Friday 23 August at BX
Pauline, Ciara, Mervyn for BX and Patrick Fox (Create), Fergus Jordan (BX Engagement Team), Anthony Luvera and Eugenie Dolberg (artists), Menkia van der Poorten and Ruth Moore (arts development, researchers and note takers)
- Why do groups want to get involved in photography and with BX?
- Why do artists want to work with communities?
- Is there a difference between what managers, leaders and rank and file participants want from projects?
- What are the barriers to people getting involved in projects?
- Do people feel ownership or a sense of ownership?
- Who actually owns the projects?
Q.1 Why would groups want to get involved/ why would artists want to get involved?
Patrick Fox (PF)
In asking what does the community want, we need to consider what we mean by community?
Why photography? A photography project can look at issues and themes through the lens of contemporary arts. Communities can engage without the pressure of the outcome. A period of research can be an outcome.
Eugenie Dolberg (ED)
The Pilot Project under development.
What is it? Where is it going to lead? I think people need to have a sense of it leading somewhere.
Pauline Hadaway (PH)
It is a tentative stage. The Pilot Project could entirely change the way we work.
On the other hand, it may not lead anywhere in terms of an artistic output or production.
Anthony Luvera (AL)
I see it being about forming a relationship, an artist being immersed in an organization for a period of time. The emphasis is on uncertainty.
We don’t know where it will lead.
Mervyn Smyth (MS)
Maybe it’s about the process
We are looking at and documenting the process
The process has to be free and fluid
Building trust is part of the process.
Communities often feel that they are excluded
People feel they cannot trust or be trusted
Why do they get involved?
They want to learn things.
And it may be about using art as a diversionary tactic
Ruth Moore (RM)
What’s missing is the pathways or progression.
There are communities with stories to tell
They want their voices heard and stories told
It’s not about taking that to a definite end point, but starting on a pathway. Not having an end, but having a process.
Menika van der Poortern (MP)
If you are running a six month pilot project, why would I want to get involved without a definite outcome? What would be the motivation?
As an artist, I don’t know what the end result would be, that’s what is interesting. As an artist, I am a tool kit for the group.
The motivation could be all the things Mervyn has said, plus challenging the funders. Showing how projects should be and could be run.
Ciara Hickey (CH)
It strikes me that the difference between the long term collaborative project and the shorter community photography experience is similar to the difference between a touring show and a commissioned work in the gallery. Both are valuable, but the work that is commissioned and made in and for the space, gives everyone a sense of ownership
The people I work with, feel ownership because they are inspired. They need to tell their story. That need has to be urgent and critical
Q.2 Do people feel ownership or a sense of ownership?
The question of ownership can be a red herring. Co production gives a moral entitlement of ownership: it is our work. I see myself as the author of the project, but the audience need to know that the participants have been involved in making the work.
Work that shows in the gallery, will open up into the gallery. The gallery becomes a place for sharing work. An artist can already see that, while the ‘non artist’ comes to an understanding of to. It’s a collaborative and collective experience
Documentary or fine art, doesn’t matter. What matters is that the project is a collaborative enterprise, a collective enterprise The artists role is to animate the project, supporting people to make work.
There are technical solutions to questions of ownership. We can grant licenses to use images. People can withdraw, change their mind, cancel the license.
Fergus Jordan (FJ)
Are you co authors or collaborative
I am the author of the project, but individuals taking part are the authors of the images.
There are many different ways to collaborate
We are looking at a spectrum of collaborative practices, which BX already covers:
– Artists working as co authors
– Artists working as activators
If you take the artist out of the equation and you say that the project wouldn’t have happened, then it is not collective authorship.
We tend to work as activators,
Questions of the market value of the artwork can arise and complicate things.
The photographs emerge as the result of a particular methodology, which the artist applies
Ownership is blurry. But if you can say that without the artist there would be no work, then the artist must own the work.
Authorship relates to agency, doesn’t it? The question is, who drives the project?
Why do you want to take part and what does taking partmean to you?
Can you give a shared copyright to group members?
We need to find a definition of authorship that we are comfortable with.
At the book launch, which was a couple of years after the project finished, some of the Residency participants had forgotten about taking part, they had moved on in their lives. Others had gone on to take photography more seriously, and one of the participants is now hosting and running skills workshops of his own.
Q. What are the barriers?
The artist (gives example) was living in a village and people were coming forward because they had got to know her. People have to know you are there and that they can come to you.
Someone gets involved and tells other people how good it is and they tell other people
People don’t want to be ‘just the next story’ for someone else to explore
When you go looking for something you won’t find it.
But the story may come to you.
You build up a level of trust and the stories are shared.
I was working with the queer community in Brighton. A call was put out to people to get involved, and what happened was that people who wanted to get involved responded and got involved. It was that simple/
The selective process for Open Shutters Iraq was haphazard, because some people had no passports and some people couldn’t travel out of Iraq.
I didn’t want to know too much about the people who were getting involved, until the workshops started. The Life Maps is a story telling tool, which overcomes fears and challenges the comfortable narrative of people’s lives.
