We Can Make @ Knowle West:Week 2
Last week I was working up at Knowle West Media Centre. I’ve been commissioned to work on the practically progressive We Can Make project there as artist / researcher. The project, broadly looks at the hows and whats of citizen led housing. The concept is to explore a citizen investment model that funds the build of small-scale affordable houses, situated on ‘micro plots’ lying between semi detached post second ww housing stock.
Most of last week was spent with me walking around the area, and on St Whytes road in particular, where the research is being piloted. Following my time in the area last month, where I also knocked on doors, ran surveys with residents and took the area in, this week I walked up and down each side of the road, knocking on every door, asking if people would be up for me interviewing them about their experiences of, and stories of home. In the end I got about ten people to agree, and spent the rest of the week going to their houses and interviewing them. I think the space given to listen, and hear people speak about intimate and personal subjects such as finance, home ownership / rentals and aspirations about how we live at a basic level is quite profound. As Gemma Fuimara (1996) asserts, to listen is to empathise, and to understand the other. Last week, I spent a lot of time listening, and immersing myself in other peoples experiences and space of home. I also felt a complex mix of affinity with a hard working, proud and kind working class community, but frequently came up against racist ideas and anger at the lack of support for low income earners in the form of social housing. In one interview two members of the same household stated that “the government had made them racist”. This was in reference to priority housing given to ethnic minority groups and immigrants.
Another interviewee was a kind neighbour and an open hearted citizen, advocating the brilliance of Nigel Farage. Her reasoning was that he was “kind, honest and spoke the truth for working class people.” We ended up discussing immigration and politics at length at the end of the interview, which felt worth-while given the difference in our political views. I don’t think either of us persuaded the other, but we did practice a degree of tolerance and listening to very different perspectives.
During the interview phase, I spent on average, and hour with each person, talking around a semi-structured interview that looked at personal situation, finance, materiality of home (how do things and objects convey our identity), perceptions of the housing crisis and interactions with Bristol at large. Many other stories came out, and I’ve ended up with about 10hrs of audio content to edit down into 4 short audio documentaries over the next month.
During the week, I spent the evenings in the gallery space experimenting with projections, throw, lighting and image. I’m going to incorporate digital projections into the final audio work, which will encourage people to immerse themselves in the audio stories of people who live in the area of Knowle West. I’m now preparing the audio and digital images for exhibition at Knowle West Media Centre opening early in April. Watch this space for developments of a new work in progress.