Let daylight come down on earth again

A Book of Ours, Projects

“One of the men sat next to me- hes got a lot of things going on, sleeping on the streets at the moment. Hes had an amazing day. You could see how relaxed he was, how focussed…

(Karen, support worker Booth Centre)

 

Today was our second day into our new project ‘A Book of Ours’, making an illuminated manuscript with people whove experienced homelessness.

Not only are we trying to make an artwork, we are also constructing an atmosphere that people can relax in and learn to trust. Its impossible to let your imagination play if you dont feel safe, or sense youre unwelcome, or being judged. People living on the streets or in hostels often tell us that a quiet space thats safe is a rare luxury amongst the mayhem, violence, stress. One of the pleasures of this session was to see people dancing away in their imaginations, in the company of others.

The morning session was boisterous and loud, an energy blast. We invited people to make short poetic pieces about their red letter days. Days when time went fast, or slow. G wrote a typical day in a prison cell, the sounds, smells, the boredom and fear. R described the loss of a relative, a long, slow, sad day. C wrote about the amazement of seeing an eclipse, as a child (a little excerpt from that is the title of this blog). Someone else described urinating in the church font, as revenge against a bullying priest. For someone else again, today was his red letter day, his first day in the Booth Centre, a day full of relief but also trepidation. These descriptions were boiled down to a few words and will be written into the calendar framework that we are devising for the first section of this ambitious book.

The theme is time and how we value certain moments of it. Or dont value them. Heres a Brilliant Job day, in precisely 12 words: Started work, didnt realise my day was over til someone told me.Rachel

Alongside the writing, pages of sumptuous lettering were appearing as the makers became immersed in their work. Suddenly, the paper was transformed into colour and glorious flowing lines. When we came back after lunch we were surprised and delighted to find that many of the morning group had returned. People had got a good meal inside themselves and this helped fuel them into the afternoon. Heres our support worker Karen again:

Can be a full stomach makes the difference. People having lunch and coming back up to do more doing full day…I spoke to a few people while they were in the workshop. All seemed to really, thoroughly enjoy it. The fact people came back from lunch, after working all morning is unusual, important. Its a nice space to build up rapport. People get to know parts of themselves and share in a way that they wouldnt necessarily share downstairs.

One of our guides on this project is the poet William Blake, his extraordinary visions were recorded in poems and artwork. His kindred spirit in our group is Lawrence whose wondrous outpouring of word/image brings delight to us all, despite his occasional grumpiness. Once again Laurence took flight up into the colour and light and others followed him in a swirl of colour and poetry and (always) humour.

As we came to the end, the group gently broke apart, saying their goodbyes, shaking hands, grinning shyly at each other. Then went downstairs and back into it all. Well leave the final word to Karen:

It can get manic in the Booth and I came upstairs into this session and immediately felt the vibe. It was just so settled. People getting into it. And me? I absolutely loved it.

This new arthur+martha project is the construction of an illuminated manuscript at the Booth Centre and other support centres for people with experience of homelessness. It will gather together significant events, dates, people, celebrations and memorials all in one book, giving a wide cross-section of hugely individual lives. Our hope is that by doing this we reassert the identity and the individuality of people who are sometimes dismissed as homelesswhen they are so much more. Supported by HLF.

Top Kid

moving panorama

I am delighted to share our first film from the Moving Panorama performance at People’s History Museum with the Booth Centre as part of Manchester Histories Featuring Roy Johnson, Matt Hill/ Quiet Loner With artwork led by artist Lois Blackburn…. Look out for more films in the next while…

A TOP KID (Lyrics by Roy Johnson, music Matt Hill)

 Fightin a cause,                            on no ones bid
A union boy fought                      for an xtra quid
Shouted in the bosses kipper     he no hid
Ended in the big house,              2 years he did


Campaigned for the workers, stood up for the men

Like others had before him and like others will again

His name was Ricky Tommo and we’ll remember him

He’s a top top kid, He’s a top top kid, He’s a top kid

A mixed race lad        a freed slave Dad
Worked as a tailor     when times waz bad
Three times he wed   three times a cad
Van Diemans land     His end waz sad

Campaigned for the workers, stood up for the men

Like others had before him and like others will again

His name was William Cuffay and we’ll remember him

He’s a top top kid, He’s a top top kid, He’s a top kid 

BRIDGE
Top top kid                         Top top kid

Top top top top, top top top top kid

Top top top top, top top top top kid

A Glazgie boy             Jock waz a rock
Morning Star              rolled up in iz sock
What a man                like a barrel and a lock
Hated the bosses       with their shares and stock

Campaigned for the workers, stood up for the men

Like others had before him and like others will again

His name was Jock the rock and we’ll remember him

He’s a top top kid, He’s a top top kid He’s a top kid

[Bridge to playout]

Cover photo, thanks to Jenny White.

