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So it seems I am a very intermittent blogger…

 Just over a month ago I left #Bristol and travelled to Spain with #WOMAD foundation to lead the trusty Gynormous Rawkus artist team for the procession at #WOMAD #CACERES #SPAIN. The theme was one of the elements and we spent three very busy days in #artworkshops alongside the Wolfeworks artist team to create a procession. We decided to approach the elemental theme through a woodland. With a giant fiery fox puppet, earthy mushrooms, puppet birds in the sky and rain falling from it to keep the cycle healthy.

Here are some images;

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It has been a week since this event and I am back in the uk, apologies for not posting photos earlier. All works produced with Processional Arts Workshop.

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As I write this I am flying back to the UK after 16 days of volunteering with Processional Arts Workshop (PAW) in New York City. I worked alongside them as they created a daytime and a nighttime  procession, one in downtown and one in uptown Manhattan. I was Funded by The Artists international Development Fund from Arts Council England and The British Council to  participate  in both Astor Alive and Morningside Lights . It was a luxury to be a participant rather than the lead artist, workshop facilitator. Rather than hold a vision I had the opportunity to watch as others held a vision for a processional arts event, it allowed huge reflection on my own practice.

One of the great joys for me was the luxury of really focusing on why individuals got involved in the project. Attendees were valued and named ‘volunteers’ and ‘artists’ which as makers of the work, they are. Workshops were very well preparared and planned with start times rigourously stepped to avoid the lead artists sending themselves mad through explaining the project on a constant loop. I found New York full of talkers, very friendly talkers both on the projects I was working on and away from them. Whilst I do meet and chat to participants through my work in the UK it is mainly centred (by necessity) on the workshop in hand. As a volunteer myself, I relaxed into chatting at length with other volunteers while we worked and I had the time to discover what led people to get involved in the events. Answers ranged from;

  • Taking the opportunity to be creative.
  • Therapeutic reasons.
  • The sense of belonging to a community.
  • One participant had dropped their catholic faith and the only thing they missed was the act of procession.
  • Some were students at the university (not just in the arts) wanting to get involved.
  • Some had a tradition of lanterns in other countries they had resided in.
  • Learning the craft of puppet and prop building
  • Some enjoyed both the make and the performance and had followed PAWs work for years,
  • others had just discovered it and got addicted and excited.

The majority of participants were adults, I got the sense nearly ALL of whom would be back. If not at PAWs workshops at another community arts event. Some, like me had travelled a great distance from the uk also or (just!) San Francisco to be part of PAW’s work. Some as I was leaving had arrived to become involved in the annual ritual which is the build for PAW’s most celebrated work the Halloween Parade though NYCs East village (I hope that to be me too one day)

And how did the participants tell the stories of the processional performances? 

In different ways for each event.

For Astor Alive it was very much about the individual participants experience of NYC’s east village. Whilst the artists had a clear idea of the uniformity of aesthetic they wanted to achieve and visions for themes for the starting points of about 5 or so of the puppets, much of the imagery used was crowd sourced.
The narrative at Morningside Lights which was celebrating 100 years of Pulitzer Prizes was created very differently. Centring on the Pulitzer Prize for poetry Alex Khan and Sophia Michaelles had immersed themselves in award winning poetry new and old and collected many lines of about 100 characters or so. These were pasted on the workshop walls as starting points and participants were invited to bring in their own favoured lines or dip into books provided. The visions then created were totally up to the participators in the creative experience. Images were united by the poetry and the illuminated ribbons of verse attached to each lantern of which there were about 40. The process was described as the making of cooperative creative collaborations . One participant may have started the work at the beginning of the week and others took on that vision later in the week. Over 300 separate pairs of hands made 40 medium scale lanterns in one week.

Processional Narritives, participation and the making of the work are designed and delivered and most importantly held closely by one dynamic and very organised team. Storytelling is the thread which pulls everything together within which individual creativity is allowed to flourish in a guided way. Planning time and preparation is everything.
The majority of participants were adults, ALL of whom would certainly be back if not at PAWs workshops at another community arts event. Some, like me had travelled a great distance from the uk also or just San Francisco just to be part of PAW’s work. Some as I was leaving had arrived to become involved in the annual ritual which is the build for PAW’s most celebrated work the Halloween Parade though NYCs East village (I hope that to be me too one day)

I have much more reflection to do on this amazing opportunity and I will continue to blog about it as it reaches my life and work as an artist here in Bristol, UK.

