Archives for category: Mini-symposiums

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

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


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

From Mini-Symposium #1, Liverpool, 19.9.14 at The Bluecoat

Presentation by Gillian Dyson on her work in relation to  socially engaged performance practice.

  • Communicating with people as the practice – links to teaching / educating
  • Beacon Arts, Louth – Still Life – live event, bringing the building to life (the role of regenerating the building)
  • Audience moved into a new role…
  • Symbolism and objects
  • Drawing class, poems, no instruction
  • Activating the retelling – Gaze, a dialogue
  • Art is in the state of the encounter
  • Art as having ‘affect’ and ‘effect’
  • Shelf Life – commission – use of Verbatim script
  • Who’s story is who’s?
  • Artists having the skills of crafting
  • Subject-object collapse of binary, spectator-actor – breaking down binary
  • Reciprocity, time and experience
  • Objects as symbols – as an easy way in
  • The work is live – haptic, in the doing
  • Spending time with people – ‘Conceit’ of the story-teller role – The community as subjects – authors
  • Commissioning agencies – issue of holding the legacy – Artists have limited budgets – not always able to hold legacy


From Mini-Symposium #1, Liverpool, 19.9.14 at The Bluecoat

Presentation by Gisele Bone on her work in relation to  socially engaged performance practice.

Brief notes taken during Gisele’s presentation:

  • Educator, facilitator, project co-ordinator – these are both separate and blurred with arts practice.
  • Motivation as the ‘problem’… intuition as the ‘solution’
  • Project: Larks and Owls – issues of responsibility, insurance, pleasing people, not letting people down.
  • The unplanned
  • Democratic decision-making… thinking about how to do this
  • Being on bikes – equalises the relationship
  • Project: Artists in the City – engaging with the people of Preston, this felt contrived.
  • Engagement with people – through having hair cut – unintentional engagements
  • The issue of flitting into people’s lives – issue of being consistent
  • One to one conversations – recordable, manageable, not distracting, GPS tracked, using an art gallery as a hub
  • ESA commission – 1 month, the participants wanting to go on more rides
  • Brief given from the outside – UCLAN
  • Sifting
  • Is the art in the ride or in the documentation?

Table Discussion Notes : Interactions, Liverpool. 19th September 2014

What does a socially-engaged landscape for performance practice look like?

(collated discussion and thinking from all the participants in dialogue with and written up by Gisele Bone).

Framing – where are the limits?

Time – where does the artist stop?

Projects may be inconclusive


What does it offer?

Inquiry                 Enjoyment                   Exploration             Learning             Education                Representation of the needs, desires, validation of a community                Empowerment

Context                 Construct                   Intention                     Framing                Facilitating             Participating

Socially-engaged performance practice is not therapy (although it may have therapeutic effects).

Is there a performance practice that ISN’T socially engaged?

  • This isn’t very useful.

Is there a performance practice that ISN’T socially engaged?

  • Is there a way of avoiding this?

– What is useful about a socially-engaged landscape for performance practice?

– The tangible experience is different to what it becomes when you start talking about it.

– What could a socially-engaged landscape for performance practice look like?

– What should a socially-engaged landscape for performance practice look like?

– A forest clearing to one is peace, to another is hell.

– Landscape – everything your senses can take on board surrounds you.

– Just land!  Landscape is a product of the human mind.

– 360°

Defining itself – part of constant chaos

– Can never be defined – SEPP occurs.

– Fragile – definitions can stagnate.

… Eats itself and feeds itself.