Leave it at the door

moving panorama

The reality of working with any group of people- particularly when you throw together a mix of people by circumstance rather than design- is you are sometimes going to hear opinions that differ from your own… occassionally these might tip over to racist, sexist or other ‘ists’, people can be quite extreme in their politics- or deeply apathetic.

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In additition each of us brings with us baggage from our lives.  Working at The Booth Centre, (a day centre for homeless people in Manchester) the baggage can be very heavy, the history each person brings with them, the struggles of daily life. The trick is to leave it at the door. It’s not always easy, particularly when we are not in the workshop session- those between times seem to be when things kick off. But in the sessions, if things are going well something magical happens, we all are caught in the moment, the outside world seems to disappear, any problems, stresses are reduced. It’s medicine with no warning labels, no bad side affects. Now-a-days it might be called mindfulness, but anyone who has really enjoyed and been absorbed in art making will know, its a beautful side affect of creative activity. And it’s not just the art (and for Moving Panorama, beautiful songs and performance) that works for us, it’s the group dynamic to. I’ve talked about it this on these blogs before, but I am repeatedly delighted by how supportive our groups at The Booth are- more than in any venue I have ever worked at before. Our group nurtures, encourages and as people’s confidence grows, people gently challenge.

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So I know what ever baggage I have brought of my own to the session, I will come away feeling lighter, a weight lifted, my eyes clearer. We witness this happening to our group, we are told this in the feedback. This is arts and health in action- Ian one of the group has asked me about my job a few times, he often remarks how happy I seem, how much I seem to enjoy my job- It’s simple for me- why would I want to do anything else in life?

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Artist Lois Blackburn/arthur+martha, writing about the project ‘Moving Panorama’, with singer songwriter Matt Hill/The Quiet Loner, and groups from The Booth Centre. A free public performance of Moving Panorama will be at The People’s History Museum, on the 11th June between 12.00 and 1.00.

Supported by Arts Council England.

Dust

moving panorama

There are moments in life when it all comes together.

Yesterday afternoon, our group where lined up along a large scroll of paper, deep in the most dynamic, joyful, playful responses to our song ‘Dust’ you could hope for. At times laughing and chatting, at times silent engrossed in the pleasure of charcoal and pastel, mark making, the lines dancing accross the sheet.

Johno and danny

It was the hottest day of the year (so far) the subject matter felt appropriate, we talked about the dust kicked up on a summers day and beyond; the star dust we came from, the dust we turn at the ends of our lives… dust created from our skin, the dust carried from one city to another on our feet, the dust of history.

This was an afternoon of the art and the art makers letting go, freeing up, relaxing, and vitally- finding a way to really connect to the music being made. We listened to Matt singing the song ‘Dust’, and people responded on paper, it wasn’t precious or over thought out, but more instinctive and free.

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One of the joys of working in a group on one single piece is the confidence you can gain from others. I include myself here, it can take me a while to loosen up, but working with others inspires, cajoles and gently challenges.

Matt and I found a rhythm in the management of the workshop to, yesterday it suited the session for Matt to be able to work one-to-one with people- a luxury you wouldn’t get in a session run by one artist/songwriter… One-to-one means you can give undivided attention to someone, can see progress in confidence and skills so much faster. In addition its a wonderful thing being able to offer people a choice of activity. One participant who has been reticent about writing on previous sessions, started in the morning and with very little encouragement wrote all day, as the day went on we saw a real breakthrough in their writing, there was a passion to get down thoughts, examine memories, play with words. And then the obvious delight in having these words sung back to them.

We will have to wait to hear that song. In the meantime, Dust.