There has to be a willingness to engage if you are working as part of the group.
Building trust is crucial.
The BX skills based workshops tend to be working with existing groups.
Whereas artists want to work with new groups all the time….. New people.
The communities don’t always want their work to sit next to the work of another community, so the politics get in the way.
You can see that, the way the relationships formed round the table are quite fragile.
Is the re something we could be doing, working with groups in more conceptual areas of photography. With ideas.
The notion that photography is accessible. Can it be as much of a barrier as a help? I think one of the main things that distinguishes the way artists work with photography from the way non artists work, relates to the way they think about photography. Artists are very critical about photography. They challenge its assumptions. Non artists tend to see photography in a more positive light.
Critical practice and challenging the politics of representation is right at the heart of the way photographers are working today. In Northern Ireland, it sometimes seems that people are used to being misrepresented by photography. They accept it.
Sounds like we are coming back to different ideas of communities.
Would it be useful to involve communities of interest in these pilots?
Activate some of the more obtuse notions of communities?
Looking at different models.
What about working with groups of people who work in a particular job.
Or the people who get into the black taxis.
Is there a difference between the community leaders, the people taking part? Who is the actual community we want to engage with?
There is a problem of entrenchment in communities
Who are the communities?
There are many different conversations to be had
The artist has to be able to engage in all those conversations
While the organisation acts as a facilitator
There are many different conversations at POLICY LEVEL and at COMMUNITY LEVEL and at PARTICIPANT LEVEL.
The role of the gatekeeper is to control the narrative and to safeguard the community.
Part of the Research and Development of community projects has to be about me, the artist, situating myself in the organization and getting an understanding of the work it does and getting the organization or community to understand what I do as an artist.
The relationship has to be between the artist and the individual taking part, and preferably avoiding the organisations who bring their own rehearsed narratives. I want to crack this open. The funders intrude and the managers intrude…..
Interference by the managers, can undermine the project
The older community leaders don’t trust the younger generation.
I document a community from a critical perspective. As an outsider and insider.
I work in a housing estate in Dunclug, a place where I grew up. It was one of the only non sectarianised housing estate in NI, but it developed a huge drug problem. The estate is marginalised. I lived there until I was 18 and now I have come back to tell the story of the estate. So I am seen as a threat. I want to make a clear record. I am critical.
What about truthfulness? Have you ever walked away from a group because they wouldn’t or couldn’t fully reveal or resolve the work? As an artist you often have to cross a line and open yourself up. You put yourself at risk. Are you comfortable with working with groups on these terms. Putting them on the line?
How far do you place your participants at risk?
Opening themselves up, taking critical flak, being misunderstood.
(Open Shutters Iraq) People chose stories and then went out to make their stories, it is up to us to explain and to get consent. It is all about the making making of the work. That is what drives us.
Some basic ingredients:-
However you get involved you have to be free to consent and to walk away
The artist just needs a chance to meet with people and explain
To explore new methodologies
To document the process but not get hung up on the product
The public presentation of the work is important.
For us it was posters on the Underground.
A participant withdrew, but it was too late.
We couldn’t address the problem.
What are asking people to invest? If it is a cup of tea and a chat, then that’s a lot easier than asking them to participate in a creative project as co producer,
Do you want to get involved? I’m here, what can I do?
Can you try to discover a common interest and explore and discuss something?
People want to be involved and want to make work.
Isn’t it about negotiating a contract where it is clear what people are putting in and what they are getting out of it?
What could the benefits be?
Learn how to use a camera. Think about photography and how it is used in the media and what it reveals
Taking part can be a joy because of by the pointlessness of the process, The non utilitarian purpose of art is the joy.
The funders have expectations, that we deliver an exhibition.
The funder shouldn’t always get the blame.
That’s right. We have a funder right now, ready to support usMS
Let’s not be afraid to fail. To take ourselves out of the comfort zone. Let’s get to people and try something different.
Can we use the pilot project as an experimentation with process, can we record and document the process.
To go somewhere new.
Can we look at particular projects with BX and review how far they go and where they succeed and fail.
How do we reach people, get them involved?
The artist has to make the contact. They make the effort to meet people who are behind the gatekeepers. THE BIG DIFFERENCES ARE OFTEN IN THE SMALL DETAILS. An exploration by an artist, where people can just come in/ drop in.
An exploration of space in Belfast
Places to show the work and make the work, outside using those spaces
Let’s get outside the gallery space.
For me, it’s not about people’s stories its about exploring representation and photography.
Different approaches to this work in the community.
But it comes down to the same thing – the photographer embedded and immersed in the organisation and/ or the photographer at large in the community.
BX facilitates both.
Wendy Ewald sees her practice not so much as making products as making models, leaving models behind. She talks about the context of making the work.
The evaluation of the pilot is the product so we want it to be more than a system or set of rules. A simple set of outcomes.
Wendy Ewald……can we invite her over to talk about her work?
How big is the group?
Is there something about local photographers working with artists?