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Table Discussion Notes : Interactions, Liverpool. 19th September 2014 (collated discussion and thinking from all the participants in dialogue with and written up by Dani Abulhawa)

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:

  • Is it about change? What about change?
  • What is the role of humour?
  • How can we engage in ‘collectivity’ as both social and artistic practice?
  • What does my sister do?
  • Isn’t everything ‘socially engaged’ really?
  • What is the artistry of change?
  • What is socially engaged practice? What is not socially engaged practice?
  • Body, affect, tactility, mess, politics? Does political work need to be didactic?
  • Who is our practice for? And how do we engage people in our socially engaged practice? What if those people we wish to engage don’t want to!?
  • What is important about the context/environment that you work in?
  • Public perception invading space – good/bad?
  • What is ‘social’?
  • Why are we here?
  • At what point is my art socially engaged?
  • How can we sustain/have a lasting impact with socially engaged artists?
  • In what ways can it have a real impact? What kind of impact? What impact(s)?

During the discussion part of the symposium, each group was asked to focus on one or two questions that they particularly wanted to debate. The following text attempts to articulate those discussions:

Group one questioned whether this symposium was a form of socially-engaged performance practice, and became interested with the question on the table about change: ‘is it about change? What form of change?’

This group questioned what the tension or relationship was between an artist’s motivation and the community or group who were the participants of the artist’s intervention.

We talked about how the defining of outcomes at the start of a socially-engaged performance project – a necessity seen largely by this group as associated with the requirements of funders – creates boundaries and can constrict possible outcomes for a project. The group acknowledged the need for some kind of prior aims or outcomes, but raised a concern over the tension between allowing the work to develop organically with a community group versus sticking to a prior plan.

Key words: change, outcomes, funding

Group two were interested in the question about who socially engaged practice is for: ‘who is our practice for? And how do we engage people in our socially engaged practice? What if those people we wish to engage don’t want to!?’

They asked about ‘need’ – what is the need for socially engaged performance practice? Who needs it? The group questioned how much socially engaged performance practice is imposed on a community or group and were critical of ‘parachuting-in’ projects, which are typified by the temporary intervention of a socially engaged artist paying little attention to the surrounding context of a community group and leaving without much concern for the aftermath of their intervention.

The group discussed the importance of allowing the community to take some ownership over a socially engaged performance project, to lead it in a different direction, and to say ‘no’ to the artist. At the same time, the group identified that people do not always know what will be good for them, highlighting how resistance to a project – as much as it expresses self-determination – might also be a form of resistance to challenges and new experiences that would be beneficial and enhance a community setting.

Key words: participant-led, need, intention, didacticism


Group three were interested in two questions: 1. What is socially engaged practice? What is not socially engaged practice? And 2. Isn’t everything ‘socially engaged’ really?

This group explored the question of what might be considered socially engaged performance practice by thinking about different sorts of projects and cultural/artistic settings. The group picked up on how art work that wouldn’t necessarily be thought of as performance may be socially-engaged, and brings with it social situations that do constitute performance moments. For example, the Angel of the North may be considered a socially engaged artwork in itself. If we have a discussion about it ‘down the pub’ does that constitute a socially engaged performance practice relating to the artwork?

We talked about the difference between the gallery and the theatre as two places in which social-engagement occurs. The group also questioned whether one-to-one performance can be considered socially-engaged purely because of the level of participation involved, and this raised a question over whether socially engaged performance practice necessitates physical participation. A discussion ensued about what it means to be a passive or an active receiver/participant.

A major point was raised that socially engaged performance practice responds to a sense of disconnection in society and therefore that socially engaged performance practice is often about person-to-person connection in meat space (rather than virtual environments).

Key words: connection, engagement, purpose, communication

Group four expressed an interest in the question about collectivity: ‘How can we engage in ‘collectivity’ as both social and artistic practice?’

Group four discussed how socially engaged practitioners borrow move and cross-pollinate ideas and frameworks from one social setting to another, therefore they have a central role to play in creating a more ‘circular society’ in which reciprocity and socially beneficial structures are established. The group also discussed how in socially-engaged performance practice there needs to be an attraction to the art or artist, which helps to sustain involvement and creates a space in which everyone feels invested in the work.

The group also touched upon issues around process and product, discussing how valuable the process is to socially engaged performance, and that there is a need to frame projects better around a valorization of process.

Key words: reciprocity, change, attraction, value


Image credits: Sarah Spanton

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