condition of co-creation: a ‘process that went wrong’

condition of co-creation:

a ‘process that went wrong’

by melissandre varin

From November 2020 i collaborated with T, this experimentation did not go as planned because of external factors (pandemic, family challenges, uncaring processes, race, gender, ableist dynamics…) and internal mechanisms within our exchange on which i am about to expand audio-visually and verbally in this performative sharing.

i am including some of the correspondence emanating from me in the blogpost as a sort of a mixed modal and fragmented essay. You are invited to take as much and as little as you wish from this buffet. The video shows me reading the letters i delivered to T for the first time. There is an audio version of it as well that i recorded on my phone simultaneously for those who have had enough screen for the day. The tone of this entry is self-reflexive but it is not only a sharing of feelings and post-collaboration analysis but also just a sharing space. Only unedited documents are shared, because i believe in the force of self-exposure, i believe it tells a lot about the context and the re-contextualisation of creative processes and about oneself. Welcome in the bits and pieces of a ‘process that went wrong’ and made me grow on multiple levels. 

As i am solely elaborating from my proudly subjective perspective my last Nest residency has been a much needed grounding work on collaboration. It literally brought me down, and pushed me to my limits. Reflecting on it i am grateful it happened                      yes                 if i were to choose,            i would do it in similar ways                                            again.

i have tried to collaborate outside of my political practice and it ended up in exhaustion. i wrote to my collaborator in one of my correspondence: ‘i was exhausted before (anyway)’.

In the context of a global pandemic and under lockdown restrictions adding up extra difficulties to a state of things already hard to navigate in was a doubtful choice that guided me to learning more about my limits. 

This collaboration beyond the initial excitement quickly turned out no longer serving me but rather weakened a friendship, my mental health and future possibilities to collaborate as a free spirit. In one of the letter i regretted that i did not : ‘appreciating the distance between us. Same city, different contexts, different bodies.’ prior to this experimental process.

i got trapped in the process:’there is no start nor ends just complexity’

Can setting up new collaborations be taken lightly or ahistorically? My current self would reply with the negative to this question. Power forces have been neglected in this experimentation. My only desire was to stop worrying, stop caring about my collaborator, stop the guilt of not caring as i should, just stop. Stop, observe, and learn from the unfertile ground from which we started and from which we did not manage to grow a healthy exchange.

That went wrong because that was wrong from the beginning. Consent checklist, management of expectations, and regular checking that the other part does understand your struggles, needs, and claims are essential for me                                     even more so now.

This experience has furthered my understanding of myself, reasserted the importance of informed consent when collaborating and highlighted my limited capacity to expand emotional labour here and now. Which is a shame but it is also the ugly truth of what it is. Reflecting on the process and gathering some thoughts has proved to be helpful to start to repair and look at this scar right in the flesh so far. i take away my need to say no without solely pondering the validity of my need on consensus to be able to stand still. i use my practice as a liberating force, i understand better that there are deviations that i should not take if they do not bring joy.

i dis-placed one of my hair jar at T’s home during the creative process. When it came back i started to gather my strength back. 

on my ears while putting this together: 

Aretha Franklin
Bridge over troubled water
ENNY, Jorja Smith Peng
Black Girls Remix
Raveena
stronger
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_9-yfeA2JZshttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VW_UHYs3giUhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wx44WvDcyXs

sending love

During this period of investigation we have sent threads of thought and element of practice to one another that ended up in a nonsense collection of letters and things that mismatched with each other but did narrate our impossibility to collaborate. i had extreme difficulties making peace with the imbalanced exchanges, and my refusal to self-censor. The issue was that refusing to self-censor did not help the other half of the research to feel welcome nor to find ways to play in the process. 

it is messy                         i am going to be alright                  ok

audio letter reading https://soundcloud.com/melissandre-varin-752685844/can-we-stop-now-talking-birds-nest-residency-melissandre-varin

audio-visual letter reading

My love goes to Talking Birds to Janet and Philippa for their kindness and never failing support and to Dr. Bharti Parmar and Janet again for gentle and transforming mentoring sessions. i am sending love to my collaborator towards whom i directed a spectrum of feelings and thanks to whom i learnt to appreciate failure and found joy and contentment in unexpected spaces and challenging times.

