Monday, 2 November 2015

The Red Door

For the project The Homeless Library we are very lucky to be working with artist Jeni McConnell. The following is her account of a session together.

Early in September I spent a day working with Lois, one half of arthur+martha on the Homeless Library project.  We were in Bury at the Red Door Drop In centre, part of St Joseph's Catholic Church.

The day began with unpacking my book making goodies from my trolley and boxes. Lois had a similar stash - we must have looked quite curious to the people in the centre when we first arrived - they'd seen Lois before of course, and Philip, but not me - or the huge rolls of book binding cloth I was carting around with me.
Artist book collaboration Justin and Jeni for The Homeless Library. 

The centre was bright and full of chatter and busy activity, we sat in the main space, quite a small room in which it seemed most things happened.  Quite a few people busied themselves in and out, it was a beautiful dry day, with the sun peeping through the white (and some darkening) clouds.

Lois and I sat inside at the central multi-purpose table so we could have a look and chat through some of the work made, and to do our own quick skills sharing session with some quick book making techniques.

There are many stories that have been shared so far in the project, some as poetry, some hand written, some typed.  These have been intertwined within the folded pages of books, print work and other papery structures produced in earlier workshops.  There is an excitement building about this project, I'm keen to see how it unfolds along the rest of the way, and to read more of the stories too.

For this session I took some of the already printed stories to explore book ideas with. Reading through any of the texts I find there are certain words that stand out - almost as if I was going through with a highlight pen - they needed to be said a little clearer and I played with ways of doing this.

Justin came to join me, he'd been working with Lois in an earlier session and had some of his own words already written, but first he helped me work through the idea with the bits I had. We shared thoughts and ideas as we went along.  I do love the process of sharing something I can do with others, it's such a pleasure to see anyone's confidence grow as they pick up a new technique and working with Justin was just that.

We cut a story into thin same sized sections, there was an odd pleasure in it dividing the story so evenly and we cut the same sized pieces of tracing paper to use together. Justin read through the story and underlined words he felt were important, that needed highlighting, that needed to be shared in a more visible way.  There were cut out and stuck onto the tracing paper as a separate layer.

Conversations drifted on the air, "I found someone in me lounge this morning, I had to get out before I punched him. Why would someone be in my lounge? I came here".

Justin and I talked about reading other people's stories, about whether it was easy to find the right words to cut out, to in some way raise the status of.  We agreed it was - things just pop up and feel important.

As he reads he intermittently tells me stories of his Mum and his twin sister, who has recently died.  His Mum was a child-minder, but she also showed other people how to child-mind too; she shared her skills with others. He smiled as he explained they always had old cardboard, empty loo rolls and used tubs ready to make things, she was always making stuff with him. He seems to be really connected back to that time, he talks quite fast, an excitement about the memory perhaps.
Then, the now of the task in hand stops him short, "I need to concentrate, I'll shut up". We glue and cut in silence.

My ears again become aware of the others in the room, a tiny front room type space, a sort of flat with a living and dining area, as well as a kitchen. All one space, with a busy washing machine in too.  Here folks sit and natter, watch TV, get help and advice from the staff.

I know I smell, I can't have a bath
I'm not right, I'm not with it
It's these tablets ...

We've cut out all the words and they are glued on to the tracing paper. I'm pleased with the result and Justin thinks it's a good idea too; we carry on.  He makes the decisions on cover and inner paper we can use and we being to make the book covers.  Making holes is hard, we could do with a hammer but it's not safe to have one so we sort of struggle along, but enjoy the challenge of a little bit of making do too.

After lunch Justin starts to work on his own text, cutting it into sections to go with his story.  We talk about plans for his book and we work together on the table for quite a while, until it's time for me to go.  His book isn't quite finished, but he is clear with what he needs to do and I leave him all the materials he needs and tools he can keep too.

He promises to finish his book; I hope he manages it!

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