Caitlin Magda Shepherd

"Art belongs not to the active life but to the contemplative life—not to the vita activa but to the vita contemplativa." Nicholas Wolterstorff

Month: February, 2017

Home and Analysis

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Yes, so I went house hunting. Um it’s supposed to be something exciting but it ended up, um turned out to be very thought provoking, personal, emotional. Yeh. So I started with the, um number 12. Which was the smaller space. I was excited when I was going to open the door. It was such a tiny space, and um, I felt like, uh, I felt like I was being the invader of this personal house uninvited.”

Discord Audience member

Analysing over 100 audience feedback comments, 5 in depth written accounts of Discord and 8 in depth interview videos is no mean feat, and at times has led me to feel prisoner to the task. But the experiences and the accounts of the experience is fascinating, and it underlines why non didactic story-telling to invigorate the personal and political address of key issues (housing security) is an effective and important way to initiate discourse within our burning political theatre. I mean, I would say that wouldn’t I. I’m someone interested in the banal stories of everyday life (Highmore, 2002), and how the presentation of these stories invites personal and social reflection and action on today’s unequal society, and how to readdress such inequality.

Interestingly, while I listen, read, re-listen, re-read, code, design coding hierarchies, re-read, re-watch, re-listen, spot themes, groups of ideas, recurring criticisms of the work, spoken through the lips of others, I’m sitting in my own home. I’m concurrently looking at my own object of identity, that which signifies me, those things I carefully choose to surround myself with. And I’m aware as people talk about home as safety and security, how insecure my own housing journey has been over the past decade.

“It’s sort of kind of hopelessness, It seems like this crazy environment that out of control, and I don’t know how I’d ever afford a house. I mean you feel kind of powerless, I mean what can you do? Well I’m kind of I feel like I’m too young to worry about these kind of things, so it’s a future problem.”

Discord Audience member

This was not to do with a shame and subsequent denial of privilege but to do with basic need. I’m one of those people who has needed cheap, secure tenure; but have wanted it to be nice, pretty, clean, cultured, spacious. Fat chance. In the past few years, I have felt as though I have sacrificed the nice part. Since 2007 (there are many stories before that, but I draw the line at 10years) , I have lived in a flat above a listed public house, an abandoned office block, an attic above a pub, a dull room at street level, a tiny corridor room in a shared house, a train carriage perched high on a hill at a farm, a library in a bell tent, a tiny box room on a street with my bed on stilts to ensure enough room for a few possessions, back to the farm only to be curtailed by a financial freak out, a spacious room in a shared house, a boat, and finally back to the farm. It’s a wonder I’ve managed any security at all; and I’m led to ask, have I been secure? And in amongst the security of short sightedness induced by a perpetual and over active survival drive; get job, get house, rest, keep learning, cultivate and nourish significant bonds, eat, I realise I have been very insecure.

“Like I said it was like an emotional rollercoaster. Um but I think having finished it, I do feel sad. That’s the reality of the property crisis in London especially. You do feel as if there’s no hope. Just like, especially the council house it was so small, you see all these old DVD’s and this table, and that’s all they can afford and that’s their life, that’s their reality. I don’t live in a council house. But it’s bought to life really well, that’s the best thing about this.”

Discord Audience member

There is a proximate irony to my interest in the inequality of housing, and the index that is the key factor is wealth. Money, dollar dollar – ker -ching. As I watch friends who have families that have money, made money, invest in property, had two parents, a large support network etc, I am on the side of the fence wondering if I would buy such expensive tiles and farrow and ball paint if I could risk a moment to dream about buying my own house. Sure, I can see a way it would be possible, but it’s going to take a long time, and some hard decisions about social bonds vs work, and I’m not so young anymore. I also wonder about the values possessed by friends who buy to let, and then get their friends to pay going market rents to accelerate the wealth divide; get someone to pay such high rents that they can’t save for their own deposit, while the landlord meanwhile comes into expedited possession of a much desired capital asset. Oh shit, I didn’t mean for this to become a trajectory, I was talking about housing. Oh wait, this is a key issue of the structure of wealth inequality that determines who gets to call their home, their home.

Anyway, what was has become clear to me during the analysis of audience feedback on Discord is that it created a space where people could think openly about their own privilege, along with the causes of such an unequal distribution of access to basic security; the home. Privilege is as real as the food on your plate. Some people have more and others have less. It is a material force and it shapes health, identity, self-worth, the clothes you wear, the homes you keep. I also think, it was a piece of work that invited people to connect to the idea of equality, who owns what through personal stories that level a shred desire. The pursuit of security, and at a basic level the pursuit of resting and seeking refuge in secure home.

