Tag Archives: collective

A Woman’s a Woman for A’ That

Nana recently attended her first Burn’s supper. This involved being introduced to the twin customs of The Toast to the Lassies and The Reply to the Toast to the Lassies.

At the particular supper to which I was party, the Toast to the Lassies was a cheekily scurrilous account of the behaviours of the fairer sex which, in baffling the speaker, were deemed praiseworthy from a sense of bewilderment if nothing else. The Reply, in turn, was a robust account of how, like many other fine examples of the dominant sex, our esteemed speaker could only succeed in life with the support of a good woman.

An amusing showcase of ‘70s gender politics, then.

Over in Glasgow, meanwhile, The Reply to the Toast to the Lassies was being delivered for the first time by a transgender woman – Jo Clifford . I’d recommend a read.

This curious whisky-fuelled cocktail of discourses fair set my head spinning.

When Germaine Greer rattled everyone’s cage recently with her pronouncement that transgender women were not women, I confess I had some sympathy with her position. She was responding to Caitlyn Jenner’s award of Woman of the Year and I suspect Germaine wasn’t the only person whose feminist sentiments rankled at the implied notion that femininity could best be made successful by bringing on board a new CEO who used to be man. A new spin on the ‘old boys’ network’ to be sure, but one guaranteed to bring out the conspiracy theorist in any card-carrying member of the old guard.

And I have to further confess to initially feeling something of the same response to Jo’s Reply – she draws very heavily on her previous experiences as a man to illustrate the uniqueness of her position. Surely it is this unique view that separates her experiences from those of women raised as females within our society? After all, Jo’s conversion/ full realization of herself as a woman came after years of living as boy and man during which time she was surely not entirely immune to the calque of masculine privilege ossifying her form?

As I pondered this, I began to muse on the various situations of the three people amongst my friends and acquaintances whose experiences in this regard really count.

First among these is Jo herself, to whose acquaintance I can lay scant claim beyond the intimacy of her one-woman show The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven — the most moving and thought-provoking theatrical work on this theme I have encountered. (See it if you can).

The second acquaintance may yet be too young to offer her considered account, since she is a child whose inner female was so strong she began her transition at infant school and her journey continues through her still tender years.

The third is a childhood friend whose strong female identity was a certain cat amongst the pigeons of a late ‘60s – early ‘70s childhood in our working class northern English milieu. He now lives as a (camp) adult homosexual man.

I cannot gainsay whether Germaine Greer has any genuine axe to grind with transgender women. It may be that she simply rejects transgender women as women. Rightly or wrongly, I took her argument to be that by including transgender women in the category ‘women’ we deny the uniqueness of their perspective.

But, I come to realise, this is also precisely where such an argument begins to unravel.

For the two folks I know most intimately, it couldn’t be said they had ‘enjoyed’ a prototypical male socialization experience. But then who could claim that?

And whilst I consider myself very much a female I’m not sure I could claim a prototypical female socialization experience, since I’m not entirely sure what one is. Or at least if I imagine one, it is simply that- a construct of the imagination; a fairytale amalgamated from an idiosyncratic selection of all the various gendered and gendering experiences available.

And I couldn’t even give you a percentaged guesstimate of how much of ‘me’ is gendered. Because don’t we all have a core being that remains a genderless thing?

When I wake in the early hours and am gazing at the sleeping windows of the houses in the town where I live, I am not conscious of doing that as a woman, but as a being. The fact that my being is in human form I concede has a considerable degree of influence on my perspective in this instance, but I’m not sure that my gender always exerts the same force.

So whilst the rigidity of the existing gender options of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are beneficially challenged by the fluidity of the trans experience, Germaine’s move to insert a further category of ‘transgender woman’ (and presumably its counterpart ‘transgender man’ — although as a feminist I find it telling that this category is little vaunted, much like Queen Victoria’s infamous lesbian blindspot) still leaves the gender landscape hopelessly codified. The cranny between ‘transgender woman’ and ‘cis woman’ (a term I find both ugly and difficult to accept) simply offers a fertile space for further prejudice to gestate.

