPOSALS ON ANY OF THE FOLLOWING – OR ALLIED – TOPICS ARE WELCOME:

  • The aesthetics and/or philosophy of playfulness
  • Diversity or inclusivity and intersectionality of playfulness
  • The role of playfulness in interdisciplinary collaboration or education
  • Playfulness and experimental translation 
  • The role of playfulness in stimulating new ways of thinking in cultural literacy
  • Playfulness in and out of the psychoanalytic consulting room
  • Playfulness in media, literature, the visual and performing arts
You are invited to submit a proposal in English for a 5-minute presentation. It should consist of your name, affiliation, email address, title, a 300-word statement on any area of the symposium topic and a mini-biography (max. 300 words).Please submit your abstract and bio by filling in the form using the link provided below by the deadline of noon GMT on Sunday 6 December 2020. Proposals that arrive after this date will not be considered.

Abstracts:

AHRC Award for Experiential Translation Network

We are pleased to announce that Dr Ricarda Vidal and Dr Madeleine Campbell have been awarded an AHRC Network grant. The network comprises academics, artists and translators from the UK, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Hong Kong, Hungary and Poland and explores translation between languages (interlingual) and between media (intersemiotic) as a method of creation and communication, as a method for learning and teaching, collaboration and participation within multilingual, multicultural and multimodal settings. This includes understanding the many modes and modalities that contribute to meaning-making in cross-cultural communication (online & offline), language education and translation, and embracing the role of individual imagination and artistic creation in education and arts institutions (e.g. libraries, galleries, museums). We will employ arts-based and collaborative research methods including creative public workshops at libraries, museums, galleries, schools and universities.

The Network will commence in March 2021 and run until September 2022 – watch this space for announcements of workshops and a final exhibition and international conference in June 2022.

https://experientialtranslation.net/

Network Leaders

Dr Ricarda Vidal, PI, King’s College London, Ricarda.vidal@kcl.ac.uk  and Dr Madeleine Campbell, Co-I, University of Edinburgh, madeleine.campbell@ed.ac.uk

Network participants:

Dr Karen Bennett, Nova University Lisbon;  
Dr Heather Connelly, University of Lincoln; 
Harriet Carter, Birmingham City University; 
Dr Gaia Del Negro, University of Milan; 
Cinzia Delorenzi, independent; 
Dr Tomasz Dobrogoszcz, University of Lodz; 
Dr Noèlia Díaz Vicedo, Queen Mary University of London; 
Anna Dot, independent; 
Dobrochna Futro, University of Glasgow; 
Birthe Jørgensen, independent; 
Dr Karl Katschthaler, Debrecen University; 
Dr Tong King Lee, University of Hong-Kong; 
Dr Joanna Kosmalska, University of Lodz; 
Prof John London, Queen Mary University of London; 
Dr Silvia Luraschi, University of Milan; 
Dr Rosario Martín Ruano, University of Salamanca; 
Dr Manuela Perteghella, Open University; 
Dr Anikó Sohár, Pázmány Péter Catholic University Budapest; 
Prof África Vidal Claramonte, University of Salamanca; 
Tomasz Wochna, independent  

The renewed relevance of bricolage

One of the hapless outcomes of trying to define ‘cultural literacy’ in terms of social futures has been the need to understand the relationship between art, making, doing and their impact on society in a time of crisis. Practising art in the current climate barely puts food on the table, let alone changes society, unless artists and agents have access to patronage and space. Meantime, the entrepreneurial self-employed go bust, rental is a vicious circle, disadvantaged kids suffer from malnutrition and Netflix streams a slurry of fourth-rate screenplays and wooden performances sustained by corporate capital (witness the recent, mind-numbing remake of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca).

One critical option is to broaden the definition of authentic artistic practice. After all, ‘Art’ is creative doing, open to all, fuelled by ‘agency’, to the extent that people have the capacity to exercise it in their everyday lives. Notwithstanding Jacques Rancière’s idealistic attempt to inject sensibility into Fordist production processes, the aestheticism was his and surely not that of the young woman operatives he quotes from Vertov’s celebrated film The Man with the Camera (1929). For the actor/artist, art is not gratuitously mechanical. It demands a minimal degree of freedom and consciousness. It lies somewhere at the interface between personal impulse, context, the act itself and its social outcome. Under lockdown, art, action and artefact have become co-terminal. Critical reflection on creativity necessarily incorporates the politics of process.

Creativity in and of itself is not enough. In its essence, art may remain an inherent attribute of the subjective imagination. Yet it derives from a material base and leads to tangible outcomes, however provisional. If symbolism is social, ‘cultural literacy’ is ethnographic. Art does more than inform lived reality. It entails it as the translation of voluntary articulation with material systems, whether as the mass product of corporate interest, individual inspiration or the reflection of the day to day. To be aware of this principle and to enact it in everyday life as creator, employee or commentator is to be ‘culturally literate’.

