(UK) London – notes from a reflective diary by Jane Goetzee (UK)

 Tuesday 20th March 2012 

Spare Tyre’s Tuesday afternoon session at Redbridge Community Centre  (connectedculture).

A group of 7 of us visited Redbridge to meet the group – a company of adults with learning difficulties who were preparing a performance based on machines, with the assistance of Nick – the musician, and Claire, the drama facilitator. This was the 9th week of rehearsals. We were to be the audience for a full practice performance.

We were invited into the drama studio by David, at the head of a ‘human snake’, made up of members of the cast. He instructed us to play follow the leader. Now part of the human snake, we processed together into the studio, copying the arm and leg movements of the person in front of us. This led to an improvised section where we used chairs to move around – echoing the movements of the cast. The participatory performance continued with improvised entwining movement and hypnotic music. The show ended with us all dancing together within a tiny marked-out area. Carefully planned, well-rehearsed and sensitively expressed…a truly inclusive performance.

During the question and answer session that followed, the group showed us a film about how they developed a sequence of interconnected group movement. They explained that they decided to use ‘contact work’ and music – from instruments they had made themselves – to express the idea of a human machine.  Members of the group invited us to try out the instruments – which we did with great enthusiasm!  An improvised music session followed – made possible by the warmth, generosity and talent of the group members.

For the last half hour of our visit, we were included in a demonstration of the group’s drama warm-up exercises: in a circle we passed on movements, from minimal to more expressive gestures, involving interaction with our chairs and moving around the circle.  All the visitors contributed fully and said later how relaxed they felt about joining in. Each visitor said they were impressed by the creativity and discipline of the cast. Some commented that they had never experienced drama activities in a group of people with learning disabilities, and found it inspiring, expressing a desire to find out more. It is probably testament to how involved and absorbed we all were during the session that we completely forgot to take any pictures!

We were thanked with hugs and warm farewells, and left smiling, feeling richer and lighter.

Artie Prashar

connectedculture have their office in Kennington – not far from a handy Pizza Express. Arti, connectedculture’s CEO and artistic director kindly agreed to come and meet us there during our evening meal. She took the trouble of working her way round the table, speaking to us in small groups.  She explained how connectedculture was trying to develop the best creative opportunities for groups of people in London who don’t have any opportunities at all. Consequently, their sessions take place all over London, wherever there is most need. She is very aware of the pitfalls regarding terminology and stereotyping and seemed genuinely concerned about ensuring the sessions offered age-appropriate activities for people with learning difficulties. It was refreshing to meet someone who was not certain of all the answers, but who was aware of the questions and remained open to discussion. All in all a very dynamic and friendly person – who, as luck would have it, we met again at the Because We’re Worth It Conference at the ICA on Thursday 22nd.

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Visit to the Tate

Talk and ‘workshop’ from Liz Ellis, with help from assistant Rosie (name).

The visitors from Poland and Lithuania did not find the visit helpful.  I offered to feedback on their behalf, based on their comments, as follows.

Although the group were not impressed by this event, Liz could not have been more welcoming and considerate. She gave her time and arranged for us to meet other researchers – two people from Canada who are visiting the Tate to observe how galleries connect with education.  We were given refreshments and Liz accompanied us into the galleries to look at some of the work. We had to leave at one o’clock but the impression was that she would have been happy to talk longer.

The ice–breaker activity and the attempt to discuss the four artworks chosen by Liz, in the very noisy crowded galleries, took time away from a possible discussion in the meeting room. She had wanted to use these activities to show the engagement methodologies that were used in the Community Learning projects at the Tate. The group felt that imposing an ice-breaker was unnecessary for our group and the gallery discussions were inappropriate because they were unsuccessful but time-consuming. Both activities prevented peer communication. Liz asked the group to think about a theme of art and power in relation to the work we were viewing. This added another layer of task, hindering further the business of mutual discussion.  Although Liz was keen to hear about the practices and experiences of the visitors, the logistical circumstances created by the task-orientated presentation did not encourage the group to contribute.

Liz wanted to tell us about what the Tate’s Community Learning project. The conference-room seating arrangements allowed for this but when coupled with being asked to move around noisy rooms and carry out tasks, the possibility of open and natural discussion was cancelled.  The fact that the session was being filmed created a sense that Liz may have been required to demonstrate ‘a Tate workshop’ as well as attempting to fulfil her Community Learning Presentation remit.  This situation unfortunately disallowed her obvious desire to communicate meaningfully with the group.

The group found the session a little chaotic and useful maybe only in a negative sense. It may have demonstrated that large institutions can be out of touch regarding real communication even though they seem to be putting a lot of time and effort into it. It seems an opportunity for all parties to learn from each other during this session was missed.

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