This is a spontaneous and self-reflective write up, it’s not a formal part of my analysis, but then going through the in depth thinking that is activated from analysis is bound to activate some deeper thoughts..

“And then I put that me and my crew are up for occupying these properties, and then we’re going to squat these properties and return them to the homeless and people who are council housing lists. It will be really interesting to know what people have been saying. Other people have taken it really seriously and put in real bids. I really liked it. I didn’t know if I was going to like it when I came as sometimes political art is really dogmatic and in your face, and this wasn’t and the reason this wasn’t, was because you did what you did in that Sanctuary project because you go the whole affective and emotional thing that a home is a place that means things to people because they live in it, they have relationships in it, their lives unfold in it, they fill it with things that are there way of making meaning in the world. So there’s this really interesting dynamic going on in the piece between what housing means as a personal lived experience, and what it means as economic commodity in the market place, and there’s obviously such a disjuncture between them that um, it’s interesting because it doesn’t offer any solutions, and that’s interesting because it lets people think about it without being told what to think.”

Discord Audience member

 

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Experimenting with Home

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Unstable but standing firm

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It the last day of the first month of the year. What a perilous time of enormous change. And yet, here I am, tucked up inside my Blue van, parked on a quiet street, at the Bottom of Bower Ashton. While the world spins into disarray around me, I’m not content with a single life, but in fact appear to live three.

However, in the bigger scheme of things to think about, this fragmented yet fertile world appears diminutive. I am preoccupied with mapping out the Whitehouse staff, and thinking about all the housing papers I’m yet to read, to situate my interest in UK housing security. On that note, I must make a note to read the housing news feed daily to keep up to date with current issues. In my mind the housing struggle is all part of the same anti austerity drive that is sweeping through the UK, and as headlines read today, making UK the poorest and most economically vulnerable since Thatcher’s rule.

Donald Trump is a beast with a brain half intact and the other half shrivelled under the glare of his self-importance. Banning entrance to the US for people from seven majority Muslim countries; Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Airports have been thrown into disarray and he appears to have given short notice to airport staff. At the same time he prioritises care of Christian refugees. What we are seeing here is a broad daylight arrival of ethnic and religious preference at the great expense of people, and many of the most vulnerable. Charity, compassion and humanitarian principles appear to have been shoved off the cliff of moral consideration. I also feel that this political force may well be a sleight of hand that conceals even greater misgivings.

Meanwhile, I continue to look into experience of home and housing security in the UK today. It strikes me how hard it is to live now, how basic needs such as housing security and job security are far and few between, and that the cost of living is rapidly inflating while wages stagnate. According to IFS director Paul Johnson, Britons are due to have suffered more than a decade of flat-lining real earnings growth, with real wages still below their pre-crisis peak in 2021. (Financial Times, 2016).

British workers aged between 22 and 30 are the only UK demographic to have seen their real incomes shrink from 2007 onwards, with the IFS showing median wages have fallen 7 per cent in the seven years after the financial crisis. Still, those of us on decent incomes without the bank of mum and dad have no chance of owning our own houses, and while the private rental market gauges out our monthly earnings, social housing is at an all time low.

By contrast, the over-60s have had a much better time of it, with their incomes rising 11 per cent over the period. Overall however, working age incomes have been flat between 2007 and 2014 – a development the IFS has previously described as “highly unusual”.

In addition, stagnating wages and a cut in welfare provisions, is likely to see the lowest earners hit hardest. According to the IFS, benefits are likely to take a hit of 6% in 2017. In July 2016 it was widely reported that UK wages had dropped by 10%. Just yesterday The Resolution Foundation published that the current parliament would be the worst for living standards for the poorest half of households since comparable records began in the mid-1960s and the worst since the early years of Thatcher’s 1979-90 premiership for inequality.

So what can we do? Get political, get together. If you’re not in a union, join one. If you think temporary short-term contracts are great opportunities; think again. Lobby, sign petitions, visit your MP’s, do some research into your workers rights. The work –place is where many of us go everyday, and as Stuart Hall liked to say culture is the “critical site of social action and intervention, where power relations are both established and potentially unsettled”. Know your rights, and assert them at a local, regional and national level. Now is the time to education, organise and support each other. It feels so dark, but we must not surrender to moral aberration and bad ideas.