Yet surely language has a key role to play. It is the primordial conceptual brine through which we all emerge. Language shapes our imaginations as well as our cultures.

The youngest of my children is of a generation which seeks to obliterate gender altogether. It’s taken me some time to grasp, but this seems to me a genuinely liberating ideal, and worth pursuing.

The most immediate barrier for English speakers is one of pronouns. It seems petty, but in the petri-dish of identity formation pronouns are protozoic.

Discovering self is wonderfully neutral from a gendered language perspective: I; me.

Beyond self, however, our language offers a binary choice of pronouns available to the description of other individual humans, and the only alternative is so cold that we often gender inanimate objects in order to avoid it.

That linguistic move between self and another is our first operation of ‘othering’, and it brings into focus another important aspect of this whole debate. Perhaps one reason for its resonance in contemporary society (after all gender challenges are nothing new) is that it speaks to the conflict between individualism and collectivity.

Here arguments of biology are shown to be something of a red herring, and the question is whether – in an increasingly atomized society – we can ever claim sufficient commonality with others to form an invulnerable group identity. And, given a choice, would we want to?

What premises underpin the claim that ‘we’ are ‘women’ and ‘you’ are ‘men’ ?

Is the rise of individuation a threat to compassion, empathy and sharing? Or does recognition of each as individual remove the barriers that currently divide us as human beings?

As the French philosopher Michel Serres suggests in Hermès, what we have constructed as a coherent real could just as easily be understood to be ‘fluctuating tatters’ wherein ‘the state of things consists of islands sown in archipelagoes on the noisy, poorly understood disorder of the sea…’

Doesn’t our increasing transhumanism broaden our ability to simultaneously encounter, comprehend, experience such that it may become the gift of our time to leave behind the cold safety of categories, to swim freely in the fast-flowing burn of our digital social connectivity?

Perhaps at next year’s haggis someone will be brave and gifted enough to uphold the Lost Burns manuscript tradition with a gender-free rewrite of For a’ That and a’ That ?

And perhaps we might all find the confidence to raise a dram in toast.

 

 


The turn to [w]righting

I loved the PhD process – it felt like the best kind of holiday. But the post-doc slump was a limbo where potential only served to paralyze.

I spent three years labouring to construct new paths, only to dither at my own crossroads, punchdrunk and confused. Everyone knows you meet the devil at the crossroads if you hang around there too long.

The recent UK election results were a slap in the face though, weren’t they?

A wake-up. A call to arms.

I’d love to be mistaken, but I have a sense that I’m about to witness the dissolution of many things I hold dear to my homeland, my landscape, my reality.

So what can I do?

I can write. I’ve always written. I’ve never not been able to write.

But I have always taken it for granted.

After the PhD, I trained as an English teacher and have spent time volunteering in classrooms with teenagers and adults who are learning English. They are some of the most wonderful people I have ever met. Their stories are inspirational – how brave must you be to leave everything, and perhaps everyone you have loved and begin again in a new and distant unknown?

How inspiring when a thirty year old woman who has never had the opportunity to be literate in any language struggles through her first formal lesson, returning the following week having diligently conquered not only the manipulation of a pencil but all the letters of our Roman alphabet. How not to shed a tear watching her quietly and proudly score full marks in the spelling test?

So now I see the privilege and the power of writing. But how to use it?

I asked a professional writer I met lately. She told me, ‘You have to be selfish to be a writer. You start with competitions online; that’s how you get into it’.

I didn’t have to think about this much to know this is not my kind of practice.

Then I found myself working in a wonderful, integrated but temporary environment. It feels both entirely natural and starkly unusual to work in this little utopia, in this company of people that properly represent the diversity of our society. We are working on a piece about transformation.

It was when I was pouring tea and affirming – “Yes, yes. We must give voice’.

So that’s it then.

This is what I can do. So I will do it. I will gather stories and give witness.

