By Jessica Bradley
At Leeds we’re currently working on a co-produced project with local arts organisation, Faceless Arts, funded by the AHRC for its Connected Communities Utopias Festival for 2016.
Background to the project
Back in December last year we wrote an expression of interest for this particular funding opportunity. I’d received an email from Angela Creese, TLANG project PI, asking whether there might be any possibility of putting something together for the festival, building on TLANG’s research. The call was for ‘high quality participatory arts research and research co-production activities’. The activities that would be supported would be those which built on current research funded by the AHRC and which could widen and deepen community engagement with ongoing work.
For the TLANG project, we’ve been looking into different ways in which we can broaden our engagement with different communities through working with artists and creative practitioners. At a meeting in Birmingham earlier this year, the public engagement working group of which I am a member, alongside Angela Creese, Kiran Trehan and Adrian Blackledge, invited different arts practitioners to talk about our research and to explore ideas for working with our linguistic data, and presenting it in different ways. Previously, at a heritage workshop back in November, which included representatives from project external partners Birmingham Museums Trust, we talked about how what we, as linguists, consider to be ‘data’ becomes something completely different when it changes setting. The interactional data from Birmingham market, for example, become oral histories – oral histories of a particular time and a particular place. An historical record.
Having been working for almost eighteen months now with Faceless Arts – an arts organisation based in Wakefield who specialise in outdoor community arts – for my doctoral research, which focuses on translation and translanguaging practices across the process of putting together a piece of street theatre, I had been thinking about how some of TLANG’s and Faceless Arts’ work could align, particularly in terms of work around migration and mobility. In working with an arts group I’d also become interested in how what I was observing as a linguistic ethnographer (visual arts and street arts practice) influenced how I was thinking about my research. And vice versa. I noticed that the artists and practitioners started to talk about language, and to remark on the language they were using. Metacommentary. The artistic director of Faceless Arts would send me emails that included examples of fluid multilingualism, which she thought might be of interest. And likewise, I started to consider how performance and visual arts methods could be brought into some schools projects I was working on. Interdisciplinarity, although undoubtedly messy at times, offers opportunities to consider research in different ways – with different lenses.
Co-production and collaboration: what are we doing
We therefore put together a proposal that built on TLANG research into translanguaging, translation and superdiversity and Faceless Arts’ interests in migration and home. We were able to draw on the links that our research team had built up over a number of years with a Leeds-based third sector organisation and with local links with the volunteers at a Wakefield-based organisation. Through our collaborative project, we want to explore what is ‘welcome’ in ‘utopia’, linking to the 500th anniversary of Thomas More’s Utopia. We propose to do this through visual arts workshops with creative practitioners, Helen Thomas and Stephanie James, who will use silk painting to work on notions of ‘welcome’ and ‘contemporary utopia’. We will also work with a composer, Maria Jardardottir, who will develop a soundtrack based on vocal interactive workshops. A performance will be created that will be taken across Wakefield and Leeds for a preview, and which will then travel to Somerset House for the Utopias Festival itself in June 2016. Paul Cooke from the Centre for World Cinemas at the University will produce a short film, based on the local workshops. A research team, led by TLANG researchers, will collect stories and ideas of ‘what is welcome’ in utopia, or what a utopian idea of welcome would be. These will be presented in a book, as well as eventually in a digital resource. This methodology provides us with an opportunity to analyse these stories. We also involve undergraduate and postgraduate students in the project – a small interdisciplinary team from across Education, Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies and Performance and Cultural Industries – who will facilitate the workshops and gain experience of working with researchers in a public engagement setting. We are also working with a volunteer from the local community, Mastanash Azizi Babany, who is providing valuable assistance with translation of our materials and who will work on the stories being collected by the researchers. A doctoral student from the School of Performance and Cultural Industries, Sam McKay, will be using the project as one of the case studies for his own research into community theatre and displaced communities.
We are now deep in the processes of putting it all together. The machinations of a ‘co-produced, collaborative’ project are complex. We are working together, to produce something together. Yet, we all approach this from different locations and with different perspectives. Not solely with our different practices. For the TLANG project, we are investigating how people communicate across languages and cultures. Here, and increasingly within my own research, we consider how these borders are not necessarily languages or cultures – but practices and disciplines. The TLANG project itself is interdisciplinary in nature, with specialist researchers centrally involved in each of the research phases: business, heritage, sport, law. This arts and language research project, therefore, not only aims to explore notions of welcome in utopia, but also to further develop a methodology to explore translanguaging across languages, cultures, and practices.
Some images from one of the local festival workshops in Leeds.
Funding is provided by the AHRC for the Connected Communities Utopias Festival 2016.
Taking inspiration from the 500th anniversary of the publication in 1516 in Latin of Thomas More’s Utopia, the 2016 Connected Communities Research Festival has the theme of Community Futures and Utopias. From March to June 2016 the Festival is supporting activities across the UK bringing together researchers and communities to creatively explore diverse perspectives on community futures and what ‘utopia’ means for communities in the 21st Century
More information about Utopia 2016 and the Utopia Fair can be found at: http://utopia2016.com/
The Project is being led by the TLANG team in the School of Education, University of Leeds: http://www.education.leeds.ac.uk
The TLANG project website is here: http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/generic/tlang/index.aspx
Faceless Arts are a Wakefield-based arts organisation who specialise in outdoor community arts: www.facelessarts.co.uk
Follow us on Twitter: @JessMaryBradley; @FacelessCompany; @mckay_ss; @TLANGProject – the Utopias Festival hashtag is #ccutopias2016
Our project blog is here, and we’ll be keeping it updated regularly: www.welcomeutopia2016.wordpress.com