The street art of observing street arts…

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.

Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 22.21.51
Ana Monro Theatre’s Goro Osojnik explains the space and the task

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.

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The Ana Monro Theatre’s Facebook page

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.

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Craig Weston leads a workshop at Tabor

We would always start indoors and move gradually outdoors.

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Evaluating the performances inside the ‘black box’

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

but actually

they are the passengers

that sit there and go

what idiots

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

in theatre

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

another space

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

and stop

people on the edge

feel

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

just look

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.

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One of the performers as a ‘municipal worker’ with too many bags at the flea market on Sunday

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.

References

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.

 

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2 thoughts on “The street art of observing street arts…

    1. Jess, really enjoyed reading this piece. You made the work in Slovenia sound so poetic. Looking at what we were doing from your window is really nice. Thanks, Ebru.

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