Day of discussion on Conflict, Memory and Commemoration at Belfast Exposed

On October 31, 2012, Belfast Exposed hosted a seminar on Conflict, Memory and Commemoration, exploring issues of visual storytelling and testimony and how photographers and artists may get beyond reportage, to the heart of community stories and experience.

The day kicked off with arrival and registration at 9.30am, followed by case studies and a Q&A session chaired by Belfast Exposed director Pauline Hadaway.

Speakers included Paul Seawright (Artist and Professor of Photography at the University of Ulster) Peter Richards, Breandan Clarke (Golden Thread Gallery/ Draw Down the Walls)  and Eugenie Dolberg (photographer, curator and author of Open Shutters Iraq)

Paul Seawright presented a selection of work made by three young emerging Northern Irish photographers and discussed relationships between photography and local contexts – history, politics and community – in Northern Ireland, and the particular rewards and challenges associated with these (www.paulseawright.info)

Peter Richards and Breandan Clarke presented Draw Down the Walls, a collaboration between the North Belfast Interface Network, Golden Thread Gallery, Lower Shankill Community Association, Ardoyne Women’s Group and Tar Isteach, which utilizes art an a primary engagement tool for community relations. As part of this they discussedAmbulatario, a project by Columbian artist Oscar Munoz that re-imagines a contentious interface area in north Belfast.

(see link for more information: http://goldenthreadgallery.co.uk/event/ambulatorio-belfast-oscar-mu…)

Eugenie Dolberg spoke about the limitations of reportage from her perspective as an artist and photojournalist, and the visual storytelling approaches she employed in realizing Open Shutters Iraq– a project involving participants from a range of social, political and religious backgrounds who came together in Damascus between 2006 – 07 to share their experiences and learn about photography, before returning to Iraq to reflect upon the effects of conflict on their lives.

(see link http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7022167.stm for more information)

Audience members were able to respond during the Q&A session.

At lunch time we invited visitors to respond and filmed these reflections, which we will post up in the coming weeks. The variety of responses were great and include feedback from the speakers, funders, community workers, researchers and artists.

Participants could attend three practical workshops in the evening:

Workshop 1: in Alternatives to funding Johnny Gailey discussed the pros and cons of crowd funding – a mechanism for kick starting projects and engaging audiences at an early stage, whilst building momentum and creating community – from his personal experience. He invited participants to discuss potential projects and analyze the strengths and weaknesses of some examples of crowd funding projects.

Workshop 2: in Developing a visual storytelling project Eugenie Dolberg presented her ideas for developing a new project in Northern Ireland and participants contributed their own ideas and thoughts about personal projects at a very early stage of development.

Workshop 3: in Supporting artists working in collaborative ways Anthony Luvera discussed the needs of artists and photographers seeking to develop collaborations and relationships with communities. Participants discussed the ethical and practical challenges of the kind of practice, the type of support available (through funding etc.) and touched on the type of support that artists need.

Following the discussions, workshop participants and facilitators attended a Feedback and Action points session. A range of questions were posed by participants:

Those who took part in Workshop 1 asked ‘wether alternative funding can become a way of doing the R+D for your project effectively and having it funded,  and is this an alternative to funding?’  ‘How can you maximise crowd funding, using it as a fast way to get the project moving, developing participants and doing the initial R+D and ‘how do we ensure that funders don’t stop funding R+D and point artists in the direction of crowd funding?’

‘How do you maxmise the development of the intial R+D ensuring you secure further funding and can this happen by using it as matched funding or by helping the funder see the relevance of your project?’

Developing a sense of trust between the projects(leader) and the public was repeatedly flagged as a way to ensure that a project is popular and has a sense of delivering something beneficial and positive or making a real change. ‘Is having a reward/something people get from the project important and alongside developing funding does crowd funding also create a community and support network as well as acting as research?’

A much raised issue was how projects can be not just by artists but also by the communities involved. Suggested was that each member of the workshop would attempt to start their own crowd funding project and then feedback on it’s success (or failure).

Participants from Workshop 2 discussed when the output/outcome of a project should be decided upon and how a final showcase element that has fluidity can be developed over the course of the project. ‘How do you take an idea and develop it into a project without preconceived ideas, ensuring it is free and creatively led?’

‘How important is the documenting of the process and how do we create a wider understanding of the process? (can documentation have an active role in this?)’

It was again emphasized how important it is to ensure that participants are involved from the beginning, that a project is necessary, and sometimes even critical, and how projects with passion behind them are most successful. ‘How do we develop and show this passion?’ Ensuring that a programme is sensitive and finely attuned to the needs of the participants and that learning by listening takes place was stressed as paramount.

What was also emphasized was the need to create a realisation with the funders that funding needs to be more ongoing and not just project-led, and the importance of the relationships, support and understanding between artists, participants and funders. ‘How do you work with your funder to make them a champion who is on the journey with you?’ If we participate with the funder can we create an organic change within the funder and create a positive relationship that will lead to them moving on with you where possible.

Suggested was that some participants could create practical videos to be shared with each other.

Participants from Workshop 3 also emphasize the importance of creating a sense of trust and emphasizing intentions and values from the beginning of a project and to ensure that clear intentions and transparency between funders, participants and artists exists. When trying to measure the impacts of the programme it is also important to ask the question; who wasn’t involved in the discussion? Very often community voices simply are not heard. ‘It is essential that we include the voices that are not heard when trying to measure these impacts. How can we do this?’

‘How do we facilitate a programme of discussion between younger artists and the policy makers/ funders?’ This dialogue is essential for young artists to understand and influence the decisions of policy makers and funders.

The word ‘community’ was questioned. ‘What is it and how can we gauge the complexity of it’?

It was considered important to develop collective ownership when building a project with the community and to also ensure that the project is fluid and participant led.

There was a concern wether the written impacts for the community actually happening or if these are just a paper exercise. ‘How do you measure some of these impacts and how do we create a realisation with the funders that the impacts are part of the process and not the be all and end all?’

‘How do we create a realisation with the funders that is important to support people and organisations and not just projects?’

Some Actions raised:

  1. To record discussion that can be used to evaluate/document processes and to share these with each other.
  2. To consider who is and isn’t taking part in discussion and ensure that the unheard voices in these discussions are included.
  3. To ensure that the development cycle of the project is essential and that when planning programmes this pre-programme phase is kept in mind and developed.
  4. Not to pre-determine the output but rather create processes that may decide on the final output.
  5. To avoid excessive checklists and instead create projects that have a fluidity and have the ability to grow in different directions.
  6. To share the experience organizations have developed over many years and across artforms.

It was a fruitful day and some of the questions posed will hopefully lead to future seminars, projects and debates surrounding community.

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