Given the emergent themes involved (gentrification, post colonialism, black joy and resistance), this was going to be a contentious project for me to take on.
I became a kind of community node, connecting friends, collaborators and neighbours to the project in a way that constantly took into account what was comfortable, helpful and empowering for them.
Jeff Knight’s tour of Stokes Croft
As a pre-Bristol trip introduction I invited Jeff Knight (Bristol’s cherished street philosopher and Big Issue seller) to share his perspective and insights into Stokes Croft by filming him giving a tour of the area.
I created an illustrated booklet that picked out Jeff’s key messages and shared this and the film with students before they came to Bristol. The film and booklet were key resources in helping students consider creative and ethically negotiated ways to collaborate with people.
I also created a range of psychogeographic maps of the neighbourhood I live in. These feature stories as told to me by my friends and neighbours mixed with my own. These maps also record the neighbourhood in the way I experience it, as a community.
Making the maps also helped me to think about how dynamic that community is. I was asked to co-create briefs for a number of projects and so I connected to various individuals and groups I knew to see if and how they would like to collaborate with the students and in what capacity.
Mapping Stokes Croft and St Paul’s
After I’d edited Jeff’s filmed tour I invited him to my studio to see if he was happy with it and still happy for it to be shown to students.
I also bought 10 copies of the Big Issue and made 35 mini fold-out booklets which I gave to each of the students when they came to Bristol.
I invited them to make their own psychogeographic maps during out walks around our neighbourhood.
Subjectivity and intersubjectivity
Through this exercise I invited students to consider how they are not a neutral presence and more think more broadly about the intersubjectivity of research.
For me (and many socially engaged artists) the recognition and exploration of your own subjectivity is an instrumental part of the work.
Acknowledging and exploring our own subjective experiences transparently and collaboratively is also vital in ensuring that we make work that is ethical and relevant.
Co-producing research with community partners
I helped to organise a number of projects with a range of different community partners from individual allotment holders to community activists to playworkers and other artists. Across all the projects students were invited to consider how to find and explore hidden stories.
The photographs of Felix Road adventure playground and audio interviews with playworkers revealed the hidden stories of children within an urban context. By directly exploring ludic experiences students were asked to consider how spaces like Felix Road are shaped by and influence communities in an empowering and intergenerational way over time.
Towards the end of the week I had small group tutorials in my student with the different groups of students in order to help them consider creative ways to approach their presentation assignments.
At the end of the week the groups gave presentations which featured audio, film, installation and performative aspects and a blog.
Debates with and beyond institutions
By being expansive in their presentation processes also helped the students to consider the craft of research as something that exists beyond the institution.
It helped spark new ways of thinking about research as a tool for empowerment within the institution which resulted in lively and impassioned discussions.
This discourse chimed with the wider aims of the trip and the work of the tutors who are involved in decolonising work within academia.
Communities of Practice
‘Communities of practice (CoP’s)’
Communities of practice are formed by people who engage in a process of collective learning and it is this age-old process (but relatively new term) that characterises my approach to creative learning and engagement.
Mixing different people who have diverse experiences of similar interests is a characteristic process of how I co-create spaces and experiences.
The Communities of Practice that we develop enable and encourage intergenerational learning, peer sharing and utilise inclusivity as a creative asset.
‘Teaching to Transgress’
In her book, ‘Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, (1994), Bell Hooks advocates for teaching students to transgress against racial, sexual and class boundaries in order to achieve the gift of freedom.
Hooks advocates for ‘engaged pedagogy’ that is holistic, progressive and inclusive since “to educate as the practice of freedom is a way of teaching that anyone can learn”. These ideas have been instrumentally formative for me.