PostPartum – Patsy Browne-Hope reflects on her Remote Nest Residency.

About me
My name is Patsy Browne-Hope and I am a Birmingham based choreographer, rehearsal
director and freelance lecturer. I am currently researching and developing a short dance film
based on the postpartum experience.

Transition
I am an ex-professional dancer who toured nationally and internationally with UK based
companies and decided to step away from the profession in 2015 to start a family. Having
my children and a break from the industry was like pressing a huge reset button. There
wasn’t much time to really think about dance at depth during this time but to be honest, this
was welcomed. We started a family knowing I wasn’t entirely certain where I would end up
work wise on the other side and I found this an exciting prospect.

As it turned out (2 children later) my passion for movement and dance had not dimmed – I
had just felt stifled creatively and needed a bit of time to lead a life not so consumed by
dance after 12 years of constant training and working. Before my children I was feeling
exhausted by the industry, a bit lost with direction and a bit low on self-esteem. After having
my sons I gained perspective, cared less about what people thought and once sleep became
a ‘thing’ again I felt ready to start trying to make sense of the world through my craft…
I decided my first stop with this would be ‘Postpartum ‘…..

‘PostPartum’ is a short dance and movement film with original music that intends to highlight,
celebrate and normalise the postpartum experience which sadly can be tainted by huge
societal pressures. Both pregnancy and early motherhood had unexpected surprises for me.
Strangers shared unwanted opinions on my body shape and I regularly heard ‘Mom
shaming’. Comments on how a woman was raising her baby, when they chose to start a
family, opinions on how much she works or doesn’t work, how they fed, how they slept.
Nothing seemed to be off limits.

As new mothers we can find ourselves spending hours on end with a screaming baby, a
body that doesn’t feel like our own and, thanks to raging hormones, a mind we don’t
recognise. We should probably ask ourselves if the intense scrutiny of mothers is really all
that necessary…

Why
My desire is to create some compassion through film; at a time when a woman feels most
vulnerable, we hit her hardest with our attitudes and judgements.

I want to create something where new mothers feel a little less alone and a little more
understood. How do so many first time Moms not know about all the bleeding, the colic, the
mastitis, the intense sleep deprivation and the detriment this can have to her mental health,
the loss of self and the knowing that eventually, you somehow manage to work it out.

Perhaps if they were armed with some knowledge, championing and solidarity they would
cope a little better and be a little kinder towards themselves?

Talking Birds
Due to the sensitive nature of the topic and my desire to work with women from the
community to help research this I was looking for an opportunity to test these ideas out on a
small and intimate scale.

I was thrilled to be selected for a Fledgling Residency to help explore this. As a result I was able to develop a private research group on social media and run an online community workshop led by Lindsay Jane Hunter (Therapeutic Art Practitioner). I undertook deeper research into the ideas and themes found here and was then able to collaborate with Katy Rose Bennett (Composer) and Oliver Whitehouse (Filmmaker). Dancer, Lucie Labadie, came on board to help me test and explore movement language specifically for film.

Reflections
This is the first time I have been able to so closely communicate with collaborators on my
own project idea. It has opened up many more questions for me and the vision I have for the
work going forward which is incredibly exciting. I recently secured Arts Council funding for a
larger phase of R&D into PostPartum and this development opportunity with Talking Birds has been the
perfect precursor.

I am going into my ACE activity more informed about how we develop this work, how I
successfully communicate my ideas to the collaborators involved, what works, what doesn’t
and just how far I hope to push the visuals for the final film.

Mentoring
The final part of my Talking Birds support was concluded with mentoring from Janet
Vaughan. I was able to spend time discussing the process, the outcome, what I would like to
do differently and most excitingly, potential life for the final film. We discussed, at length,
various venue ideas including unusual and outdoor spaces as well as partners to be
considered and approached for the film development. This will be hugely informative to my
next planning stages and I very much look forward to updating Janet on the project life!

Follow Patsy on Instagram

It’s not Wednesday and it’s a bit late for a round up of books of 2020…

But nevertheless, if you’d like a recommendation of something to read, here’s some of Co-AD Janet’s favourite reads of the last year* (with apologies that there isn’t much fiction!):

*Read in 2020, as opposed to published in 2020.

