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.

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.

Bringing colour

moving panorama

Our days spent at The Booth Centre for the project Moving Panorama typically fall into a pattern, in the morning Matt and I work in the main one-to-one with people, it might be editing songs or gathering new material in the form of life story work, or themed interviews. Sometimes it’s simply chatting, listening, having a conversation- this activity could be easily undervalued, but it’s having time to be still and listen, that helps to build trust, builds a relationship and motivates new people to join our afternoon group sessions.

At times there are things that are very difficult to hear, cruelties re-told, re-examined, re-lived. Many if not most of the people we work with have suffered trauma of one description or another. The Booth Centre works to support people through their issues and to find ways to look and move forward.

Kathryn's sun

Kathryn’s sun

The art and music we create during the project Moving Panorama subtly supports this process. We see people’s confidence and skills improving, abstaining from drink or drugs, surprising themselves about their capabilities, finding joy in abilities they didn’t know they had. This project is also supporting and challenging my own work as an artist. The quality of the collaborative song-writing that Matt is leading, and the art work that our group is producing, is keeping me on my toes, re-freshing and challenging my art practice, keeping it fresh, motivating me.

group artwork

Yesterday afternoon we brought colour into the project- literally- until now all of our scrolls have been in black and white. Rolled out on the long table was 10 meters of white paper. We took out paint brushes for a walk, between readings of the first draft lyrics to one of the new song ‘Always Forward‘. It’s a song that thinks about all the people who have walked the streets of Manchester before us, and those walking them (or sleeping on them) right now. We all walked around the paper, filling it up quickly with vivid colours, crossing one anothers paths. The physicality of creating art, the speed and looseness, made us quickly warm up and relax into art making. We became quiet and focussed, enjoying the nature of the art materials as colours bleed into one another, the delight and magic of the process of painting.

Ian's Tent

Ian’s tent in Manchester

Into these painted pathways, we started drawing, writing and painting in response to the lyrics of the song. The scroll quickly took on a depth of meaning, a curiosity,  a maturity. The resulting artwork will look different again once they are moving across the Moving Panorama frame, at which point it maybe edited, drawn into again. The scroll artworks we are created stand alone as individual pieces, but I am confident that when they are performed with the songs, both artistic disciplines will enhance and bring alive each other.  We will get to try this out very soon….

always forward

Artist Lois Blackburn writing about the project Moving Panorama, a collaboration between The Booth Centre, Matt Hill/The Quiet Loner, Lois Blackburn, and The People’s History Museum. Supported by Arts Council England.

Ian drawing on scroll

 

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Tinplate workers

moving panorama

Drawing a long line

Today we visited the People’s History Museum. I met Ian for the first time, he’s currently homeless and came to the museum today carrying a sleeping bag with all his belongings inside it. As we chatted I found out that Ian was a builder by trade and is very knowledgeable about natural history as well as social history. He told us –

I’ve visited more museums since I’ve been homeless than I ever did before.

As we went round the museum Ian’s eye was taken by this oath – sworn by one of the Tin Plate Workers Society. They were a very early form of trade union – back when it was illegal to join one. It was clear they took membership of their society very seriously –

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“If I reveal any of this solemn obligation. may all the Society disgrace me so long as I live and may what is now before me plunge my soul into the everlasting pit of misery”

Later on I caught up with Ian and his friend Kathryn, sat round a table attempting to make some match boxes. The challenge was to demonstrate how ‘sweated labour’ had been a norm in the 19th century. Whole families would work from home assembling matchboxes. If they took longer than a minute per box it was likely they would starve and end up in the workhouse. Such was the low levels of pay for this piece work.

Later on we asked people to reflect on the museum and Ian wrote these lines, clearly taking his inspiration from the Tin plate Workers oath but giving it a twist –

Working in the everlasting pit of misery
So many hours, so little pay
Injuries the norm, death not unexpected

As we discussed as a group what we’d seen in the museum it became clear that some of the issues raised had played a part in people’s lives. Some of the older members of the group recalled the days of ‘closed shops’ when you couldn’t get a job unless you were in the union. One of our group recalled a protest for homeless rights he had taken part in.

We drew events onto a long scroll – marking dates and names. It was a long line that began with Thomas Paine back in 1792. Roy wrote a few lines about him, as he recalled working in Paine’s birthplace of Thetford, many years ago and how American tourists came to honour Tom Paine for his role in their independence.

With or without a brain
Plotted two revolutions – insane or sane?
Both without a penny gain
The great man – Thomas Paine

The scroll went on through the 19th and 20th century drawing a long line. As we read it all back, Danny reflected that “Every generation has its own fights”. We saw the line as one of progress as rights are won and eventually become taken for granted – like the right to vote. But also that in some areas we are going backwards and having to fight again for things we won before but have been eroded or taken away.

All of us there today brought our history with us. We’re all part of that long line.

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Matt Hill/The Quiet Loner writing about arthur+martha’s project, Moving Panorama. Supported by Arts Council England, The Booth Centre and The People’s History Museum.

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.