 

DUST

lyrics by John and Vincent

 

I was born as a child

Had no sense of direction in life

I created my own storm

But the storm created dust

 

Dust, dust, dust

 

I realized motivation

Is a part of my creation

I believe that growing up

Created an unstableness

 

And I couldn’t see much through the dust

I couldn’t see much through the dust

Dust, dust, dust

 

I was born surrounded by paradise

Where everything was there for you

Coconut tress, Mango trees,

and the Soursap breeze

 

Dust, dust, dust

I couldn’t see much through the dust
I couldn’t see much through the dust

Dust, dust, dust, dust, dust

Dust, dust, dust, dust, dust

 

Tell the sweetest fruit on the tree

of all the Birds I have seen

that Every years a mascarade

Beware the Mirrors on the face

 

sweetest fruit

As we were clearing up, Danny and I were chatting about the project and the after affects:

“That’s what happens with your sessions, I’ve got ideas in my head I want to get down now.. I’ll go and sit in the park and write.” Danny

Artist Lois Blackburn, writing about the project ‘Moving Panorama’, with The Booth Centre and The People’s History Museum Manchester. Supported by Arts Council England.

Silent Voices

moving panorama

2 o’clock break time, our brews made by the familiar face of a man who I’ve never seen sat down, always helpful, cheerful and friendly.  It turned out that he could have died yesterday- he’s got a problem with his heart, it’s a mystery to the medical profession. He’s getting further tests done, but at the moment, everyones in the dark.  His turn of phrase is mater of fact, he’s one of life’s survivors, does things himself, gets on with it.  3 years ago he was homeless, living on the streets. An alcoholic with no money for drink, and with no intention to beg. His solution? locked in a garage, on his own, no food, no drink, he dried himself out for three days. He crawled out looking for water. These are not the usual things you hear about when someone is fixing you a cup of tea. But then The Booth Centre isn’t usual. It’s a quite extraordinary place, a place where you always have another chance, you can recuperate, see yourself differently and the arts play a big part in it.

Johno drawing

I’m working on the project Panorama, with singer songwriter Matt Hill/The Quiet Loner. It’s week 3 of our workshops at The Booth. We’ve got lots to do before our performance in June at The People’s History Museum, but todays session reassured me that we could do it. We’re beginning to refine our theme- there is so much to inspire us at The People’s History Museum, but something that everyone in our group related to was the theme of struggle.

‘Everyone who comes here finds something a struggle, from the past, present or the future.’ Gary.

‘Struggle, that’s about it- last week I didn’t turn up for the trip- no roof over my head, I’ve got one now…but it’s still a struggle. I’ve had it nice a few times, but that neck of oil (alcohol) will be the death of me’ Johno.

Johno's drawing of Lois

Johno’s drawing of Lois

Matt worked on a song with the group, I did some drawing with everyone- some examples here. We laughed as we drew, it was more like a game at times, playful but very productive. We used techniques I acquired at art school, blind drawing, keeping your pen on the paper… I joined in, I loved it, the results are wonderful. Next time we start collaging them together into a crowd scene for our panorama.

Johno's drawing of Bella

Johno’s drawing of Bella

Some beautiful lyrics appeared.  Gary wrote about silent voices, ‘Silent voices in my head all the time…’ the chorus was sung loud ‘This is life’.

Thanks to everyone who is supporting this project, and all who are joining in our workshops with honesty, openness and a sense humour.

Lois Blackburn

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All is sweet- mither non

moving panorama

What a joy to be back at The Booth Centre, to start working on the Panorama project, alongside Singer Songwriter Matt Hill/The Quiet Loner. I’m always a tad nervous when we start a new project, Panorama brings with it quite a few firsts for me and arthur+martha: the first song writing, the first music/song performance, the first time we have attempted to make a ‘moving panorama’, the first time we have worked with Matt

I arrived at The Booth at 9.30, when the morning rush was at its peak. It’s a place full of energy, patience, kindness, purpose, noise and the occasional outburst of frustration or anger- always quickly worked through with ever alert staff and volunteers. After breakfast was cleared away, Matt worked the room, meeting new people, drumming up interest in the project, sounding out the themes. Quickly a group of people who where interested in drawing joined me in a side room.

Joan and her drawing

Joan and her drawing of Manchester

Phil and I have been lucky enough to run a series of projects at The Booth over the last few years. It means we are pretty much guaranteed at least one person along to a session who has been before to a previous project. They are huge assets- a trusting relationship has already been formed, they work as advocates to the project- sharing their enthusiasm with others, they can help point out to us who might enjoy or benefit from being part of the group, they advice and feedback on the individual workshop and project itself. On Thursday I’d like to thank Lawerence, Joan and Johno who did just that, with their support, new people felt more confident to join in.