Human kind by Rutger Bregman

Radical Help by Hilary Cottam

Natives by Akala

How to be a Liberal by Ian Dunt

From What is to what if by Rob Hopkins

Whipping Girl by Julia Serano

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Difference Engine Stories – Open Call

We are looking to commission two brand new short art experiences that use our captioning tool, the Difference Engine, to deliver a story to individual audience members in an unexpected, beautiful (and Covid-safe) way.

What is the Difference Engine?

The Difference Engine is Talking Birds’ discrete tool, developed to make performances and events accessible to D/deaf, hard-of-hearing, blind or partially-sighted audience members by delivering captioning and audio description direct to their own mobile devices. 

It has been developed by artists, for artists – we made the Difference Engine because we wanted to give more people the chance to access experimental, outdoor, small scale or immersive performance. But essentially one of the things the Difference Engine does is to allow artists to send text to audience members’ mobiles in real time (for more info see the Difference Engine website). This is why we have come up with this opportunity.

The Difference Engine has successfully allowed companies of various scales, from intimate one-person shows through to larger scale outdoor art, to bring captioning into their audiences’ hands. Difference Engine Stories is an opportunity for artists to experiment with the tech and find a new way to build an experience around the delivery of a story to an audience and their mobile at a (social) distance.

What are we looking for?

We know that artists are inventive and this is our invitation to you – to think of a way you might play with the captioning possibilities of the Difference Engine to create something small, beautiful, and a bit different. 

Because the Difference Engine is good with text, we think you might want to use it to tell a story. 

Because the Difference Engine works at a (short) distance, we think you can make something socially distanced for a small number of people – maybe with your artists outside and your audience inside, receiving the text to their mobile devices. 

Because the Difference Engine was created in order to caption live performance, we think you might want to play with the relationship between the text you are sending and some visuals, perhaps performed on the other side of a window to your audience. 

Maybe you will pair the text you’re sending to your audience in their front room with live (silent) action you perform outside their house; or live caption narrate a story that transforms what is actually happening outside the window; or send a story in small chunks of text without visuals; or provide alternative captions to something they watch on their TV…

But because we are also artists, we don’t really want to tell you what we are looking for, we want you to come up with something interesting.

Who is the audience?

This is really down to you, but we expect there will be the possibility to experiment with the relationship between the artist (as the giver of the story) and the audience (as the socially-distanced recipient/s). We’d like the Difference Engine stories to be made for, and shared with, people in Coventry early next year – at the point where the city wakes from winter and looks towards a year as City of Culture (but we’re not asking for the stories to be about these things). 

Within this project, we are only looking for proof of concept delivery – and so, if you are commissioned, we will expect you to decide (with us) how many ‘performances’ you will do, identify and brief your preview audiences, test your piece and collect some documentation and feedback. Although audiences can access the Difference Engine via their smartphone browser, it works better with the Difference Engine app and so, if commissioned, you will have to consider how best to identify and brief your audience (we can support you with this). 

We expect that people with hearing-related access requirements might naturally form part of the target audience, but anyone should be able to enjoy it and, crucially, have a similar experience. 

Who can apply?

As we may have mentioned (!), we’re based in Coventry – so we would love to hear from artists local to our area, but we’re also open to hearing from people further afield – if they can safely travel to Coventry to present their piece, working within current Government guidance. Although the Difference Engine is usually a performance tool, these commissions are open to individual artists or artists groups in any discipline who can work within this brief to make a piece for the Difference Engine.

What’s the idea?

We want you to use the Difference Engine to place a story into an audience’s hands in a completely new way. Remember, the Difference Engine can be used anywhere, by anyone who has a mobile device (smartphone or tablet) in their hand – but we are interested in the intimate relationship between the artists, the tech and the audience. This is not something that could be broadcast via the internet and experienced by anyone anywhere all at once, it is about choosing your “stage” – whether that is the pavement outside a single house, a street, a school, a towpath, a public square (although if it is a public space where permission is needed, you will need to be confident you can gain that permission, if commissioned, and of course ensure all regulations relating to Covid are followed) – and the physical space between you and your audience as you tell your story. 

What we’re offering?

We are offering 2 commissions, of £2,000 each, to an individual, collective or company, to create and deliver their piece. 

