From Mini-Symposium #2, Leeds 8.10.14 at Yorkshire Dance

Brief notes taken during Tim’s presentation:

  • Gift, generosity, exchange – common threads in solo practice
  • Microfestival ‘Giving into Gift’ – 2011/2012/2013
  • Reacting to personal interests – socially, politically
  • 2011 – About feeding into each other’s development process
  • Credits and debts – stories told / gathered
  • Symposium – electronic piracy, volunteering
  • ‘Horses Teeth’ – making work for other artist
  • Anonymous bone marrow donor, and Tim’s relationship with them
  • Sparking conversation
  • The ‘ends justify the means’
  • Craftsmanship – the joy of doing something well, not for £/prestige/reputation – challenging capitalism
  • Craftsmanship gets neglected.
  • An awareness of how our work (artists) affects societal change – thinking about how we work

From Mini-Symposium #2, Leeds 8.10.14 at Yorkshire Dance

Brief notes taken during Dani’s presentation:

  • Knowledge as understood through doing.
  • Skateboarding – asking why is this ‘not meant for me’?
  • Skateboarding as play
  • Playfulness in urban space
  • Connection of gender and built environment
  • Work = performative and productive
  • Alternative representations of ‘woman’
  • Association of play with childhood – as adults we still play
  • Play that doesn’t look skilled – not spectacle / not to be consumed
  • Asking how do I present myself as gendered?
  • Use of grey dress – ‘ghosting’ of an archetype
  • Replicating the turning of the wheel
  • How strictly controlled public spaces are – how easy it is to be radical there

Written by Dani Abulhawa

Quarantine’s The Reading Room – performed in the stunning Wolfson Reading Room at Manchester’s Central Library on 14th Nov 2014 – was a delightful event and a performance that connected on different levels with the site and the people in attendance.

If you’ve never been to the Wolfson Reading room I really recommend it. It’s in the core of the circular library building, and the enormously high ceiling has a glass dome in the centre with golden lettering surrounding it that reads, ‘Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom; and with all thy getting; get understanding’.

The room has a particularly interesting acoustic quality. It seems to amplify and deepen tiny sounds, sending them scattering across the space, such that miniscule movements become like the sound of thunder on the other side of the room.

In the room are 28 large desks, each with a central strip of lamps that produces a focused, strong beam ideal for reading by. A performer was sat at each of these desks, with several sheets of plain paper and a schedule of the events that would happen throughout the performance. Audience members were invited to sit at any of the desks and could move desks at any time.


As people swarmed into the room at the beginning of the performance there was a period in which people were deciding where to sit and scoping out the different performers. A map of the space had been provided, which detailed who was sat at each desk and a text that they would be reading. Slowly, this chaos settled down, as people committed, for now, to a particular performer and desk.

The first part of the piece involved the performers trying to memorise all the books they had read and to write down what they could remember on sheets of paper, which were littered across their table for audience to read. It was enjoyable to glimpse into the literary history of the performers and to see what they thought about books that I had also read.

The next part of the performance involved the performers asking questions of the audience members who had sat down with them. It was fascinating to hear other people’s answers to these questions: ‘do you ever read to someone else?’ ‘Have you ever thrown a book across a room?’  ‘Where do you read?’ ‘What was the first book you ever read?’ ‘Do you ever read out loud?’

The last two parts of the performance involved the performer reading a text that was important to them, and finally the performers read the same text, in unison, whilst they remained at their own desk.

I liked the way that the performance responded to this unusual space – each performer at a glowing desk appeared like a little galaxy and we were invited to orbit and settle. I wasn’t much in the mood to be static (am I ever?) so I found myself orbiting a lot, and looking in on these galaxies. Some of only two people, heads together, deep in conversation that I didn’t want to interrupt; some groups of eight or more, chipping in to a conversation about a book or an experience of reading.

I loved the way the performance created spaces for discussion between strangers, and spaces for thinking about your own experiences of reading. I also liked the way the performance responded to the idea of a ‘reading’ room; Incorporating the activities of reading quietly, reading out loud, and of reading into people’s comments and thoughts.