I can use all my scholarship; the languages I have learned, the linguistics I have studied, my Social History degree. I can use the decades of translating and interpreting, the years spent lending my voice to others.

Isn’t this ‘translation art’, after all?

I can use all I learned at CeNTraL (the Centre for Narratives and Transformative Learning) from wonderful women like Jane Speedy, Susanne Gannon and Tami Spry; the Writing as Inquiry, the Narrative Interviewing, the Collective Biography, the Auto-ethnography.

I will wrangle with words until I am a wordwright. I will write, so the weight of the words may help right the imbalances in our homeland, our landscape, our reality.

Nana Froufrou does [w]righting.

So now I’m packing my pencil and heading out. It may take time to develop this practice, but I’ll keep you posted with notes and sketches and voices….

Copyright@2015 Kyra Pollitt


Action/Assemblage: Drawing Together

The second of a series of three posts written before, during and after an event curated by yours truly, supported by The Afterlife of Heritage Research Project and hosted by the the Royal West of England Academy.

A version of this post first appeared on the Afterlife of Heritage Research blog. All photographic images by Alice Hendy.

The weather forecast lied. The galleries of the Royal West of England Academy were pretty quiet on the Saturday afternoon of one of the few gloriously sunny bank holidays in living memory. This did not bode well for the first of the two Research to Public events I had been busily planning. Action/Assemblage: Drawing Together was scheduled as one of the activities running through the RWA’s Drawn exhibition. It was designed as an interactive visitor experience, and it wouldn’t work without visitors.

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I was relying on a host of folks to help the event along. The most important members of the cast were the Signartists Richard Carter and Paul Scott who had agreed to perform the poetic works they had created in the visual-gestural medium of British Sign Language. Then there were the interpreters, Pascale Maroney and Naomi Bearne, without whom the Signartists and visitors would not be able to communicate. Finally there were the members of the research-through-drawing collective HATCH who had volunteered to lead the graphic responses to Richard and Paul’s work, and Alice Hendy who was to record the event with her camera.

After arriving to arrange the ‘Drawing Lab’ gallery space far too early and sweating through the superfluous empty minutes supported by my partner who had generously elected to lend a hand, the cast began to arrive. Fifteen minutes before the start of the event we were all assembled. All that was missing was a ‘public’.

‘Assemblage’, but not yet ‘Action’…

But I needn’t have worried. Once the Signartists began to perform, their movements conjured visitors into the space as if by magic…….

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The Drawing Lab quickly filled. What’s more, the visitors didn’t leave. Most stayed for the entire two hours of the event.

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As an inveterate wimp (see my first blog on this subject), the bravery of others never ceases to impress and I was bowled over by the readiness of casual visitors to engage with drawing practice. They drew, they wrote haikus, they asked questions, they made comments and appreciative noises, and observed long intense silences while Richard and Paul performed, and I scribed provocative quotes on the blackboards. And as the event drew to a close and artists and visitors mingled and chatted, the voluntary contributions box began to fill with drawings, comments and those haikus.

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The success of the event was all the more rewarding because the whole was designed as a performance of the activity of my doctoral research. I’m looking at image in sign language poetry, and asking whether analyzing this ‘Signart’ through art epistemologies can offer a greater understanding of the form than purely linguistic or literary analysis permits. So Richard and Paul were performing the subject of the research, the visitors were performing the research practice by drawing, thinking, writing and commenting, whilst I was performing academically by relating all of these to existing knowledge.

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It seemed to work. I can only hope my thesis will be as well received.

And perhaps the brightest planning idea – which came from Gemma Brace, the curator at the RWA – was to run the event twice. This offered the opportunity for ‘rewrites’ and ‘corrections’.

The first event put a lot of pressure on the Signartists to perform continuously, whilst the position of the blackboards meant the content of my work could easily have been overlooked by visitors. In short, the three activities of the model were performed but could perhaps have interacted with each other more fully. At the next event, a few weeks later, I punctuated the Signartist’s performances by reading the statements I had written on the blackboards. This helped the ‘academic’ content inform the visitors’ ‘research’ activities. Both the visitor turn out and the responses were just as satisfying the second time round, but the discussion was a tad richer.