At this stage, we are only looking for proof of concept delivery – i.e. the piece is made and previewed with some test audiences whose feedback is captured. 

We don’t want the application process to be onerous, so please just send us up to 500 words about your idea, about you and your work and about what in particular interests you in the combination of the Difference Engine, Covid-safe art experiences, and sending a gift of words over a short distance. 

Send your application to: TalkingBirdsCoventry@gmail.com by close of play on Sunday 10th January

If you have any questions or you think that you might have a great idea, but would like to speak to someone about it first, we can be available for a short chat between 10th and 17th December. Drop us an email via the website including your phone number and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

[Talking Birds 8th December 2020]

WLTM : Open Call for interested (and interesting) illustrators and print-makers…

[**DEADLINE EXTENDED TO DEC 10TH**]

Talking Birds is looking for illustrators and/or print-makers for a small series of planned commissions related to The Nest, which will be the company’s new home and shared making space from 2021.

At this stage, we are looking to create a small pool of interested illustrators and/or printmakers who we will then invite to apply for these commission opportunities.

Talking Birds is particularly interested to hear from illustrators and/or printmakers:
– who live and/or work in Coventry or nearby;
– who self-identify as belonging to an under-represented or marginalised group;
– whose work lends itself to screen printing in one or two colours only.

A bit about you (How to register your interest)

Please email TalkingBirdsCoventry@gmail.com and tell us a bit about yourself, your interests and your work (in roundabout 500 words) & include links to up to 5 representative pieces of your illustration and/or print-making work. From these submissions, we will select a number of artists to whom we will circulate commission briefs when they become available. Please note that the deadline for expressions of interest is December 10th 2020.

A bit about us (Who *are* Talking Birds anyway?)

Coventry-based Talking Birds is well known for its innovative and gently provocative projects which explore, and seek to illuminate, the profound and complex relationships between people and place.

These projects include its Theatre of Place performances in disused hospitals, cattle markets or underground car parks; its submersive Whale-shaped mini-theatre which swallows audiences in small groups; its pop up social events which bring people together for unexpected conversations in unusual places, often over food; and the invention of its in-pocket captioning system, The Difference Engine, which aims to revolutionise the creative possibilities of accessibility.

The Nest will be Talking Birds’ new home and shared making space which is due to open next year during Coventry’s year as UK City of Culture. Since 2018, Talking Birds has been running the Nest Residency Programme (which offers time, space and conversations that allow artists to think, experiment and take a punt on one of those ‘What if…?’ ideas) peripatetically while the building work continues.

We are a signatory to the More Than A Moment pledge and, as such, wholeheartedly commit to ensuring equity, investment in, and opportunities with and for Black artists and creatives within our organisation’s culture and work, and in doing so becoming the change we all need to see.

talkingbirds.co.uk

[Illustrations by James Bourne for Song for a Phoenix, commissioned for the day when the Olympic Torch visited Coventry in 2012]

Tipping Point

Angela Mhlanga reflects on her Nest Residency.

Have you ever thought about the concept of ‘throwing away’? Neither had I, until I had a very interesting Google chat with Dominic of Ludic Rooms (a company based right here in Coventry). The gist of the conversation came from this concept of ‘throwing away’? What does this even mean? Where does all this stuff go? Stuff just moving from one to place to another. To quote Jerry Seinfeld, ‘all things on earth only exist in different stages of becoming garbage’. I pondered this on one of my now regular walks along Coventry’s Canal path. I had not long discovered the small minority in the city who ‘magnet fish’ in the murky waters. What on earth is that, you may ask? I indeed had the same question. The man made canal, built for the purpose of transporting/exchanging goods from county to county and once functioning as an additional life line to the city, has now become somewhat of a dumping ground of antiques and lost treasures but for the most part, a passing place of plastic and takeaway boxes. This bothers, but the silver lining is Coventry’s up and coming rise and it’ll be interesting to witness the Canal’s placement in all these developments.

Having these interesting and dynamic conversations with Dominic about Coventry’s relationship with water formed a unique focal point to explore – as for the most part Coventry is pretty much land locked.

