by Jessica Bradley
All photos are by Luka Dakskobler and are taken from the Ana Monro Theatre’s Facebook page.
In mid December I was back in the studio of the Ana Monro theatre in the Šiška area of Ljubljana. This time I was observing a series of practical street arts workshops organised by the European Federation for Education and Training in Street Arts (EFETSA). These workshops were part of a practicum, the first of its kind for this collective.
For the practicum, street arts practitioners – known as mentors – across different disciplines and from different countries (Slovenia, UK and Belgium in this case) were delivering lectures about their practice. These were followed by practical workshops based on their own street arts methods.
Thomson and Gunter (2011) write about the fluidity of researcher identity when conducting ethnographic fieldwork in schools. For me, although my work is in the street and in the theatre – not in a school – this seems to be particularly apposite. As I arrived at the studio, the group were waiting for me, and my role had been assigned: I was an observer. Officially. Of course, as a researcher drawing from ethnography, I’m used to this role. Observing. But generally I am an observer for my own research project. My observations are jotted down in notebooks, interactions are recorded onto my iPhone, my videos and photographs are stored into my own folders. But in this case, my outsider status (I’m not a street arts practitioner, I have had no practical experience in this area) was one that positioned me as someone who could document the workshops and produce a factual account of what was happening.
The studio was set up with two video cameras. I was observing alongside a group of ‘observers’: academics, dramaturgs, dancers and performers… Two of us followed the group and the mentors leading the sessions round the icy cold streets of Ljubljana, our iPhones held up to capture the ‘language’. We were, in turn, followed by an official photographer, creating visual records of the training and the performances. These were uploaded to Facebook almost immediately. The other observers held notebooks and pens in gloved hands. Observing. Scribbling.
Throughout the activities, the groups moved in and around each space – from Ana Monro’s white rectangular studio space – to the former church at Tabor just outside the historic centre – to the flea market packed with tourists, in and amongst the Christmas market stalls – to the black box studio in the school for performing arts – and then back again onto the street.
We would always start indoors and move gradually outdoors.
I was asked to document and note the following for the practical workshops: the focus, sidecoaching, evaluation and any points of observation that I had. Yet, I found myself noting the language. I jotted down each word for short periods of time during the workshops, trying to not miss anything. Here I’m noting what John Lee (University of Winchester) says during his practical workshop on space which took place while I was in Ljubljana (like the Leeds team as we are now putting together our Heritage stage case study, he draws from Lefebvre). The italics are my observations of what the group is doing.
I like this happy group
you’re so full of mirth
(Knocking on the wall. A group is moving chairs and looking at a small piece of tape on the wall. Carefully they bend down and look at it intently. They explore the tape)
and because we’re short of time
we’ll stop for a moment
this group found themselves
outside the groups
having a great time
they are the passengers
that sit there and go
it’ s always nice to have
that person in a public space
as they make us look at things differently
ok let’s go for a walk again
we’re driving this workshop through the space
we think about time passing
in outdoor arts
we think about space
The aim of John’s workshop is to explore how street artists can explore space, and in doing so, create space.
so our aim today
is to explore this space
and we’re going to explore
and then another space
I’d like people to stand on the edge
and some people to be in the centre
the others keep walking
walk closely in the centre
walk closely together
people on the edge
what they have done to the room
what has it done?
does it feel heavy?
make eye contact
no big thing
make contact with people on the edges
you see them
The group had been given homework. This homework involved an observational task: To go into a public place. To sit down. To order a coffee. And to observe. To observe the people and the place. The street artists themselves were learning how to observe.
So, in a way that I had never expected, my experiences as a ‘now official’ observer of street arts in Ljubljana back in December of last year (and as a researcher conducting investigations into translanguaging in street arts) turned out to also be practical training in the art of observation.
Thanks again to all those involved in the Practicum, to the Ana Monro Theatre and to all those involved with EFETSA.
Lefebvre, H. 1991.The Production of Space. Oxford: Blackwell.
Thomson, P. and Gunter, H. 2011. Inside, outside, upside down: the fluidity of academic researcher ‘identity’ in working with/in school. International Journal of Research & Method in Education. 34(1), pp. 17-30.