There was a fabulous atmosphere in the  Miller Theater this evening as PAW finished its week of workshops celebrating pulitzer Prize poetry… Morningside Lights is tomorrow evening at 8pm. I will post lantern lit pictures then.

I really like the way the ribbons of poetry tie everything together…

The lanterns for Morningside Lights are progressing well.

I haven’t posted much this week as I was a little confused by the process as described to me. PAW have a different approach to the one adopted by most lantern builders in the UK. It’s great but I was baffled for a few days.
Lantern frame building here is done with rattan and wire. In the uk it would be withies, rattan and wire and the principles are the same.

However the approach to covering the lanterns for the most part of the week left me baffled. Initially we covered the lanterns in a paper mache glue mix and till receipt roll which is translucent. Then there was much talk of a cheesecloth layer when dry which I had (wrongly) assumed was muslin. This turned out to my great relief to be muslin scrim!

imageThis layer is followed by white tissue and coloured tissue.

In the UK amoungst to my fellow makers we definately have a more minimal approach. Frame making, wet strength tissue paper ( 1 layer)  or similar and then colour tissue or crepe paper. Maybe this comes from our candlelight traditions, we definately wouldn’t have the luxury of the time taken to complete the layering process within the UK arts funding streams.

The storytelling element is as simple as I described in an earlier post and I look forward to seeing it in action.

The workshop is a busy one see a mini film on the Processional Arts Workshop Facebook page  and some stills below

Today is the day for colour on the lanterns…

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For the past two days I have been participating on Morningside Lights along with Processional Arts Workshops (please follow the link for more information) which began five years ago as a way of encouraging students at Columbia University and the residents of Morningside and Harlem to integrate.

 Once again whilst technical creative techniques interest me, I am researching the quality of the narrative held through the parade. The theme is “Traverse” and the procession is celebrating 100 years of Pulitzer Prize poetry which is presented by Columbia University. 

Actually my first thoughts on this theme were ” how are they going to do that”however the artists have broken it down beautifully. Passages connected to the theme “traverse” have been selected and stuck on the theatre walls & members of the public were invited to bring their own passages. Participants choose a verse and interpret it in their own imagination active way.

Participants were either very clear about what they want to achieve  or spend a lot of time looking for inspiration in the passages. Each passage will be annotated on a corex banner or ribbon – all of which are pre made and identical and will hold the visual theme together. 

The procession will create a giant walking verse. Below are examples of starting point verses.


Building in theory was similar to methods I have previously used in the UK of building a frame but materials used differed slightly.

The last verse was one used to build a boat frame with 2 other participants.


 

 

And so the day of the parade came…

after a week of workshops with both the local community and PAW regulars there was a calm before the storm. The workshop was hyper organised but I was struck by a few things.

We processed mostly on the pavement which I am told is normal for New York. The pavements are much wider here, but there is something powerful about taking the street with hand crafted fragile objects powered only by humans.

Even on the procession day it was predominantly an adult affair which is interesting to me. I wonder if there will be differences next week when I work on a more established event.

I have learned lots of new tricks during the week in terms of both production and making. One of my quests in coming here was to research how PAW uses storytelling within its processional work. In this particular project the story was well designed before the workshops and the input from the public was in the crowd sourcing of imagery to decorate the generic puppets.

What is the key to the storytelling being well designed

A strong concept & brief.

A reasonably financed project development phase.

A well developed mailing list of keen makers and volunteer performers.

Good use of a wide range of social media tools.

A good visible workshop area which encourages crowd input.

Also yesterday at the other end of Manhattan, workshops began for Morningside Lights. I move over to that project today and the second phase of my research trip begins.

 

 

 

That’s the most common question asked by onlookers and participants at the Astor Alive workshops. The cube being referred to is the Alamo Cube, a well loved interactive spinning piece of public art. I haven’t blogged much about that part of the story.