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I enjoyed the experience enormously!

I can’t tell you how fascinating I found the event.

I’m an artist. I’ve lived in Bristol for six years and this is the first event that has attracted me to the RWA.

 It was really moving, and incredibly inspiring and thought provoking!

Fascinating.Where is the line drawn?

I have never seen sign poetry before, and I didn’t even know it existed

Brilliantly expressive and strong. Mesmerising!

Wow! Really interesting challenge.

IMG_0433Haiku:

with eye,hand,lip

a concentration of

movement

understanding will come soon.

Yes


Nana, you SHALL go to the Ball!

February: the month of lovers.

The sun has begun to shine (intermittently). The birds are returning two by two, twittering happily as they trace lovehearts between the treetops and the clouds.lovebirds

Even the foxes are keening.

But for Nana, St. Valentine’s Day came and went with ne’er so much as a card.

And still the invitation to the second round workshop of the Afterlife of Heritage Research to Public initiative gathered dust on the mantelpiece.invitation

Would no cultural institution in shining armour escort Nana to the Ball?wailing

Unlike many of the more graceful belles, yours truly has no pedigree in the arts and cultural heritage sector; no friends in high (or even low) places to return overdue favours; no advantage reflecting from the looking glass.mirrorstanding

Nothing for it, then, but some good old-fashioned scrubbing up.mirror

Lacking white mice, Nana turned to the keyboard. She wrote a proposal. Then realised there should perhaps be two (to indicate range and to demonstrate a willingness to be flexible). Or perhaps three would be better……..

But then how to compose a love letter when you don’t know who you’re writing to?

Hmmm…..

Nana got digital and started internet dating- scouring websites for a potential match.

It took two days of procrastinating, some nail-biting, quite a lot of chocolate, and a little encouragement from Jenna Carine Ashton before Nana could press SEND. After all, what would happen if they refused?

They refused.

Nothing terrible happened.

And they refused politely and sweetly, and with some very helpful recommendations of others whose dance cards might not already be so full.

Nana reflected. Ah yes, what was it most of us had failed to include when we practised this at the workshop? Oops.

Rewrite #1 (including the crucial ‘What’s in it for you?’ section). SEND.

Rewrite #2 (including more potential strands). SEND.

Rewrite #3 (reducing the material requirements). SEND.

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And then it happened. THE AMAZING THING. Our interests match, we’re looking for the same things, we’re talking the same talk, the timing is perfect, we’ve met face-to-face and we like each other….

Nana, book your train. For on Thursday you SHALL go to the Ball, and you shall dance….

….with the Royal West of England Academy!

to the ball


#People of the Eye get out and about

Well, they say you can’t keep a good collective down (at least I think that’s right…)

Since my last message to you, People of the Eye have created a project blog on Projects unedited, part of Artists Talking – the website forum offered by the artists’ advocacy and information forum, artists-network (www.a-n.co.uk). You can see our initial offering here http://www.a-n.co.uk/artists_talking/projects/single/2022613

No sooner had we posted this than @artists_talking tweeted the link. @artists_talking has 1,516 followers on Twitter. Sadly, I can’t get figures on the membership of a-n, although I would guesstimate that we’re talking 10s of 1,000s. Even allowing for the inevitably high overlap between these two networks, that’s a lot of people who just got exposed to the existence of sign language poetry!

We’ll be posting more soon, with an upcoming blog relating to a-n’s current hot topic #digitalpartners, followed by a blog from Fliss Watts (www.watermellon.co.uk), the first artist from the Collective to stick her head above the parapet and reveal how she’s getting on and the thoughts she’s been having. That’s her self-portrait right there.

I’ve also recently joined The International Coalition for Arts, Human Rights and Social Justice (www.artsrightsjustice.net) so that we can take the People of the Eye’s message to a global audience. We’ll keep you posted on that too.

