Saturday, 31 December 2016

2017: happy trails

2016 has been quite a journey. It took us to the Houses of Parliament, the Southbank and the National Gallery of Lithuania. Phil is currently working on our asylum seekers project in Berlin. It's also been a journey to the edge of our comfort zone on a few occasions and to the edge of our abilities. What's put heart into us has been the people we've met and those who have travelled with us. Particularly the participants in our projects with the homeless community, who've been ambassadors for better awareness of homelessness nationally and internationally.

2106 has also seen the continuation of the series of arthur+martha quilts that document the lives and insights of various communities we've worked with, especially the homeless community and older people in rural locations and people with dementia. The Stitching the Wars quilts are the latest addition to this series, telling the story of rural communities in Derbyshire during and between the world wars.

Slowly, slowly, we are constructing a previously unwritten history of Britain, using art and poetry, in collaboration with people who are older or homeless. We are centred in North West England but we exhibit work internationally and nationally to make sure these voices are heard. We challenge audiences by confronting them with the common humanity of people who are excluded. We hope all involved in our projects have the opportunity to grow to change - and to celebrate their lives. This work is now intertwined with our lives too, it's become a treasured part of us. We would like to thank everyone we've met over the last year - and to wish all a very happy and safe 2017.

Flo, at Age UK Bakewell, working on Stitching the Wars.  

Thursday, 15 December 2016

At the heart of the museum


Sing me to Sleep, quilt at Bury Art Museum.
Artist Lois Blackburn, talking at the opening of arthur+martha's latest exhibition

On Tuesday we had an opportunity to celebrate two projects, in the beautiful, inspiring setting of Bury Art Museum. The exhibition brings together two separate projects,   The Homeless Library and Sing me to Sleep,  two projects with much in common:  The people who made them – groups of homeless people living in Manchester and Vilinus, making artworks, poems, telling stories…

BOTH highlight the importance of self expression- as one of the deepest human needs, it defines identity, allows change and brings joy.

Artist Egle Gudonyte with Sing me to Sleep, at Bury Art Museum

One of the highlights of Sing me to Sleep, was our group trip to Vilnius in Lithuania. Our hosts Socialiniai Meno Projektai, and the National Gallery of Art, welcomed us… Showed us around the city-  Opened our eyes- Inspired us- These projects give us all a sense of pride and value in making and displaying the artwork produced. We were very lucky to have artist Egle Gudonyte the lead artist for the project in Lithuania come to opening of the exhibition in Bury and speak. 

The Homeless Library at Bury Art Museum
artist book, Riff Raff, 2016

Viewing The Homeless Library video, at Bury Art Museum.
Part of the artist/makers and audience, for the Bury Art Museum event.

Thank you to The Booth Centre and everyone else who came along and enjoyed our celebration, and the Museum for the wonderful space, right in the heart of the museum, their support and hospitality. 
The exhibition continues at Bury Art Museum until 21st January 2017.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

The Old Man and The Sea

Das Boot. Pen and ink drawing, by Ali. Spandau, 2016

Heaven-Proof House is a poetry project based in Berlin, devised by Philip Davenport from arthur+martha CIC and supported by the British Council and Arts Council England. The project continues the arthur+martha strand of international work with marginalised communities, connecting people across borders and boundaries. 

Karim is an old man, it's how he describes himself, and how he's described by everyone else at the asylum seekers' centre in Spandau. The Old Man. His eyes are not good and he runs out of puff easily. But he has great dignity and a big measure of courtesy too, both of which are maintained at all times. 

Because Karim speaks both English and Arabic, he is a good connector between myself and everyone else, so I've been directed to his room. We have conversations about his life, particularly puzzling through recent events. He is now in Germany, having fled his homeland for fear of his life. To uproot and shift not just your home, but your culture, your society, your language, your everything is hard at any age. When you are into your later years, it can be overwhelming. For The Old Man, some days are exhausting. When we talk in his room, people pop in and out with food, text messages appear on his phone, arrangements are made. 

