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.

A book of ours

A Book of Ours, Projects

The first day of a new project brings many questions to the table. And this one was no different. We are making an illuminated manuscript with people at the Booth Centre, following on from our project The Homeless Library, which was the first history of British homelessness. It gave first hand accounts of peoples life journeys, often pivoting around homelessness, illustrated with poems and artworks and inscribed into handmade books.

 

 

This new project is the construction of an illuminated manuscript. 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, clumped together simply as homeless when they are so much more.

First job of the day was to re-acquaint ourselves with old friends. We worked at the booth centre for 10 years on and off, and some faces were very familiar. Laurence, with a twinkle, said, Everything gets put to one side for arthur+martha. Joan gave us both a hug. Danny ditto. As we sat down to work, Id the feeling that there was nowhere else to be sitting in the world that bettered this.

 

 

In todays workshop, we made a timeline of significant day and people wrote short 24-word descriptions of their chosen days. (There are, after all, 24 hours in a day.) We also did a little experimenting with calligraphy pens, with colours, with paper and with page layouts. Some powerful work was made, beautiful miniature narratives and playful page compositions. 

 

 

But some of the most important work was to ask questions. We are using mediaeval manuscripts as the basis for our book. These are the Books of Hours that celebrated the Christian calendar. So how do we adapt this template for our purposes? For instance, the medieval calendars were often written in black, red, blue and gold, with a particular meaning assigned to each colour. But what meanings did our group associate with these colours? Is red a colour of love, or a symbol of blood? Is black grief, or power, or…? And gold  is it the colour of money, or something less earthbound?

 

 

 

And as we talked, the shape of this book of ours slowly began to emerge…

With thanks to everyone at The Booth Centre for their warm welcome, the support of Lottery players and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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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Stronger Together

moving panorama

 

I’m still a newcomer to the Booth Centre so during the morning session I got chatting to a few people.  The Booth centre attracts a rich variety of people, from Kazakhstan to Collyhurst, all with their own tales to tell.  As a songwriter I love to hear people’s stories. We all have our different backgrounds and experiences that make up who we are. So as a first step to writing a song I asked people to think about life stories – their own and other peoples.

Anne Marie and Gary

Anne Marie and Gary at the People’s History Museum

Gary is from Salford and he wrote from his own life experiences

Salford is a city but has no pity. The people are good but not always understood.
I’ve seen you there but you have no time to spare.
You see the trouble but you don’t understand my struggle.

I can identify with Gary’s sense of frustration that people only see the surface and don’t understand the struggles going on below. Although we all walk our own paths, it’s important to try and imagine what life is like for other people. To put ourselves in their shoes.

Gary at PHM

Gary with NHS banner

I asked Joan to pick a person she admired to write about. She picked Shirley Bassey, the singer from Cardiff with the big voice. I asked her to think about what it must be like for Shirley performing and how she might feel when it’s all over. I was really drawn to how Joan saw Shirley on stage, she really has some empathy for her-

When she sings her face is sometimes sad.
Before it lights up as she sings her heart out.
But when she comes off stage she’s emotional

and feels like crying. We all love her. 

Ingus and Anne Marie

Ingus and Anne Marie

In the afternoon a group of14 of us went to visit the People’s History Museum, a place full of stories of people’s lives and struggles. I know the museum well and I’ve written songs about the stories it contains.
I walked round the galleries with Christian, Michal and Jerzy who are from Poland and Ingus who is from Latvia. Although we are from different countries the museum allowed us to find things we had in common.

For example the story of the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester in 1819 resonated with events in Poland in the 1970s when the government sent in soldiers to break up demonstrations.  An exhibit on post-war rationing bought up discussions about the rationing which was part of daily life in Poland until 1989.  When reading about Victorian factory working conditions Christian reflected on a job he had recently when he first came to Manchester. It was also in a factory and during the long shifts staff were filmed and recorded at all times and not allowed to talk to each other.

The museum evoked many different reactions. Some people found it harder to identify with the events of hundreds of years ago but were able to connect better with events post 1945 which are in living memory. When we all regrouped for a cuppa I captured some of the groups initial reactions and thoughts in this graphic.

Interesting

Peggy  felt that todays younger generations don’t value the freedoms they have. And others agreed that people should know more about the struggles of the past. I kept thinking back to the words Gary had written in the morning  –

You see the trouble but you don’t understand my struggle.

The People’s History Museum is all about understanding people’s struggles – the fights for representation, for a voice, the fight for equality and better conditions at work. Some of those fights were turbulent, people were arrested, put in prison, executed. Through the museum we can understand the struggles that led people to such desperate measures.

I think the final word belongs to Ingus

We can understand each other better through sharing our history. When we get to know each other we see we are the same. We’re stronger together.”

 

Matt Hill/The Quiet Loner

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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