Community Art In A Time Of Covid

As you’re no doubt aware, things are a little … unclear at the moment. We’re not locked down, but loads of people aren’t comfortable with the thought of nonessential socialising, like workshops or gigs. At the same time, we’re missing them and the specific emotional sustenance that comes from in-real-life connection. How can community artists bridge the gap between an activity made safe through digital distancing, and their desire to reach out to people?

It looks to me like hybrid project delivery is becoming a clear way forward, which can mix these elements: live digital workshops, pre-recorded instructional videos, materials kits delivered by post, and community displays either in our streets or online. Here are some thoughts about the pros and cons of all of that, based on work I’ve done so far since lockdown started.

Freelancer's desk
Our homes have become our workplaces, and our laptops are the portals to every aspect of our working and social lives.

Live connection via Zoom or similar group working platforms

Pros:

  • People get to meet in real time and hopefully have fun!
  • There are a lot of good functions to use as teaching tools and as ways to facilitate new relationships (screen share, annotate, breakout rooms)
  • You can record sessions (with participant permission) again as a simple way of collecting evidence for reports to funders

Cons:

  • Inaccessible to many, due to poor internet connection, Zoom fatigue, and other discomforts particularly difficulty processing online social cues for neurodivergent participants
  • No in-built auto-captioning facility on Zoom, though captions can be added if you are able to afford a speed typist. Streaming to third party live transcription services  is not without hitches
  • Combination of live talk, chat function and possibly captions as well creates utter chaos for any blind participant using a screen-reader app
  • Fatiguing for the artist as well!

Think about:

  • Having a tag team where one person delivers the Zoom workshop, and another one bridges between the Zoom and a live conversation on Facebook where people can access activities in text-only form. This is how the Tees Women Poets run their monthly writing group.
  • For a comprehensive look at providing access to digital meetings, check out this guide from disability artists and activists Little Cog.

Pre-recorded instructional videos, and handouts

Pros:

  • People can access the information at a time that suits them, and as many times as they want
  • It remains useful indefinitely, for both artist and commissioning organisation, beyond the funded life of a project
  • Can be a beautiful and fun thing to make, and to watch

Cons:

  • Making them requires an entirely new skillset for many artists, and the learning curve is steep
  • You need the kit – new iPad, tripod, ring light and clip-mic, anyone?
  • Downloadable patterns for craft projects are only useful if people have access to a printer

Think about:

  • Captions! So many organisations are putting out instructional videos on their social media, from the Royal Academy to local arts entrepreneurs, but not everyone is making them accessible through captioning. Try free online captioning for short videos.
Summer Streets zine
One of 15 tiny poetry zines I made for Summer Streets festival, in a project which combined one-to-one Zooms with physical making.

Postal kits

Pros:

  • It’s gorgeous and exciting getting something in the post
  • It is the bridge between a digital encounter and a material one

Cons:

  • Make sure your in-house packaging process is safe for Covid
  • For some artforms the postal costs might be prohibitive
  • Hard to see how this would work for people teaching pottery, for example
  • May not be able to send all equipment needed, e.g sharps, scalpels for collage

Think about:

  • The additional time needed to make up packages rather than take a big bag of stuff to a workshop – if you’re freelancing, factor it in to your fee!

Community displays

There have been some lovely projects emerging that build on our initial lockdown enthusiasm for putting stuff in our windows, such as Bloominart’s community gallery in Hartlepool.

Pros:

  • Fosters community, provides a talking point for neighbours
  • Democratises art, brings it out of galleries and into community ownership

Cons/ideas:

  • Same problem with access to home printers might arise for template-based arts activities

Think about:

  • How to build and prove audience as well as participation? Can we think about organising socially distanced street-viewings as well? As we move towards winter, what creative possibilities might exist around lit windows, silhouettes and ‘stained glass’ effects? Can we translate these ideas to non-domestic settings?

 

Later this year, I hope to set up a CUBO club using postal kits, as something to offer people who are still keeping social distance as we enter the dark months. Perhaps by the time we get there, it will no longer be needed, but my feeling is that this hybrid way of working will be with us for a long time. What do you think? And how do you plan to adapt?