Away from this whorl of digital posting, People of the Eye will be getting out and about in the real-world when we are represented at the 7th International Conference of the Arts in Society, which will be held in Liverpool from 23-25th July 2012 (http://artsinsociety.com/conference-2012/ ). Our paper is snappily entitled Plasticising Poetic Ephemera? Using Visual Arts Practices to Investigate (British) Sign Language Poetry. Here’s the abstract:

“Does not the term ‘image’ contain several functions whose problematic alignment precisely constitutes the labour of art?” (Rancière, 2009) So is it art? Is it poetry? Inherently transgressive, sign language poetry is composed and performed in a visual, gestural, spatial medium, relying on image for both form and content and reflecting the cultural experiences of “people of the eye” (Veditz, 1910 cited in Ladd, 2003) As such it challenges traditional assumptions of the literary, and remains invisible to the artworld. Hitherto investigated predominantly by linguists, this paper reports on an ongoing doctoral project which seeks to expose the nature of the image in this hidden artform through the explorations and responses of a collective of artists and poets using various media to research various aspects of selected (British) sign language poems.

If that’s whetted your appetite and you’re going to be heading along to the conference, please come and say ‘Hi’ and retreat to the bar with us.

In a tangential but related move, I’ll be giving a paper at the AHRC’s Researching Multilingually seminar at UWE (Bristol) on 25th and 26th April, 2012( http://researchingmultilingually.com/) where I’ll be describing (and possibly bemoaning) the lot of the multilingual, multidisciplinary, multi-modal researcher with a paper entitled No, this isn’t the data analysis; this is just the consent form….

Hey! I seem to be quite good at this title malarkey (not!).


#People of the Eye

In 1910 George Veditz*, addressing the Ninth Convention of the American National Association of the Deaf and the Third World Congress of the Deaf, described sign language people as “people of the eye”. He knew a thing or two. Despite 21st Century discourses, for most contemporary sign language people this remains a more precise description than any that involve lack, loss, disability or the practices of medicine.

Visual artists are also ‘people of the eye’. Although they are not defined by a biological imperative (nor subject to medical interference), they nonetheless tend to be people who think, process and conceptualise the world visually.

What better name, then, for the loose collective of sign poets and visual artists I have been gathering together since my last blog post. (Did you miss me? Go on, say you did.)

The People of The Eye so far consist of four esteemed sign poets: John Wilson, Donna Williams, Paul Scott and Richard Carter and a growing number of visual artists working in various media (including sound). Those engaged so far are listed below, each charged with creating a visual response to one of the poems created and selected by the poets. Their response may be to content, form or any other aspect.

We will be communicating across an internet platform; discussing, questioning and creating and are hoping to collectively blog to the wider artworld.

It’s been a lot of work putting it together, but everyone has responded so enthusiastically to the idea that it has also been a great honour.

We’re all very excited about what might emerge, and the mutual understandings these two tribes of visual peoples might find. We’ll keep you posted.

The work of the poets can be seen at:- http://www.bris.ac.uk/education/research/sites/micsl/poem-repository/

So far the artists are:-

Trina Bohan-Tyrie:  www.trinagallery.com (website launching soon)

Jackie Calderwood: www.jackiecalderwood.com

Howard Hardiman: www.howardhardiman.com

Eliza Kesuma: www.moodymonday.co.uk

Tamarin Norwood: www.tamarinnorwood.co.uk

Kyra Pollitt: www.kyrapollitt.com (website launching soon)

Bob Quinn: www.bobquinn.ie

The Rutterfords (Chris and Fiona): www.chrisrutterford.com

Melanie Sangwine: www.sangwine.co.uk

Mairi Taylor: www.mairitaylor.co.uk

Fliss Watts: www.watermellon.co.uk

Tom White: www.tomwhitesound.com

 

*President of the National Association of the Deaf in the U.S. (1861- 1937)


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