On a not so particular day, I walked out of my front door and realized that I just about walked every direction out from my front door. I then remembered the entry to the canal – bridge number five to be specific. Off I went and set off for a new adventure. It was around about midday that I realized everybody and their mother was outside using their government issued hour – so it was not so much of the solitary walk I’d envisioned, but on that given day that’s exactly what I needed. Like a radio frequency all the bars within me had gone from red then slowly orange/yellow and just like that, green. The spring in my step restored as I gazed upon the boats, whistling with birds, dodging fast paced cyclists in balletic pirouettes as if living some sort of alternate musical reality.

The feeling didn’t last too long as I approached the long and dimly lit tunnel towards Gallagher – did I mention it was long? The solitude I’d initially hoped for somehow became very apparent. Then I saw the light at the end of the tunnel and kept moving. I began to think back about how I discovered the Canal, it was about two years after we’d moved to the city. It’s an easy miss but there’s a life force of its own that runs underneath the city. Back then the waters were clean-ish (well there wasn’t as much rubbish everywhere). Though this first walk was initially relaxing but the rubbish was always drifting in the corner of my mind.

A few months later, my sister and I took a walk in the opposite direction on a sunny day. The clear blue sky reflecting in the man-made waters, ducks in a row flowing in a steady stream and somehow coinciding with the piles of takeaway boxes, plastic bottles, foil paper and blue off licence bags.

One object in particular called out to me the most and I thought it’d be really interesting to explore the Canal for my Talking Birds residency. Particularly the scattered blue bags from off licence shops and Coventry market that have somehow found their way to waters. Blue in association with water usually represents serenity but the murky waters of the Canal were anything but, as the blue drifting around posed a looming threat for all the natural creatures trying to cohabit with the trash in this space.

Walking along and also noticing the reflections and shadows cast in the water inspired me to further explore the Canal’s essence.

Though scenic for the most part and providing a sense of ease and solace with a gentle movement of current, every so often that is disturbed by litter. Beer bottles, takeaway boxes and strikingly blue off- licence plastic bags (which I found particularly interesting as blue is Coventry’s color and often associated with water.) I explored this further – particularly in how the nature of the canal has adapted to this.

The materials used to create the puppet were a blue off licence bags with a plastic water bottle (magnet) fished from the water to create the bodice, synched in with the cuff of a Culture Coventry uniform.

I then painted a background of hues on foil paper that feature a silhouetted crowd representative of the people of Coventry.

To add to the final layer of the piece- I used a blue marker to draw some of what Coventry is best known for, for example-: the statue of Frank Whittle, the logo for Coventry FC, Lady Godiva’s statue and an Outline of the Coventry Cathedral.

It was crucial to use materials that would cope with being submerged and not affected by the water- much like the litter found in the Canal.

Final projections

Filmed with a highlighted plastic bottle lens cap to create a filtered effect whilst in a way symbolically filtering Canal waters and revealing the beauty of the city. I hope to further explore this project with the help of the amazing Talking Birds company with the first flight residency and collaborating with Ludic Rooms. My aim is to help clean the canal, magnet fish and create sculptures from what I find in the water and rebuild the art trail. Time to to unclog our cities vessel and clean up the Canal!

“There is just wonder right in front of us, and we don’t spend enough time thinking about it.” — Michael Pollan

My artistic practice heavily involves the exploration of shadows, reflections and silhouettes. I’ve always been draw to these elements because that is the only way we can physically view ourselves. On a bright sunny day your shadowed figure mirrors your movements in synchronicity and is always right behind you. When you look at yourself in the mirror it is merely a reflection of you but somehow we’ve become accustomed to how we view ourselves this way.

As Coventry is formed of different energies, cultures and communities – I began to view the city more like a body and how the canal is a vessel. I began to value its importance and need for it. Spending a lot time around the canal has made me become consciously aware of its unconscious clogging. The level of plastic is suffocating to the environment. To detail my process: I knew I was searching for a solution and there were all these pieces of the puzzle hovering in the air, waiting to be put together. The canal is forgotten. The Art trail is abandoned. Almost as if the pieces of it were drowned in the water.

On a now regular walk along the canal path- I took my scooper and reusable bag and began my first round of magnet fishing. I picked up a lot of treasure – a blue off license bag, a plastic water bottle, foil paper, cling film and many other items but these in particular are the ones I decided to use.

