Tuesday, 25 November 2008

What kind of writing?

I had a really interesting meeting with a writer called Denna Jones a couple of weeks ago. She’s a writer who does work that relates to place, from ‘public art’ residencies to involvement in masterplanning processes. We talked a lot about the importance of the narrative of a place, about how writers can explore and ‘give back’ the lost narratives of a place to the people who inhabit it, engendering pride, conversation, and change.

One thing we also discussed was the focus I have taken so far on the idea of ‘creative writing’. It’s not a term I’m particularly comfortable with, and am becoming less so. As Denna said, all good writing should be creative. I increasingly think that the thing I am interested is story and narrative, and that doesn’t necessarily need to be restricted to the defined spaces of ‘poetry’, ‘prose’, ‘script’ etc. Perhaps what I am interested in is a new kind of writing, that exists outside of the boundaries of literature that I have grown up with and interacted with so far?

Friday, 21 November 2008

The power of language

I wanted to post this emailed comment from a writer called Naomi Alsop who I met at The Writer’s Toolkit – a conference organised by Birmingham Book Festival in October this year:

“Reading your blog from today about Obama’s victory and the role of fiction in preparing people for the idea of a black president, I thought about an article I read when researching my undergraduate degree in sociology, (Metaphors we discriminate by: Naturalized themes in Austrian newspaper articles about asylum seekers by Elizabeth El Refaie). El Refaie argues that the various metaphors used to describe asylum seekers in the press (flood, influx, army, horde etc) have become so naturalized that people don’t realize they’re metaphors and that can result in people accepting behavior against asylum seekers which they wouldn’t otherwise. So if you’ve internalized metaphors of asylum seekers as an invading army it’s acceptable to use the army to intercept and detain them (as in Italy, eg), if criminality metaphors are used it’s natural to detain them, if they’re a natural disaster we need to improve our defenses against them. That article was one of the points at which I decided I wanted to use stories to challenge the dominant discourses which divide people and instead work towards using language to foster understanding.”

(Naomi will have a website soon: www.naomialsop.com - and can currently be contacted at info@naomialsop.com)

Her email reminded me of something Inua Ellams said at the TINAG roundtable discussion in October, about the power of words to change perceptions, and how the role of writers working in a community regeneration context could be to explore and positively impact on the meanings and power of the language used to describe a place.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Jargon Buster

I just found this (http://www.regenerationexchange.org/jargon.php) on the Regeneration Exchange website - great if you're feeling confused by regeneration jargon.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Arts Professional Article

Arts Professional have published a short article about writing and regeneration as an online 'addition' to their current issue, which focuses on arts and regeneration. It's got a terrible title, but do take a look. You can get to it from the Arts Professional
website homepage. Go to 'web exclusives' and then to (ahem...) 'Words of Wisdom'.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Barking Metamorphosis

UrbanWords is involved with a really exciting project in Barking, East London, working with the Barking Learning Centre, writer Yemisi Blake, the art/architecture practice muf, product design students from the Royal College of Arts, and young people living in Barking.
There are chairs, tables, trees and stories, and much more to come. I am very excited about it! We've set up a project blog at www.barkingmetamorphosis.wordpress.com which will be developing over the next few weeks.

No Hiding Place

Myself and Aoife Mannix performed part of the soundscape we’ve created during our residency on the Greenwich Peninsula at the conference, Artists Making Places, on Monday 10th November, organised by Art on the Greenwich Peninsula.

It was a fascinating conference, with an emphasis on the power of art and artists to effect real change in places and communities. Declan McGonagle chaired the conference, and was commissioned to write a paper as a provocation for the conference. It’s called ‘No Hiding Place’ and is a fantastic and inspiring piece, which argues for art to be seen “not as a decorative antidote to reality but as one means of comprehending and transforming that reality”. I’d recommend it (and it’s quite short!). You can download it from here: http://www.artongreenwichpeninsula.com/debateEducation.php

Alfredo Jaar gave the conference keynote, and was again inspiring about the role of the artist as a catalyst for change. He talked about how artists can create new models of thinking and new ways of communicating, emphasising that communication only works when an answer is invited and given. His approach is about dialogue and collaboration, rather than trying to convey ‘a message’.

One thing Jaar said which really stuck with me was: “an active community is a community that creates.” I agree with him, and in the importance of arts and creativity in the fabric of our lives.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Can stories change the world?

I've been thinking a lot recently about how stories can effect positive change. I remember working in a job where employees were stuck in negative storytelling patterns. It was like we were all trapped in the same story : 'it's rubbish, no-one ever listens to us, what's the point? etc. etc.' I attended a storytelling conference at around the same time and started to wonder whether workshops with staff to encrouage them to start to tell different stories might somehow help the organisation break out of this negative cycle. I didn't follow my idea through, but the connection between stories and positive change has been following me around ever since. My logic is, if we can tell a different story, then that can open up a space for a different narrative to happen. The story itself won't change things, but it can create the space and the possibility for change to happen.
I've been thinking about this again in the run up to the US election. When commentators questioned whether the US would ever elect a black president, I couldn't help thinking, well, the story has already been told; we have all read novels and watched films where there is a black US president. That space has been opened up by fiction, and perhaps now is the point reality can step in.
I'm not suggesting that the films casting black actors as the US president are responsible for Obama's victory, but I do wonder if they played a role, if the world came to this election having already seen a black man in the white house, and decided to step into the space made by those stories.