PANEL 3: COMMUNITY AND PLACES
From the Classroom into the Community
Credit: Andrew Graves-Johnston / Reclaim Brixton Map – credit: B.A.G.A.G.E.
“Students learnt how to find their own localities and their own way of doing it and very much with a ‘can do’ approach”
Look at the (E)state We’re In is a project that I actually started with Jordan McKenzie in 2014. The idea behind the project really stemmed from looking at teaching practices. I am the BA Sculpture and Contextual Studies Lecturer for Fine Art at Camberwell College of Arts and Jordan is the BA Drawing and Contextual Studies Lecturer, he also teaches an elective in social practice and leads a Year Two live project group. We were both feeling a bit frustrated with the limitation of what we could actually do with students in the classroom. Because the curriculum at Camberwell College of Arts is very focused on social practice and we are embedded in the arts community and the local community in south London, we felt more could actually be done to engage with these communities around us. We developed Look at the (E)state We’re In (LATEWI), which took place throughout the Peckham area within many venues that the students organised. LATEWI took place over two days and it involved four symposia panel discussions, two film screenings and director’s talks, an arts exhibition and a full programme of live arts events and workshops. These activities were entirely developed and delivered by students. Initially we had planned for them to only be students from the Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon art colleges, but the project became a bit of a rumour and gossip soon spread, so we soon found ourselves being approached by students from across University of the Arts London. How students actually got involved in the project was actually really straightforward. We put forth a call for participants and the idea was that students could work with the project to do any job that they wanted to do. For example, if they wanted to try out curating, if they wanted to try out filmmaking, if somebody wanted to develop a website or a poster, then they could. Students wrote their own job descriptions and set forth their own tasks and then worked collaboratively to accomplish the event.
The project was co-funded by Chelsea, Camberwell and Wimbledon Graduate School (CCW) and we received match funding from Student Enterprise and Employability from the development progamme. LATEWI was a research project around social practice, specifically art on council estates and within the community, where every student not only had the opportunity to research their own chosen themes in relation to this area, but they also received employment training and mentoring. A lot of different words were bandied about – were they doing internships or work placements? We decided, because we could not afford to pay them and we wanted them to have ownership of the project, that it was not them producing LATEWI for us, but that they were producing it for themselves. They had full control over how they wanted the project to be shaped, how they wanted to participate and what they wanted the outcomes to be. So I am presenting this project on behalf of students actually. We all have shared authorship in the project and everybody’s authorship is worth the same. There were 141 applications to LATEWI and 64 students actually completed their proposed jobs in total, so that is not too bad of a return.
I think that the choice of this symposium’s theme being about ‘resilience’ is really interesting because resilience in terms of Student Enterprise and Employability, which is now Careers and Employability, is really one of their key values. It also, for me, is a really difficult word, because although I understand the need for resilience and I think that it promotes a real sense of ‘stick-with-it-ness’ – for want of a better word – there is also something about it being a filthy word that summons up this idea of weeds that just will not go away. I am really optimistic. The world is a wonderful place, it is not out to get you and I like students that have a ‘can-do’ attitude. Doing and being active in your environment, doing and being active in the world and engaging directly with the world in your own spectacular way, is really the thing that will see you through in the long-run. For us, one of the key values of the LATEWI project was that we wanted to activate student practices. I think that when you are studying art, design or illustration, or any of the various subjects that we are teaching at Camberwell and CCW, that there is the temptation for practice to become internalised. You are in your studio and you are working on research in isolation. However, it can be something that is active in the world and reacts to the world. I think that for us, the LATEWI project was really a way to take, especially contextual studies learning, out of the lecture theatre and the seminar room and instead to activate it through doing in the community. I think that the students learn more by doing this and in very different ways. They took more ownership over their own learning by actually committing to active practice, actually going out and engaging with the local communities, the local arts communities and also in wider communities. Again, for Jordan and myself, it was really a way to teach differently, which is something that I think does not get talked about quite enough in terms of what exactly is our role as teachers in a university. For us it quite often seems to be about a dissemination of knowledge, but outside of university I am a writer, a curator, I am an artist, I am a consultant, but my teaching practice does not take in that greater role. For me this was a really great opportunity to get students to understand contextual learning in relation to practice-based learning and to also trial out different ideas for themselves.
We organised four different panel discussions and the students would meet every single week in a pub for about six months before the run-up to the big days. Over that time they would go away and throughout the week they would look up different speakers and read different books. Then they would come back with this research saying, ‘I’ve read this book,’ or ‘this person would be great’ and we would try and work out how to get them. This is how it begun, by developing these long lists of potential speakers, thinking through what kind of discussions they wanted to have, what kind of topics could we talk about. The students contacted the speakers, got the venues, they organised everybody, they acted as chairpersons at the event and they commissioned a couple of artists to do a workshop, Lottie Child and Cara Courage. They did a spectacular job because they were putting their research into action. Originally we envisaged the project like a form of employability scheme, but students were far more self-motivated than that, far more interested. They came to us with their own research projects that they wanted to umbrella under the LATEWI title. We had BA students who wanted to work with AgeUK and Aveen Lennon and Polly Tracey ran a series of workshops with at the Stones End Day Centre, which they did to explore ideas of locality and memory in the Peckham area. We also had students Louella Ward and Rosie Wyllie who wanted to do a series of photography and mural projects in collaboration with Stevenage Haven, which is a charity for single people experiencing homelessness. Suzy Storr and Damaris Dresser carried out a collaborative workshop at Peckham Library and we had a design student, Kellie Marsh, who led a digital portrait drawing workshop for the general public as part of the show.