Cherophobia by Jo Colley – a final cut

I’m delighted to bring you the final cut of the experimental, collaborative film-poem myself and poet Jo Colley have been making over the last 2 months. I say final cut, but in fact there are more sections to the poem, so consider this the final version of a pilot edition. Jo has edited together footage donated by several people, most of who are excellent poets in their own right – please watch through to the end for the credits.

We’re very grateful to those who sent in clips, whether they were eventually used or not. One thing we’ve learned from this process is that it’s harder than you think to capture even 20 seconds of compelling video! Writing poetry and making film-poetry are most definitely two linked but separate disciplines. Where do their skill sets diverge, and where do they overlap? I’m going to think and research more in order to answer that question in future blogs, and in my own film-poems. My gut tells me the overlap lies in attention to detail, and the creation of metaphor. What do you think?

 

It’s In The Cards – filmpoem week 10

We’re nearing the end of this little project, but there are still a few surprises to come as our collaborative film-poem twists from verse to verse. The latest clip is from Diane Cockburn, who picks up the “four years” of the poem by placing down the four of each playing card suit. Her deliberate movements are reminiscent of a Tarot reading, where there may well be “a reckoning”. See also how the colours of the table cloth echo and continue the colours of last week’s crochet footage.

So now we move to the final prompt! Can you find a way to illustrate this last verse?

in the pocket of the night I find you, let myself be found

As ever, please see these previous blog posts for

How and where to submit

How to think up a good image

Common mistakes to avoid

Domestic alchemy – filmpoem 9

As with a traditional renga, anyone from the group of participating artists can offer contributions as often as they like – which is how we welcome back Alison Raybould, who gave us our very first images. It just goes to show, try try again! Sometimes it takes a few attempts to get a bit of film that works the way you want it to.

Poet and renga-master Jo Colley has selected this clip of hands crocheting vintage wool for a number of reasons. One is that she enjoyed how it continues an overall mood of domesticity that is appropriate to the atmosphere of the poem it illustrates. She also liked seeing an action that is different from the pickling described in the verse, yet is also a kind of magic transformation of one substance into another thing entirely. And finally, she has fond memories of the wool shop featured on the wrappers in the film – if you’re from Darlington, maybe you do too?

Cherophobia: An Autumn Journal from Joanna on Vimeo.

 

So now here is the penultimate prompt for you! Can you come up with a 20 second clip of film to illustrate the meaning and mood of this verse?

this is the fourth year, abacus of elderberries, an accounting of sorts

Remember to look here for all the submission guidelines, and also check out previous blogs for advice on how to come up with compelling imagery and avoid common mistakes that could undermine the brilliance of your vision!

The arrival of the abstract – filmpoem week 8

A fascinating turn in the imagery this week, as new contributor Anathema McKenna picks up on the cut paper strips of week 7 and turns them into an abstraction. The choppy rhythm and ‘prison bar’ effect of the collaged lines is unexpected yet effective in conveying the actions and atmosphere of the verse, without ever becoming a direct illustration of the words.

We’d love to see your ideas for what might come next in this multi-authored film!

The verse you have to respond to is this:

alchemy: to transform berries and spice to dark distillation ready for winter

To help you get started, please do read this earlier blog about how to generate ideas for imagery, and this one about common mistakes to avoid.

Send your films to sleeperpoems@gmail.com by 5pm on Friday 29th May – thank you!

What to avoid when filming – filmpoem week 7

Hey hey, thanks for sticking with me on this one – week 7 of 11, and the contributor this week is…… me.

There’s a couple of reasons why it’s me. One is that I really wanted to create the ‘choking on strips of the Bible’ image idea I came up with in last week’s blog. Although when it came to it, I used newspapers to evoke the word ‘truth’ that is in the verse I’m illustrating.

