Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Bingo! Art and social change! Limericks!

Mary writing her Limerick, a young lady from Haydock..

'Eyes down!'

I'm sitting next to Mary (she says she has her wicked head on) and Les is calling out the bingo numbers at the Monday night session. It's been a flurry of people today in Four Acre: our biggest group in the library ('All the 2s, quack quack') a gaggle of talking and ideas and friendships. Poems are emerging and the group embroidery on the tablecloth is slowly but sure gathering colours, images, stories – becoming a tapestry of memory and community. There is great affection for the shared past in the arthur+martha sessions here - we meet humorous acceptance of memory and age, mixed with nostalgic pleasure and some rage – and joy.

We checked in with Owen today on progress, who told us we've worked with over 80 people in St Helens. Gradually, a regular band of people are coming to the library sessions and the work that's emerge has become deeper and more heartfelt, yet paradoxically more celebratory and lighter as we've explored.

'Legs 11!'

Mary nudges me because I'm not concentrating hard enough on the numbers in front of me. Scattered around the bingo tables this time are some of the 'saucy' seaside postcards that are also becoming layered with strands of story, reminiscence, jokes, limericks.

Teresa writing about melon eating...

Pat and one of her Limericks...

There is shared struggle in many people's lifestories here – through wars, poverty, relationship breakdowns and disappointments – but there is also a huge sense of fun and of shared history. We're trying to combine the playfulness and the seriousness we encounter in the work that's produced.

The bingo session tonight is a great moment for daftness, but we've also met other sides of these folk. To see these lives being relived through conversation, to witness drawing, poetry, stitching, joking, has been a passport to another world, one that's now in the past but is in some ways an explanation of now.

The greatest resource of any society is the people in it. Sometimes in 'problem communities' there's a tendency to think that people = problems. That what is DONE TO people is the important thing, the magic cure be it social work or art or medicine. This is a profound misunderstanding. The value is in the people themselves and the richness of their experience. Communicating the texture of that experience is a complex, often contradictory, project, but that is the job of artwork. If it manages to pass on a fraction of that complexity, it will be valued and it will do good. Because in passing on experience in all its forms, you pass on the big lessons in being human.

'5 Oh, 5 Oh, it's off to work we go...'

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