We also had a juried exhibition for students, where we made them all fill out an Arts Council application in order to get into the show, which, if you were a BA student, was a bit of a shocker! But then students were also on the jury and so they actually had to take part in the selection process to understand budget management and what makes a good application. That was an incredible learning process, to get to know how to negotiate systems and also, from the other perspective of things, why certain systems are in place the way they are. We also did media training workshops with all our students, we had to do film tests and they wrote a considerable amount on behalf of the project. We carried out design pitches for the advertising relating to LATEWI and the first thing that we published was a feature article, a full-page advertisement written by BA student Damaris Dresser for Saatchi Gallery Art and Music Magazine, who kindly gave us free advertising space. We also had students who took the initiative to actually make art and put it in the community, such as a Year Three painting student, Ed Hadfield, who made a series of site-specific interventions and then carried out a series of walking tours. There were research projects that came out of it as well, such as two Year One students Jazz Kear and Jo Collier who became artists in residence by participating in protests and squatting down at the Aylesbury Estate, which they recorded on film and in photographs. We also had a BA Drawing student Olga Hendel who produced her own publication, Quiet Magazine: The Home Issue. As part of the LATEWI project we used some of our own budget to instigate professional practice, offering mini research grants for students to do these projects, one of which was the screening of two professional films, David Cotterell’s Slip Stream (2011) and Concrete Heart Land (2014), which Andrew curated, but perhaps it is up to him to expand more.
Andrew Graves-Johnson :
I am a mature student at Camberwell College of Arts in my third year of BA Sculpture and I was very much involved in the organisation of LATEWI. Pattie and Jordan were absolutely fantastic at facilitating LATEWI for us. I will talk about the project and also about my background as well, as it certainly chimes with the theme of resilience. Before becoming a graduate, I was an underground or outsider artist for quite a long time. I have collaborated with collectives and local communities to put on raves, urban theatre and cabaret nights and have also had exhibitions in squatted or hired venues. I have been an activist for even longer and my first activist challenge was housing, working with the Advisory Service for Squatters. Funnily enough, probably about fifty per cent of the people who actually came to us were not squatters, but were people being threatened with eviction from their landlords or local councils. When the chance to work with LATEWI came up, I saw it as an ideal way to bring my two passions of art and activism together. As a research project, LATEWI investigated art within communities and was a way of looking at social engagement. For me it was a chance to engage with the resistance to gentrification from an artist’s perspective.
Due to a limited core of people in LATEWI I worked on a very large range of things, as an IT and AV technician, social media editor and graphic designer. I chaired the Concrete Heartland film screening and director’s talk (http://concreteheartland.info/) – it is not the usual activists’ film.
I was also an exhibiting artist in the LATEWI show. The artwork I made for this exhibition was about the memory of objects. I took molds of manhole covers and cast them in unlikely materials such as bronze, aluminium, silicon, plaster, wax and glass; then I situated them in unlikely places in the gallery. When social housing is being demolished to make way for fancy apartments, what is left of the original landscape? In many cases it will only be these manhole covers.
Alongside the mad dash for profit from gentrification are a number of other factors. Housing benefit cuts and bedroom tax has contributed to more social and private housing evictions as well as soaring numbers of homeless families in temporary accommodation. Official figures show that homelessness is rising. In England, more than 81,000 households were found to be homeless during 2013-2014 and this number has probably gone up by now. 24,000 of these households were in London alone. Also on the increase are rough sleepers and we can estimate now that there are about 10,000 people living on the streets in this country. My main driving force of resistance is against the gentrification of the poorer parts of London. Being a Brixton resident for thirty-odd years, I see my area being hit really hard. Whole communities are being uprooted and deported from their locality, traditional family-run businesses are closing and parks and green spaces are being built on. In the last year I have been working with different groups in and around my neighbourhood. As part of Reclaim Brixton we organised a festival-cum-street party protest, organising via Facebook. The protest, party, street fest attracted some several thousand people. I am also working with a bunch of older activists like myself. We formed a group called BAGAGE: Brixton Action Group Against Gentrification & Evictions. We produced a map of the threatened areas around Brixton and after the conference Mapping for Justice (2015) organised by Bournemouth University’s ‘Civic Media Hub’, the university, with the support of Dr Anna Feigenbaum, financed a second run to distribute this content further. The last group that I have been working with is called Our Brixton, which was started by a local rapper called Potent Whisper.
What I think was interesting about all of the LATEWI project in relation to an idea of community is that, although the LATEWI was very much based on art in council estates and in the community, specifically working within the Peckham area, there were so many different communities that came out of the project. Students were able to negotiate their own networks. No matter what their positions were, no matter what their area of interest, no matter what media they were working in, whether they were negotiating working in a magazine environment or a day care centre, whether they were organising an outreach programme or hosting a gallery exhibition, all of this takes place out there in the world. Students learnt how to find their own localities and their own way of doing it and very much with a can-do approach.
Patti Ellis is an artist, art writer, consultant and curator whose research spans all areas of contemporary art. She is also Contextual Studies Coordinator, Fine Art at Camberwell College of Arts and CCW Academic Coordinator for Enterprise and Employability, Teaching and Learning Exchange.
Andrew Graves-Johnston was a leading collaborator on ‘Look At The (E)state We’re In’ project. He is interested (and concerned) by the way gentrification has suddenly become a byword for social cleansing. As well as being, at present, a mature sculpture student at Camberwell, he was a housing activist in the late 80/90s and was involved in the online/on the streets, global movements/protests of the noughties. Having been a squatter for 17 years, housing rights are very close to his heart. His studio practice is concerned with memory and he is currently researching how he can incorporate his activism into his practice. Andrew graduated last year with a first class honours in sculpture.