Strategies

In this section I look at the strategies used as part of the facilitation. This project involved a high ratio of project team members to participants which enabled some one-to-one support, coaching and tutoring, as well as pairs and small group work.

A wide range of pedagogic devices, or modes of learning was deployed in order that we could be responsive to individual participants’ levels of prior experiences, desires to try new skills and art forms, and preferred methods of working.

I am focussing on the specific strategy of using stimulus material here and will explain how it served to offer opportunities and stimulus for participants.

One of the key features of the INTERarts project was the way in which the participants engaged in creativity. Rather than being passive recipients of art education, art was a thing that they did and a thing they made use of in the workshop space, and beyond. At the heart of this process was a biographical narrating of being transsexual and transgendered, of being gay and lesbian, bisexual and pansexual, and of being an aged (any age) person.

In this process, the participants were able to communicate the far-reaching consequences of lived experience whilst simultaneously developing individual and collective critiques of the social practices which reproduce normative frameworks of sexuality, gender and age. This was exemplified through some of the artwork which included Wall, a 3D piece representing a brick wall with graffiti-style text where the words were a collection of terms the artist has heard used to describe him such as ‘friend’, ‘brother’, ‘scared’, ‘horny’, ‘broken and ‘accepted’ , Talking age, sexuality and gender, a 5-screen video installation showing interviews with project participants talking about gender, age and sexual orientation which was also presented as an edited short film, Complex, an installation which included a chest of drawers containing personal paraphernalia which, when explored, gave an insight into two participants lives, histories and relationship as gender-queer people and Untitled, a painting depicting a gender ambiguous or non-gendered person where ‘upon making a judgement about this individual you then question why you identified the portrait to a particular age, gender and sexual identity’ (participant-creator of Untitled).

The artistic space opened up an opportunity to communicate the humanity of queer lived experiences with dignity and pathos. Participants drew on their own life stories to communicate the experience of being young, older, trans, lesbian, gay, queer etc. The themes of the exhibition reflected the participants’ concerns and passions. These included relationships with family and friends, coming out at various points through history from the 1960s for a participant who was 72 to the present day for others, feeling different from the ‘norm’ and negotiating places such as clubs, bars and toilets.

Stimulus material

During day two, we ran an activity that involved small groups each looking at an example of a stimulus or piece of art, discussing what they saw and what they thought that piece of art might offer in terms of its form and structure.

We used:

  • Maya Angelou’s spoken word piece And Still I Rise
  • Gillian Wearing’s video art 2 into 1 (1997)
  • Sam Taylor-Wood’s Still Life (2001)
  • a range of images of two dimensional art works

In response to this activity, Isaac and Elizabeth made a short film in the style of Gillian Wearing’s work. Click the link above if you would like to see what inspired them. The film shows a mother and her twin sons lip-synching each other’s interviews about their family relationship.

Wearing’s works explore the slippage between private identification and public expression, between those aspects of themselves which people try to hide, and those which they are willing or able to reveal.

For Wearing, using children’s voices masked by adults heightens the emotional impact. ‘We know children have interesting things to say and use language in a rich way, but when you channel this through an older body, then all of a sudden there’s a pathos and you’re transforming how people look at that’ (Wearing quoted in Gillian Wearing, p.18). Here her subjects speak experiences of social alienation, aggression and abuse. Placing a child’s voice in an adult’s body accentuates the viewer’s sense of the vulnerability of children to the adult world which they grow up to inhabit and reproduce, and provides a very literal representation of the psychoanalytic notion of the fragile and damaged ‘child within’.

(http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/wearing-10-16-t07415/text-summary accessed 10.05.12 Elizabeth Manchester, 2000)

Isaac and Elizabeth took inspiration from the concept of creating pathos by ‘channeling’ one person’s voice and experiences through another’s body. They can be seen speaking each other’s words about silence, queer history and their own trans and lesbian identities.

In making this film, the process was interesting. Both people wrote a piece of text and spoke it in a way that they felt was ‘right’. This was audio recorded. They then took each other’s writing and read it until they were very familiar with it. They  listened to each other’s spoken words on headphones and began trying to speak them and get in synch with the other person’s timing, pace and rhythms of speech.

Elizabeth is, in the terms of the project, an older lesbian who is not transgender. Isaac is a younger trans man who identifies as queer. They have very different lived experiences, not only in the length of time they have lived but also their sexual orientations and their gender identities.

Speaking the words of another led them both to process the meaning of another person’s words in deeper, more engaged ways. Through listening so acutely on headphones, they literally heard the words that were crafted and important for another person many more times than they would have during a conversation, or just by reading one another’s words on the page. By speaking another person’s words in such a concentrated, conscious way, they bean to embody the sentiments of that other.

In the clip below, you can see this process at work

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