The performance seemed to suggest that our bodies are vessels containing all the books we have ever read, and that we are filled with experiences and knowledge. The Reading Room was a moment of telling tales to each other, conveying anecdotes and the passing on of bodies of wisdom.

Image credit: Kate Daley

Written by Dani Abulhawa

I’ve been thinking about these terms a lot recently. They relate to my research on gendered play in the public built environment. For the past six years I’ve been engaged in a practice-as-research project that involves me going into town and making playful use of street objects, paving, railings and other things. I have performed this work in places where there are no people around and where there are lots of people. I have performed in Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Chester, Rugby, London, Bristol and Sheffield.

For this practice I wear a dress, which has developed over time, but is best described as something in a style that is reminiscent of fictional girl/woman characters. It is a sort of fairytale dress with puff sleeves and a full skirt. The fabric of this costume is grey cotton, referencing the generic outfit of city workers, and having connotations with uniformity, blending in, and the seriousness of a work environment.

I play ‘like a child’, but I avoid this identification because the activity is really a reclaiming of the act of play for an adult, and a woman. We human beings are players. Simple, improvised, spontaneous play is not merely something that children should do.

For me, the city is a social forum, a place that has been built by people and in which people’s lives play out. Practices of this urban place are like flows of social information; what people wear, how they move, and how they behave speaks to you. It is a flow of telling what is expected, what you can do and what you can’t. And the flow of information coming from the city is increasingly commercial. Our movements in the city are focused around the smooth transacting of money or the productive movement of workers to and from places of work.

My performances are an interruption. They aim to disrupt the flow of dominant social information. I am an interruption as a woman who plays, and I am being unproductive and non-commercial in this space. I don’t invite participation, but sometimes people join in with me, talk to me, and shout things at me. They interrupt or modify my flow in their own ways.

I always liked the idea of interruption because it doesn’t imply any kind of fixing of a problem (like intervention does) and the necessary privilege and authority that goes along with that. It simply points to another possibility or perspective, representing a different voice in the milieu of social soliloquies.

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Image credit: Dani Abulhawa





Written by Dani Abulhawa

During the summer I became involved with a project by artist Hannah Leighton-Boyce, which was centred around Helmshore Mills Textile Museum and the local community of Helmshore in Rossendale, Lancashire.

Helmshore Mills Textile Museum was once the site of two cotton and wool production mills. The Museum is wonderful – there is a wealth of historical information and really fascinating demonstrations of the machinery.

For Hannah’s project she became fascinated by a particular part of the production process – the carrying, hanging and drying of huge folds of fabric on tenter frames, which were located on the fields at the back of the mill. This would have been a group activity for mill workers, and the massive tenter frames hung with fabric, sitting 70-feet wide on the landscape, were said to have looked like huge sails.

The area of land used as tenter fields is now a housing estate. Hannah was donated an old aerial map of the area, which also mapped the lines of the tenter frames across the landscape. From this map, she worked with the people of Helmshore, and particularly the people living on what were the tenter fields, to map the placement of the old tenter frames through their homes and gardens.

Hannah’s idea for The Event of the Thread was to spin dozens of metres of woollen thread – made with wool from Helmshore sheep – and to work with the local community to pass the thread along the lines of the former tenter frames and through people’s homes and gardens, after which participants, neighbours and visitors gathered for a Jacob’s Join – a Lancashire term for a pot-luck buffet.


The Event of the Thread was a wonderful project to experience. It took several months of preparation, and relied heavily on the generosity of the local community. Their interest in connecting with the history of the landscape, through bringing stories and objects relating to the mill that had been passed down through the generations, and their help and enthusiasm in organising and completing the final punctuating event.

I was particularly drawn to the project because of the way it approached social engagement by making connections with people in the local community and from the community to the shared history of their landscape.