Johno

Johno and his drawing of The Pankhurst Centre

In the afternoon Matt, our new group and I sat on a big table and started creating, infact even before Matt and I had finished our introduction, people had started drawing and writing. I was a little overwhelmed by how much energy and enthusiasm people put into the afternoon. One of the highlights for me was when the group took it in turns to read out ‘pen portraits’ of individuals whose stories are told at The People’s History Museum.  Extraordinary stories like William Cuffay’s below.

william cuffay

As we hoped would happen, people found connections to the stories, either with their own life experiences, or experiences of friends and family. Many of the group haven’t been to the PHM before, many haven’t done any artwork since school, many haven’t written or performed music.  Finding these personal connections, will be the way into the PHM museums collection, and meaningful artworks and songs.

Crystal's drawing

Crystal’s drawing of Hannah Mitchell 1872- 1956

We’ve got a lot of work to do together, and not a lot of time to do it, but after the first day, I’m confident that we are going to do some extraordinary work together.

Lois

Thanks to Johno, who did his own summing up of the day:

This is the 1st – Day one

part of the firm- Lois the don

ain’t no sun, but the company warmth shone

going good all tres bon

all is sweet- mither non

 

 

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The journey of two quilts

Stitching the Wars

I’m currently looking at the Stitching the Wars quilts, I’m checking to see if there are any repairs to be made. They’re about to take another journey, this time their off to York to the Quilters’ Guild to be archived in their collection. While I’m stitching, making repairs my mind is musing about the life this quilt has already had.  It’s a quilt that is been made by many hands, (over 500 people contributed) some nimble, some inflicted with arthritis, seen by sharp eyes and those with limited sight. whilst making it people chatted, their minds wondered, they shared memories, day to day concerns and delights. For some the simple pleasure was working with rich colours,  many delighting in the pleasure of enjoying different textures of fabric in their hands, from silks to felts, to knits, velvets and tweeds, for people living with dementia, this multi sensory experience can be hugely beneficial.

Fresh air and Poverty

‘Fresh Air and Poverty’ at National Trusts Lyme Park © Garry Lomas

 

Workshops took place in day centres, a hospice, craft groups, dementia cafes, Libraries, always with cups of tea and biscuits. Materials for the quilts was donated, brought from charity shops and occasionally from fabric shops. Fabric was dyed in big baths of colour, inspired by the Derbyshire landscape for a bombers moon and by colours associated with wealth and grandeur, for fresh air and  poverty.

As the quilts grew in size we found space to look at them and put them together where ever we could, whether that was the floor of a library, or the largest tables we could find. I would stand bouncing on a chair to try and get a view of the whole. When you are making quilts it’s all about the touch, then they take on a different life, in exhibitions, there is rarely touching allowed.

 

bombers-moon

‘A Bomber’s Moon, photographed at National Trusts Lyme Park © Garry Lomas

I am very keen that the work gets shown in a wide variety of venues. First of all the quilts get shown to the people who have collaborated in the making of them. Then we have mixed grand venues with more humble exhibition spaces. From the National Trusts Lyme Park,  a viewing by Prince Charles at the Farming Life Centre,  the walls at Buxton Art Gallery and Museum, they have sat along side books in a tour of Derbyshire libraries, and exhibited at Derbyshire Record Office, archives shown alongside photos from our book, and from Pictures of the Past.

Dorothy with quilt

Dorothy, one of our participants, and her embroidery ‘Clouds Farm’.

Every time I look at the quilts I see something different and memories are sparked for me, memories of the people who made the work and the stories they shared, the struggles they overcame to stitch, to remember. The delight in sharing,  the excitement in seeing the work coming together. The awards of having your voice and talents shared and respected.  As I look at it today the colours have never seen seemed so vivid, the work so full of life. I’ve had my hands  and eyes over every square inch of this quilt and yet I am seeing something new today. It’s nearly time for me to let them go and pass them on for another life and I can’t think of a better place for them to go to. In the safe hands of The Quilters’ Guild, the quilts will be photographed, kept safe for posterity and will be a available for exhibitions, as learning tools, to be enjoyed and a record of all the people who helped make them. Seeing them today has reignited my passion for this art form there is so much more to explore and to share. I am thrilled that these two quilts that has meant so much to the people who have made them, will be looked after with so much care and shared around the world.