Initially I had aimed to show reflections of the canal on iconic structures in Coventry (and I still might) in hopes of commenting on how, as ‘the body’ of Coventry, we view the city. I then came up with the idea of drawing iconic landmarks and statues of Coventry on cling film as I’d seen a lot of its scrunched presence surrounding the waters. I took a liking to the transparency of it but when I tested the sketches in the water, I realized that it was mainly the base of my tub that was bringing out these images. The practicality of it became unfeasible at this stage because one wouldn’t be able to see the projected images.

It was around about this time the foil paper stuck out to me, I began to think about how this would provide a perfect foreshadowing to the sketches of cling film. I thought about just having the sketches on foil paper and decided against it as the floating, threatening motion of the plastic in water differed from any other material I had found.

What can we do to make the city more ‘green’? In Coventry’s case, it’s more like, what can we do to make the city more ‘blue’? Blue like the sky or water. Blue represents clarity, stability and tranquility. In a city full of wheels and fast motion, the canal represents a break away for its residents or a moment of pause for the locals.

The lens I created from blue and pink highlighters and the bottom of a water bottle helped create the filter used in the final projection. The video itself metaphorically symbolizes the filtration of the waters whilst the sculpture, sketches and foil papered backgrounds represent the sources of materials that can be used to recreate the art trail.

When I first started this projected I’d hoped to run a lot of the tests by the canal but the sun set way late as it was still summertime then. My only other choice was to test these images in my tub – which in a sense follows suit with the man-made essence of the canal. Granted I didn’t have to adjust myself as I would have, testing outdoors but I rather enjoyed the solitary experience of forming my findings of what I had discovered from Coventry’s vessel.

For more detail about Angela’s work, visit her blog.

Home: people, objects, rituals and delineations of space

[Sinead Brady reflects on her remote Nest Residency]

From my home in the UK, I recently collaborated with Berlin based theatre maker Caroline Galvis and Dublin based theatre maker Katie O’Byrne in a ‘Hatching’ Remote Nest Residency to explore the theme of home.
Caro, Katie and I met while studying an MA in Barcelona. We found a common interest in reshaping and reframing our collective history and formed international Rule of Three Collective to create theatre that celebrates togetherness.

Before the pandemic, whilst Katie and I were visiting Caro in Berlin, we began questioning what home means to us. Since then we have had lots of time to think about our surroundings in lockdown in three different cities.
Whilst working from home, we have each been adapting to physical and political changes on a private, local and global level. This has led us to pay more attention to our own rituals and routines and question our delineations of space: What do we consider home? Why does home exist within these parameters? What is our relationship to our home, the planet?
Having started previous creative processes by writing together, we decided that this time we wanted to try to begin from a visual perspective.

At the start of the residency we had an incredibly stimulating mentoring session with Janet from Talking Birds, which helped us consider how to approach the process visually. We were inspired to draw floor plans of our houses and maps of our local areas with places which were important to us. We took each other on virtual tours of our homes and neighbourhoods. Along our routes, alternating who would lead the way, we found similarities but also many differences.

We then began to explore our ‘home rituals’ through movement and were interrupted by all of the unpredictable things that can happen when working from home such as wardrobe doors flying open when jumping on old, creaky floorboards and little neighbours determined to finish their beginner’s level recorder practice.

We ended up paying a lot of attention to the sounds in and around our houses, comparing the different bird song we wake up to… do seagulls fighting outside your bedroom window count as bird song?
Another theme which emerged in our mentoring session was the idea of building and destroying a home or the contents of a home. Experimenting with this idea fascinated us – it was tricky to explore from a distance, but it is something we plan to look at when we are physically together.

The Remote Nest Residency helped us carve out space and time and provided us with the support to come together to experiment and create. The fact that we were given no specific deadline or end product goal was invaluable and really encouraged us to keep on exploring, sharing thoughts and working in ways we would not have felt as free to do otherwise.
The residency has enabled us to reconnect and refocus. We have found new ways of working together at a distance, which will have a great impact on our creative process when we are able to be physically together again.

**If you are an artist based in or near Coventry and you have an idea you’d like to explore, please consider applying to our Nest Residency Programme.**

On instability, change and remembering.

Guest Blog from Artist & Writer Dan Thompson, Board Member at Talking Birds.