Which is where the overworked concept of ‘bricolage’ re-emerges as a potentially intriguing catalyst. It is not just the fact that DIY and gardening have emerged post-Covid as two of the very few growth sectors in domestic consumption, limited like so much else to those who can afford plants, materials and a space to call ‘home’. Neither is this the place to engage in theoretical debate about the psychological development of the individual, except to say that now more than ever, with mental health dominating the media, the need for selfhood to re-engage with the real world through collective action has rarely been so great. Inextricably entwined as they are, well-being derives from plural perceptual processes reinforced by the symbolic translation of economic reality as much as from the sub-conscious impulses of individuals. Respect for diversity demands evidence of shared imagination grounded in experience.

The contemporary relevance of ‘bricolage’ as a cultural trope is admirably expressed in an inspiring paper by Christopher Johnson ‘Bricoleur and Bricolage: From Metaphor to Universal Concept’ published by Edinburgh University Press in the Journal Paragraph (2012) Vol.35/3. This finely written article, available on line, returns the reader to Claude Levi-Strauss’s original formulation of the term in La Pensée sauvage (1962) and convincingly demonstrates how and why it can inform current understanding of the dynamic relationship between art, creativity, society and technology. It raises wider questions concerning the interaction between individual sense-responses, shared emotions, everyday behaviour, identities, politics and the natural environment which go to the heart of what it means to be culturally challenged in a hyperreal world. These are issues which I hope to be able to pursue in subsequent blogs in dialogue with anyone who happens to have read this one.

Robert Crawshaw                                                                                    
November 26th 2020

Artistic Reconnections with Land: Towards a systems view of cultural heritage learning

Amanda Bayley, Kennedy Chinyere, Nick Clough, Penny Hay, Denise Rowe, Jane Tarr
Bath Spa University

‘Pedagogies and global change’, was the focus of a presentation on 17th September 2020 to the annual conference of the Teacher Education for Equity and Sustainability Network (TEESNet). The overall theme of the conference was Education as a Pedagogy of Hope and Possibility: the Role of Teacher Education in Leading Narratives of Change.

Our paper summarised findings from an initial enquiry into an intersectoral initiative exploring nature as cultural heritage. The objective of the enquiry was to include schools, freelance musicians, artists and higher education providers as sources of data and domains of experimentation. The Trees of Hope project (rural Mashonaland, Zimbabwe), Earth Dances: Embodied Remembering (Devon, UK) and Forest of Imagination (Bath, UK) are key partners.

Our pilot study reflects work in progress for a larger scale project: Listening to the Land. ‘Listening to the Land’ which promotes conceptions of cultural heritage grounded in nature as a core element of educational practice. ‘Artistic Reconnections with Land’ articulates embodied, transcultural approaches which co-create a shared understanding of heritage.

This expression of what Haraway (2003) terms ‘natureculture’ will be developed further as a way of addressing at least three of the UN Sustainable Development Goals:

  • inclusive and equitable quality education (4)
  • urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts (13)
  • sustainable ecosystems, re-forestation and increasing biodiversity (15)

The accompanying slides illustrate ways in which inclusive, participatory approaches to arts-based action research have become accessible to different stakeholders within the new COVID-19 reality.

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Use the arrows above to scroll through the presentation slides

Roots digital recording of a music and dance duet was performed by Earth Dances on granite outcrops on Dartmoor. It has been shared with three UK schools as a resource to stimulate discussion and creative responses with children and young people about their connections with nature. Roots resonates with ancient understandings of the relationship between people and land: an earth dance prompts joyful and loving reconnections, while a small embroidered cloth and poem explore the experience of immersion in nature.

Roots performed by Earth Dances on Dartmoor

These simply created products invited learners and teachers to reflect on and document their own relationships with nature, leading to the co-creation of digitally shared music, arts-based responses and written commentaries. The resulting exchanges helped to open up discussions about the role of creative and relational pedagogies that respect local cultures, histories and ways of life that are dependent on the health of the land. 

Such hopeful, artistically inspired pathways are intended to promote a reinvigorated, systems view of cultural heritage. They re-situate land and nature within pedagogical approaches which are holistic, inclusive and interdisciplinary (Capra & Luisi 2014: 13). By encompassing past and present understandings of human reciprocities within the natural systems of the biosphere, they aim to inform future-facing pedagogical interventions.

While David Orr’s (1992) phrase ‘ecological literacy’, encourages recognition of connectedness between human wellbeing and the health of natural systems, Daniel Shevock’s eco-literate music pedagogy, recommends a ‘fundamental re-localisation-reorientation to place, people and local histories’ (2018: 112). The next stage of our work is to generate transcultural, (e)co-creative solutions for teaching and learning (Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles et al 2020), approaches that empower local communities – children, young people and adults – to create positive change for future generations.

References

Capra, F. & Luisi, P. L. (2014). The Systems View of Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles, A. et al (2020). Research Handbook on Childhoodnature: Assemblages of Childhood and Nature Research (Switzerland: Springer International Publishing).

Haraway, D. J. (2003). The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness. Vol. 1. (Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press).

Orr, D. W. (1992). Ecological Literacy (New York: State University of New York Press).
Shevock, D. J. (2018). Eco-literate Music Pedagogy (New York and London: Routledge).