Hannah is currently producing documentation of the event in the form of an artist book. For more information about the project and Hannah’s work, please visit:

Image credit: Hannah Leighton Boyce

Table Discussion Notes: Interactions, Leeds. 8th October 2014

How does socially engaged practice affect / enact change in the working technique of the artist? (collated discussion and thinking from all the participants in dialogue with and written up by Gillian Dyson)

It challenges assumptions

‘Disturbance’ can make it challenging for people to react to – the rules have changed

Learning to ‘go with’ action/ reaction of audience/ participants

Enquiring into what a process is – process becomes a priority – ethics of process in therapeutic context

Social responsibility for effect / affect

> voice / power > activist?



Whose language? Does artist’s language adapt/ become sensitive to participants’ and vice versa?










The intention of the ‘unintentional’

Safe space


Challenging or disturbing


Dialogical practice

Finding things out and giving out – trading

> Generosity

> But you create a safe place and / or a repository for …

People can deal with difficult concepts

> Learning about yourself …

> The experience constantly feeds back

… How you choose to learn from the first situation


> Surprising


Sense of privilege – to facilitate others

… It’s exhausting

> Duty of care

> Lots of effort


People can give themselves freely

> Can reveal a lot – deep impact on individual / group

‘Craft’ > value the process, social interaction not ‘technique’

> But – not diluting the ‘art’ skill

< Dialogue with ‘non expert’ participants

Responsibility – they enjoy / and or take away


> Where does the ‘need’ come from?

> Love people or ordinary human curiosity …

..What is your heart’s desire?


Going with it …

Staying open

> Dialogue can be with yourself, – or the objects / work …

> But – dialogue with others would inform my solo practice

We can also be immersed in our own self practice – NOT be socially engaged.


Affects policy makers?

“ACE – “great art for everyone”

A democratisation in public spending


(Jeremy Deller, Grayson Perry, Bon & Roberts Smith.. et al)

Rosemary Lee working with inter-generational participants


Allows / insists that you consider other generations in your process or making …


Art therapy – therapeutic process

> Facilitation

> Revealing

> Expression – forms of voicing- as lightening rod…


> Responsibility – ethic / weight of engagement


Narrative/ other voices …

‘ Where does it go?’


Image credit: Sarah Spanton


The Bed exhibition brings a group of artists from the North West, Yorkshire and internationally, who each respond individually to the exhibition’s title Bed.

The events programme for Bed includes: An Interactions Discussion FREE

Weds 26 Nov: 7 – 8.30pm

An open conversation about socially engaged performance practice taking Spanton’s work (Slices / Seams) in Bed as a starting point, led by Interactions artists Sarah Spanton, Dani Abulhawa and academic and researcher Sarah Amsler (see below for more info about Sarah Amsler).

Got to – for more info about Slices / Seams.

Bed takes place at:

At Federation House : Balloon Street : Manchester : M4 2AH

  • exhibition : performances : project fold launch : talks : seminars

Preview: Fri. 21st Nov. 6pm – 9pm

Exhibition Opening Times

Sat 22 Nov & Sun 23 Nov, Wed 26, Thurs 27, Fri 28, Sat 29 Nov

12 noon – 6.00pm

Artists are: Bertha Husband : Alan Richardson : Stevie Cohen : Colin Lloyd : Simon Ford : Jacques Rangasamy : Mary-Jo Marchnight : Alan Marks : Lyndall Stein : Sarah Spanton : Ian Taylor : Ian Colverson : Phil Moody

Twitter @foldevents


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Sarah Amsler is a Reader in the Centre for Educational Research and Development at Lincoln University. Her research focuses on the politics of culture, particularly the role that knowledge and cultural practices – particularly in education – play in what Pierre Bourdieu called the ‘social conditions of possibility’ in everyday life.

She is interested in three questions. First, how does the political and economic organisation of cultural work, particularly in education and art, impact upon the nature and possibility of transformative social action? Second, how do cultural practices work to open democratic and emancipatory political forms and possibilities, and to close them down? Most importantly, what roles do different forms of education play in these processes? She has studied these questions in different contexts, including the role of public history and museums in the United States, the politics of social science in post-socialist Central Asia, and most recently problems of formal and informal education in the UK and globally.