Here on the Kent coast, we’re well aware that the British Isles are – well, unstable. The White Cliffs of Dover stay white because they crumble, and the old chalk falls into the sea to reveal a fresh white face. Over the time we’ve been locked down, a couple of homes on the edge of the Isle of Sheppey have fallen into the sea. From the Brutalist towerblock I live in, on the front at Margate, Sheppey sits on the horizon, looking like a mysterious island from a Famous Five adventure. It’s inspired me to imagine how far coronavirus might take us, with a monologue about a country emptying out.

When you live on the coast, surrounded by crumbling cliffs, changing tides, and where a storm can reshape the beach in a few hours, collapse and change are just part of everyday life. But when I have worked in Coventry, Stoke-on-Trent, or Leeds, there’s a more permanent landscape. Occasionally it throws up a surprise, like the Victorian tiled doorstep found in the precincts, but it’s fairly stable.

The coronavirus, though, has made it really clear that in the UK, 75 years since the end of Empire and after 10 years of government cuts, everything is unstable.  Not just the ground, but history itself – statues can tumble – and so can many of the assumptions we have built our country and our economy on. In Margate, an economy built on tourism was always precarious, but cities like Coventry thought a student economy was sound (just as the car industry once seemed unstoppable). It turns out, with a decline in foreign students started by Brexit and accelerated by Covid 19, and with UK students unsure about their options, it might not be.

Meanwhile, the death of the clone town – the end of big chains of shops, of every High Street looking the same – seems inevitable. I sat in on a briefing from Coventry’s city centre manager recently, while she explained that ‘The New Normal’ will be pretty much the old normal, but with bigger spaces in the queue, and more tables and chairs outside. Having worked around town centres and empty shops for 20 years now, I don’t think it is. I think this is a more radical collapse, although it may take a few more months to happen (remember that house, on the edge of Sheppey’s cliff, was there for a long time with the ground underneath being washed away with each tide, the house hanging on, the moment it fell always inevitable…).

A few months ago, on 16th March, my tough, athletic, dancer daughter was taken ill. With all the symptoms of Covid 19, she developed a fever, and delirious, was out of it for about 10 days. In that time, while she had no idea what was going on, shops boarded, schools closed, lockdown began – and when she came round she couldn’t comprehend how the world had changed. Change comes quickly.

Like her, we’re so caught up in the moment that we’re not really aware of what’s changing. So far 64,000 people have died who would, under normal circumstances, still be with us, and many – like my friend’s mum, Kathleen – have had unattended cremations. We haven’t had time to mourn yet, but with a death rate roughly equivalent to the civilian deaths in the UK during the Second World War, we will need to.

Unemployment is up, and will accelerate once the government’s Job Retention Scheme ends. While we saw queues at Primark this week, the truth is our towns and our city centres are about to fall apart. The tides are battering the bottom of the cliffs. Our education system is close to breaking too, because while teachers have tried their best, coronavirus has exposed the underlying inequalities of a system that needs families to provide textbooks, laptops, and a quiet study space. And while the government, like Jim Hacker at his Churchillian worst, say they’ve strained every sinew to save the NHS, the truth is, after years of underinvestment, it is close to collapse. A brutal Brexit would be hard in good times: but when we are, as a nation, already down it is going to have huge consequences.

And somewhere in this, we have to find a way for an organisation like Talking Birds to work. We are agile so can respond to shifting circumstances, and in good financial health: in fact, we have been able to help others during the crisis. But theatres will close, museums will shut, and galleries won’t reopen. Around three in ten of the artists, performers and small artist-led organisations that went to Arts Council England asking for help were declined.

During lockdown, people have consumed more culture than ever before. It’s often said that people don’t like ‘the arts’, but it’s the arts that writes the narrative, designs the characters and creates the settings in computer games. It’s the arts that writes the scripts and creates the characters and designs the sets for television. The arts is the music that is downloaded, the books that are read, the films watched, the dances on TikTok and the Instagram poetry.

And all that has a huge impact on the UK’s economy. The arts generate £306 million every day. They’re a bigger economic sector than the car industry, aerospace, gas, and oil – combined. The arts is jobs, is our power in the world, is our national character. Even in shifting times, the arts provide not just employment and enjoyment, but meaning. They help us explore and understand the world. The give us different perspectives, new ways of seeing. They teach empathy and kindness.