He is interested in making a poem. And he tells me about his journey to get here from Iraq. And the first time he ever saw the sea.

The illustration is by Ali, one of the artworks made by children at the Centre during my ongoing workshops.

Karim and the sea

“We passed that way by night,” they said. “If someone
for whom you pine be there, the wayfarer has no knowledge.” 
(Abu Sakhr al-Hudhali)

I am sorry to travel across the sea
From my country. Very difficulties
Suchlike: cross sea, spend moneys.
But we arrive and these difficulties 
We hope they will be losses, we hope
I and two daughters and
Many neighbours, 43 persons in same boat
In same small boat.

When we reach this little boat 
I think: how can we cross this sea?
43 persons we reach to the island
Samos the island which we reach
We spend eight hours from Türkei 
The sea was quiet, dark
Weather not in winter.

You know when you spend eight hours
It is very long at sea. 
We have smell benzene from motors
From the motors
And we have make sick every time 
The motor not good.

In Turkey every time they say
"You and your family today shall travel."
They promise and don't do
They take money also, throw luggage in sea
Anything in sea.

We make some signal to the coastguard 
They come make big rope, pull us from the sea.
This was the first time I saw the sea
Sea is very big. 

Maybe we will speak of it again.
Maybe we will make more things
Or vanish another thing.

Riad Karim Al Naeemi

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

A wee light at the end of the tunnel

Danny Collins

'So many of the books have so much to say, doom and gloom and a wee light at the end of the tunnel- there is a light at the end of the tunnel- but it's a long bloody tunnel.' Lawrence McGill

Howard Installing books for The Homeless Library

Yesterday saw the exhibition install of two arthur+martha projects at Bury Art Museum, The Homeless Library and Sing me to Sleep, a British-Lithuanian art project.

The Homeless Library, is a fraction of a heritage: the unwritten, unheard stories of homeless people. The exhibition in Bury shares 50 plus books, full of artworks, poems and interviews.

Riff Raff

Lawrence identified one of the problems with showing artist books behind glass: 'you only get one page of the book, it's like only getting one page of Alice in Wonderland, you're not getting the full story- that's why I flattened that one out (Riff Raff, shown above) so you could read the whole thing.

Another member of the group pointed out: you might only get one page of each story, but it all comes together with snippets of other peoples stories...

Lawrence, Egle and Howard installing The Homeless Library

For the install of The Homeless Library, I was joined by Gary, Howard, Masoud, Lawrence and Paul from The Booth Centre, (a day center for people who are or who have experienced homelessness) Over the last few years, Phil and I have learnt so much from The Booth Centre and friend to arthur+martha
clinical psychologist Polly Kaiser, about the importance of participants being involved at ever stage of a project, of finding ways of this not being a token gesture, but a opportunity to truly learn from each other.

Leaping from the success of the Homeless Library presentation at The University of Glasgow,  I stood back and handed over the curating to the rest of the group. 

As soon as the cases were open, they got on with the task- made all the decisions as to what was going where, read the books carefully and decided what pages were to be left open, and all done in such an amazing co-operative sensitive way- no bickering, no ego, but respect for each other and the work, the results are wonderful, the group added a great richness and freshness to the exhibition.

Masoud, Paul and Howard installing The Homeless Library

Sing me to Sleep / Padainuok man labanakt is a British-Lithuanian project. People who are currently homeless or who have experienced homelessness, worked with artists from arthur+martha and Lithuanian Socialiniai meno projektai.  The projects explored the tangled forests of fairytale, childhood and their current life.

Sing me to Sleep, Lithuanian film.

Preparation of space at Bury Art Museum
Hanging of Sing me to Sleep

Sing me to Sleep, quilt and Lithuanian installation in foreground

We are delighted that Egle Gudonyte,  the lead artist in Lithuania brought to England a beautiful and thought provoking intervention to the gallery. The installation is just a fragment of the overall collaboration in “Sing me to Sleep”. In its modest scale, it connects the nature and human acts that can be found in both life, and fairy-tales: walking, confronting hunger, finding a shelter and the pursuit of happiness. 