Theoretically, this question weaves its way through debates around utopian epistemologies in critical theory, philosophies of ‘crisis thinking’, prefigurative politics, affective theories of critique and transformation, and various articulations of the relationship between aesthetics, politics and pedagogies.

Image Credit: Sarah Spanton

Table Discussion Notes: Interactions, Leeds. 8th October 2014 (collated discussion and thinking from all the participants in dialogue with and written up by Dani Abulhawa)

The table I was on was tasked with constructing a landscape of socially engaged performance practice. We drew pictures of our city, added people and buildings, a canal system, and we looked beyond at the outskirts, the rural areas, and the margins.

The first group tackling the landscape task set out a twin-city consisting of artist-driven projects on one side, and policy-led or institutionally driven projects on the other. There was a sense of tension between these two approaches, but a canal system was added to represent the strands of personal politics that connect and divide these two cities.


The second group talked about how the weather affects this city, and drew lines representing wind and rain hitting the city. The weather tended to symbolise wider political decisions that impact upon the landscape of socially engaged performance practice, particularly the ‘natural disasters’ of funding cuts. One participant talked about ‘weathering the storm’ of financial changes, but also acknowledged that a lack of funding and inclement weather can trigger interesting approaches to the creation of performance work.

We discussed the rural outskirts of the city – both in terms of a metaphorical rural or Edgelands, and the actual rural provision for socially-engaged performance practice. Many of the participants felt the same kind of tensions existed between artists and policy makers as those seen in urban areas, but on a smaller scale.

The issue of rural provision raised a point about craft in relation to art. Craft-based projects were seen as a way to make community art accessible. Later on in the discussion several people talked about the need to provide a way in for people, to the world of performance and art, and how recognisable and comfortable cultural and artistic forms can be a good way to bring people into a process they are unsure about. The issue of needing doorways in to socially engaged performance practice was expressed a few times; the need for a hook that appeals to a particular person or group of people.

Within the city, traditional theatre buildings and performance spaces were often deemed to be unsuitable, having too many associations with a world apart from that of the community who is being engaged with. Several participants expressed a need for ‘new spaces’, ‘open spaces’ and ‘found spaces’ that do not come with a history of performance practice.

Crossroads and roundabouts were added to the city, to illustrate how an artist navigates their own practice through the landscape, changing routes and approaches in relation to other people and outside influences.

A few participants added bombs or mines – suggesting that the landscape was fraught with problems, such as cultural clashes, issues of commodification, ethical concerns, and problems around questions of skill and value.

Also at the outskirts of this city were artists who don’t consider their work to be socially engaged, and community-led practices and subcultures not generally regarded as ‘art’, such as festivals, mumming, cheese-rolling, amateur dramatics, graffiti cultures, activism, pop-ups and small-scale gigs, etc.  All of which were recognised as socially engaged forms of practice in their own right. Therefore, there was a tension around the defining and commodification of socially engaged practices, both in terms of how this de-values some groups and organisations, and places pressure for outcomes and impact on others.


Image credit: Sarah Spanton

Table discussion Notes: Interactions, Leeds. 8th October 2014 (collated discussion and thinking from all the participants in dialogue with and written up by Gisele Bone).

Participants were asked to write a question when they entered the symposium. Something they were bringing to the session. These were the questions people wrote:

– Define ‘Interactions’

– What are the tensions that arise between social engagement and artistic practice – or are there any?

– How socially-engaged am I?

– What have I learnt? At what point is the audience not participating? – Work that happens in the public realm

– How can performance and public and objects interact?

– How to keep artist’s integrity (if that matters) in socially collaborative work?

connected to…

– How can we make socially-engaged, socially responsible and responsive work without losing the meaning? – Who’s meaning? Who is making meaning?

– What does socially-engaged dance look like? What is the difference / friction between ‘socially-engaged’ practice and (community) dance? WHAT ARE THE OPPORTUNITIES?

– What new things am I going to hear tonight? And what can I contribute to the discussion?