Talking Birds has been part of Coventry for nearly 30 years. As a company, it knows and loves and understands this place. With the number of the dead too big to understand, with coronavirus still spreading while other countries have halted it, with the worst recession since the 1930s ahead, and when nothing is stable, we’re going to need the arts more than ever, and Talking Birds is here for Coventry.

“There is no climate justice without an end to racism” – the Campaign Against Climate Change hits the nail on the head.

This is the text of an emailout from the Campaign Against Climate Change and, with permission, we have shared it in full here because it gives such a clear and succinct summary of the interconnectness of the fights for climate, social and economic justice.

“The brutal and casual murder of George Floyd has sparked an uprising. Protests have spread across the US and in other countries, fuelled by centuries of structural oppression and racism and a culture of impunity among the police force. The roll call of sons, fathers, daughters, grandmothers killed without justice did not start with Trump’s presidency, but he has consistently promoted racist violence in his statements and his policies.

We stand with the international protests. Black Lives Matter. And here in the UK we cannot merely see racism as a US issue. Black lives matter in police stations. Black lives matter in hospital wards and care homes, on trains and buses, in schools and colleges – the shocking disparity in BAME Covid deaths even more dramatic among health and social care staff and transport workers. Black lives matter in the ‘hostile environment’. As individuals, we must listen and learn. As climate campaigners, we must speak out.

Climate breakdown has always been an issue of racism as well as social and economic injustice. How could it be otherwise, when the Global South suffers so disproportionately from something it has done so little to cause? Environmental racism also manifests in the toxic pollution from fossil fuel extraction burdening low-income communities in many countries. This has led to the concept of ‘sacrifice zones’. But when we compromise on cutting emissions, when ‘moderation’ is prioritised over climate scientists’ stark warnings and call to urgent action, we are accepting the idea that poorer countries and vulnerable communities should all be a ‘sacrifice zone’ for the sake of short-term profit.

We must insist on climate policy that says Black Lives Matter. We must stand with those, particularly indigenous peoples, who are defending their land, water and rights against fossil fuel companies and other resource extraction.

Right now we are heading for a recession that, like the pandemic, exacerbates all existing inequalities. And governments are handing out billions to prop up high-carbon industries. Campaigning for a green recovery which is also a just transformation of society, shaped by the voices of those on the streets, demanding an end to racism and injustice – this campaign has never been more urgent.

Rest in Power George Floyd. Solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter. There is no climate justice without an end to racism.”

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Image shows poster made for Coventry #BlackLivesMatter demo this weekend printed at Print Manufactory, using artwork by @StuffGraceMade. Photo © Print Manufactory.

Wednesday Recommendations: educating ourselves to be better allies.

“Because of the power dynamics in the world, she will grow up seeing images of white beauty, white ability and white achievement, no matter where she is in the world. It will be in the TV shows she watches, in the popular culture she consumes, in the books she reads. She will also probably grow up seeing many negative images of blackness and of Africans. Teach her to take pride in the history of Africans and the black diaspora. Find black heroes, men and women, in history….Teach her about privilege and inequality and the importance of giving dignity to everyone who does not mean her harm” (from Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)

In response to a couple of requests, this #WednesdayRecommendations post shares some of the resources that we’ve found particularly instructive in our continued efforts to educate ourselves to be both better allies, and pro-actively anti-racist. (If you are in Coventry & F13 and would like to borrow one of the books in the pic, please email us)

> TO READ (listed in photo order from the top of the pic):

What is Race? by Claire Heuchan & Nikesh Shukla

Dear Ijeawele by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch

Me and White Supremacy by Layla F Saad

The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla

Black and British by David Olusoga

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> TO LISTEN/WATCH:

Seeing White (Scene On Radio series) hosted by John Biewen

The Colour Green by Julie’s Bicycle, hosted by Baroness Lola Young

About Race Podcast by Reni Eddo-Lodge

Trevor Noah on George Floyd, Amy Cooper & Racism in Society on The Daily Social Distancing Show

If you are an artist based in or near Coventry and you have an idea you’d like to explore, please consider applying to our Nest Residency Programme.