The cube was taken away for refurbishment 2 years ago and has been dogged with Issues preventing its return. The latest hiccup was yesterday when it became damaged in transit on its way back to Astor Place to be present for the celebration of its return! 

Worry not PAW have made many replica spinning cubes, 21 in fact and painted in bright colours.


Cube or no cube it shall be celebrated and its return called for. Astor Alive has begun, the puppets are ready and tomorrow we perform.

For the last two days I have mostly been covering the puppets in a variety of printed materials reflecting each of the 5 themes of Astor Alive.

Architecture

Imigrant Populations

Radical Politics

Theatre for All

image

Scholars, thinkers and writers

All the images used in the surfacing have come from suggestions in workshops, group Pinterest page and Internet searching in workshops.

The thing that strikes me most about this week of workshops is the constant flow of capable adult volunteers. It’s community arts without a pre-schooler in sight.

Workshops have an age 10 plus guidance. WHY? To ensure the work is taken seriously, to ensure four year olds are not dropped off to be entertained as parents chat and to enable the adherence to complex themes, suggestions and aesthetics.

Puppets for Astor Alive have been made from domestic materials. cardboard, paper and glue but the integrity of the way the design has been maintained is excellent.

PAW have a steady flow of regular enthusiasts who follow their work when they are in NYC and volunteer to work alongside new recruits. They bring a great work ethic, a welcoming atmosphere (sometimes cake) and much needed skills and assistance. In the UK, there is a nervousness about inviting “outsiders” as the funding streams are led by the indices of multiple deprivation in particular areas. But why? These figures are often out of date and art is the best tool for breaking down boundaries. 

Workshops are taking place in an empty shop – many local workers & students have joined in through intrigue  based on its visual prescience, returning more than once. This I believe is entirely due to the quality of the experience and products.

 
Notes on how the quality of work is achieved.
As I near the end of the making of the work for Astor Alive alongside Processional Arts Workhop I just want to share a bit of the pre-production process which I believe really helps the artists in their story building for this particular project.

At least a week full time was spent by the artists in visioning, designing and creating a “flat pack” experience for participants to quickly achieve a sense of satisfaction.

Workshops are targeted to age 10 plus –  this is a deliberate tactic to ensure the work is taken seriously. Whilst children younger are not turned away its is made clear that this is an art project and not a children’s activity.

Workshops are signed up to in advance via a web page which details the project and reminders are sent.

Participants contribute in advance of the project via a Pinterest page.

PAW partners with a host organisation, in this case it was the village alliance a BID (business improvement district)  for the Astor place area. THe host invites the community to participate in workshops and runs front of house.

Weekend workshops begin at midday and last for 6 hrs with a second entry time three hours later. Evening workshops begin 2-8 pm and run on the same format. many adults come after work. PAW have a group of regular keen enthusiasts who follow their work in NYC and attend most workshops. These enthusiasts work alongside new recruits and bring an inviting atmosphere (and cake) with them.

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The first few days of workshops on Astor Alive led by Processional Arts Workshops were largely de dicated to introducing the concept of sharing imagery, the building of puppets and many cardboard tributes to a locally well loved piece of spinning public art The Alamo Cube.

Participating in a creative workshop designed by others has been a sheer pleasure for me. I was out of my traditional comfort zones of plastazote, tubing, rattan, willow and fabric and in a land of cardboard construction in a really quality way. The mas – production also gave me the energy to reflect on my own processional arts workshops and the differences between the two.

Significant planning has gone into this six day run of workshops (at least a weeks work.) The workshop day begins at 2pm on a weekday and ends at 8pm allowing participation from adult volunteers with other professional roles of which there is a reasonable amount. So far I have met systems analysts, former Wall Street traders, healthcare workers, teaching assistants, self employed business people, native New Yorkers and newcomers and only one child. There is a policy of participants being aged 10 plus, the reasoning behind which is to get the work taken seriously and it is.

My own work in the UK is often either school or health setting centred. Workshops in the community are more often than not perceived as places where children are ‘entertained’ while adults sit back. Or it is seen as having therapeutic qualities – which I believe it does but then workshops are institutionalised and therefore closed. It’s great to witness this wide open community arts workshop it has clearly created a well adult community performing to create dynamic events.

Below are a few geek shots for workshop junkies…

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