– Why do I need to consider social engagement in my practice?


What is ‘engagement’?

Solo practice? How about ‘socially-considered’? Am I engaging with the concerns of society – is that socially-engaged practice?

Not in panic mode – comfort zone – stretch zone – curiousity
Bored unless in stretch zone?


Moment or duration

Does it mean I have to work with somebody?

Social-engagement favours the individual
Whoever stumbles upon the work at that particular time
Forces less assumptions and has a different intention
Rather than the notion of ‘community’ that the person is seen as belonging to
The individual has a presence – the experience of the individual

Corporate – learning & engagement – measured and about reporting back – so different to social-engagement – about the individual

Socially engaged practice – comes from Fine Art practice? (asked by performance practitioner)
60s – performance – desire to leave the gallery space (response by visual artist who also performs)

Does it have to mean there’s a social issue?

Convergence of disciplines

Terms picked up by policy makers and will soon be dropped by practitioners

How can we make work that changes culture?
Do we want to change culture?
Who decides what to change?

connected to…

What’s ‘power’ all about? (‘Empowerment’ is a condescending term) ‘Engagement’ – who for / why / how?


Image credits: Sarah Spanton

Table Discussion Notes : Interactions, Leeds. 8th October 2014

What is the role of expertise in socially engaged performance practice / artworks? (collated discussion and thinking from all the participants in dialogue with and written up by Tim Jeeves).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, in the discussions had around this question, a theme that kept being returned to was around hierarchy and its implications – particularly when working with groups of non-artists – once someone was labelled an ‘expert’.

In part, we negotiated this by observing that there are many different kinds of expertise brought in to any project, and it is important to recognise the value to be found alongside the expertise of the art practitioner; i.e. the expert knowledge of a local area, having a particular identity, understanding a particular issue through lived experience.

We talked about how the different expertises are blended together through the making of the work. Though there may be a very clear hierarchy within a particular field of expertise, in the mix of the different forms, this structural inequality would get problematised and challenged. Words that were used to describe the artists role in this blending included: facilitation, direction, curation and co-creation.

Whilst making this mix is challenging enough to achieve in the context of a project, it is also worth remembering that the societal context – and its systems for attributing cultural capital – are also significant. The artist who facilitates a powerful artwork for social change is likely to be more rewarded in that broader society – both financially and in terms of status and reputation – than the LGBTQ participants that informed the work with their experiences.

Inevitably, with so many artists participating in the discussion, whilst the variety in expertise was constantly returned to, when it came to the specifics of our own experience, we would often talk about artistic expertise.


The link between expertise and confidence was also noted.

Expertise does – to a degree – inspire confidence. If someone walks into a room and baldly states that they don’t know what’s going on, then it is easy for them to lose the trust of the group.

Inversely, if an artist feels ill-equipped to deal with the inevitable mishaps or a shortage of time when there is a very fixed outcome to be working towards, then there is a risk that they may fall back on to a short-hand of expertise to solve things in a less than fulfilled manner. When expertise is utilised successfully, a key element would appear to do this whilst unknowing, albeit with confidence.

We felt that many of the dangers of expertise are related to the ego, but were also careful to remember that there are positives to it as well. In spite of any risks, expertise, and its isolationary aspects, offers positive contributions to socially engaged practice as well.

An (artist) expert is someone that is able to:
– refer to alternative / progressive / radical practice performed elsewhere that perhaps someone else – not an expert in the field of performance / art – wouldn’t be aware of. They have access to a range of knowledge-based tools.
– spend time thinking on relevant issues – they might have ethical expertise, or expertise in articulating and asking difficult questions in new ways.
– break rules: they can make the world go wonky whilst keeping it safe. Artists have greater freedom in some instances (i.e. someone who works within an institution) though it is important to remember that they are still under pressures and the risk of self-censorship is a real one.

Expertise is not a fixed thing that someone ‘has’.
It is fluid; it grows by assimilating previous work and experiences into a practice. It becomes something different from what it currently is through reflection and critique of practices.


Image credits: Sarah Spanton