Materials and instructions to build a house. Part of the Lithuanian installation
Materials and instructions to build a house. / Priemonės ir instrukcija, kaip pastatyti namą.

Instruction, thread, 4 match boxes, wooden plate, plastic bag. The instructions were written down by the project participant Rimga.  This house has never been built.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

A big waiting

I'm in the office at an asylum seekers' shelter with Gordon the manager, getting acclimatised to the place and letting people see my face, know my name. It's the very early steps of my poetry project here in Berlin, collaborating with asylum seekers. 
The shelter is in Spandau, a district in the west of the city, right at the end of the tube ("u-bahn") line. It's a simple, stark building, semi-industrial. All afternoon there's a steady trickle of folk coming through, mostly residents of the hostel. Many of them have fled war zones in the Middle East. 

During the afternoon, I have mini-conversations with his many visitors. Every single person I speak with is at pains to put me at my ease and be helpful, if they can. This is a place, it seems, where there is great appreciation for social niceties, those little tokens of gentleness. Gordon is the go-to person for phone calls to the doctor, permission to use the communal washing machine, photocopying extraordinaire, discussions about the curiosity of surnames in different culture, and much more. He juggles many people's needs with good humour and quiet calm. I ask him about people’s lives here:


"Waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting. For the people living in here it's a big waiting. First you wait for your money. It's not enough so then you wait for next months money because money for this month has gone. You wait for your asylum case to be finished so then you can work. You wait for school, to get language lessons. You wait for your family to come, and after your family is here, you all wait for a flat. It's how it is before asylum is granted. You are damned to do nothing. Waiting to take steps. You just wait, wait, wait for your case to be finished.

"Barbara who ran the Kunstasyl art project here - and perhaps you too - show that things can still be done. Even if they are little things, on little pieces of paper. Even if you are waiting, you are still a person, you have your own thoughts. There is hope here... For these people I have lots of hope.

"In Berlin there is a culture to help refugees. I thought that it would be a fast-burning fire of enthusiasm but it still goes on. This is good! Many people work to help refugees for free. For instance, they help to find flats... Yes there are people in Berlin who don't care. And yes there are the ones who are against refugees. But I don't know anyone personally who speaks against them. There's still a culture here of welcome. That is the view from my little window."

Heaven-Proof House is a poetry project based in Berlin, devised by Philip Davenport from arthur+martha CIC and supported by the British Council and Arts Council England. The project continues the arthur+martha strand of international work with marginalised communities, connecting people across borders and boundaries. 

Monday, 28 November 2016

Sing me to Sleep, Bury


We are delighted to invite you to the opening to a two-part exhibition made in collaboration with homeless people. The Homeless Library and the British-Lithuanian art project Sing Me to Sleep (Padainuok man labanakt)

The exhibition opens at 2pm on December 13th, 2016 at Bury Art Museum and will run until the 21st January 2017.

Phil B and Sing me to Sleep, photo courtesy of Janine Onermaier

The Homeless Library, is a fraction of a heritage: the unwritten, unheard stories of homeless people. Until now these stories have been held in living memory and lost when those who remember are gone. This library is a set of 50-plus handmade books, full of artworks, poems and interviews. How does homelessness fit into our history, what can be learnt from these stories?

‘Sing me to Sleep’ (Padainuok man labanakt’) is a British-Lithuanian art project. People who have experienced homelessness, worked with professional artists to explore the tangled forests of fairytale, childhood and their current life.  This is a journey through a fairytale forest- facing shadows that carry bits of some long forgotten riddles, with the sounds of words, cries and laughter, filled with an uncertain perception of what is small and what is big, light or dark, good or bad, real or imaginary.

Bury Art Museum is open Tuesday to Friday 10.00 -17.00, Saturday 10.00 to 16.30 How to find them

Main project partners: arthur+martha CIC, The Booth Centre, The Wellspring, Socialiniai meno projektai.  In the UK projects supported by Arts Council England and The Heritage Lottery Fund.

Genuine Workers, from The Homeless Library collection. Photo Lois Blackburn