The second reason is one of film quality-control. We received a couple of very intriguing concepts for imagery as a result of last week’s How-To guide, but unfortunately the execution did not do justice to the ideas. Common problems are:

Off-centre framing, or shots set up so that there is unwanted background detail

It can seem super-hard to get the framing right on a shot, but it’s worth playing around to get the perfect angle. It seems like most people would benefit from simply taking the camera closer in towards the objects and actions they’re filming. If you have a central action, you need to move the camera until the action or objects appears at the centre of the frame. This might take a fair amount of fiddling on! I’m lucky that I have a tripod, and a special attachment that allows me to put my iPad in any position I want. It wasn’t an expensive bit of kit, less than a tenner I think, and it makes a HUGE difference. It also completely eliminates the next biggest problem –

Shaky-cam and loss of focus

If you don’t have a tripod, then I really recommend you improvise some other ways to keep your device still, like propping it up on piles of books. It’s amazing how eliminating hand-held shake immediately makes your film look more engaging. And finally (for now) the other thing worth trying to resolve is –

Bad lighting

Of course we don’t have all the fancy-schmancy lights and reflectors that a serious film-maker has (although you can actually pick them up relatively cheaply). Nevertheless, you can make the most of the light you have and you absolutely should do so, because it makes everything look better. Arrange your cinematic composition so that it catches full sunlight, and add in more light using as many reading lamps as you can lay your sticky hands on.

So here is the latest version of Cherophobia – an Autumn Journal, with my 20 seconds added in. You’ll see that I’ve been a bit of a smart arse and have edited together a few different sections of film to make my 20 second clip. Notice how close in I’ve got the camera in order to get the effects I wanted – cropped right in on my hands, and then on my mouth and neck. Keeping the camera further away just wouldn’t have worked – the closer I am, the more intense the effect of the imagery.

And now it’s back over to you!

Below is the verse for week 8, for you to brainstorm into an eye-catching film snippet. Please send us your clips to sleeperpoems@gmail.com by 5pm this Friday 22nd May. And remember –

  • Illustrate/respond to the words and atmosphere of the poem – can you do this without filming someone chopping shallots??
  • Shoot in landscape orientation
  • Experiment until you have the shot framed right – come in closer, get things centred or in the right place, make sure unwanted details are kept out of frame
  • Keep the camera steady
  • Use as much light as you can

I slice shallots because this makes you cry. Juice spills all over the kitchen.

 

How to think up good imagery – filmpoem week 6

Welcome to week 6, the mid-point of this experimental project based on a poem by Jo Colley from her latest collection, Sleeper. The footage for this verse uses a combination of old photos featuring marbles, and video of raindrops falling on a dark puddle.

Every week we ask for contributions of film clips that might in some way illustrate or respond to the words, imagery, and above all the emotional tone of the poem. This last week we received several pieces of film, some very beautiful, but few seemed to really be in dialogue with the words of the prompt.

It can be hard to put images to words, but for this to work there must be some sense of connection. Here, the roundness and clustering of the marbles are a visual echo of the berries in the poem, described as “beads”. The rain on water stands in for the “cider vinegar”, and the sinister hints of the word “drowning” are suggested by both the darkness of the water and the earlier glimpse of a doll positioned face-down in a disturbing posture. Take a look, and see if you can catch what I mean.

So, here’s a hint for how to approach making a film clip for this week’s verse, because there are very few visual references in it!

  1. Take three or four of the words that seem to you to be most important for the atmosphere of the verse. For example, you might choose ‘sharp’, ‘catches’, ‘throat’ and ‘truth’.
  2. Write them in a random way on a piece of paper, and then start to make a spider-web of associated words, images, objects, colours even. It might look like this:20200511_104749
  3. Now try connecting two or three of your associated images together (ideally three), to create a possible moment of footage. For example:

20200511_105030

  • Connecting ‘knife’ (sharp) with ‘stroking neck’ (throat) gives a strong image. Too strong?
  • Connecting ‘drop something’ (catches) with ‘broken glass’ and ‘plasters on fingers’ (sharp) suggests a scene of letting something drop and shatter, perhaps filmed from above; or a scene of injured fingers picking up shards.
  • Connecting ‘twitter feed’ (truth) with ‘broken glass’ (sharp) makes me imagine swiping a broken phone screen – perhaps the images on the phone could be staged to be relevant to the poem’s atmosphere of a relationship in trouble – photos of the couple in happier times?
  • Connecting ‘tear’ (catches) to ‘Bible’ (truth) to ‘mouth’ (throat) gets us perhaps the most art-house image, of someone ripping up and chewing the pages of a Bible.

Have a go yourself, and see where your associations take you – and remember, ALWAYS film in landscape orientation, and send us your clip to sleeperpoems@gmail.com by 5pm this Friday! Here is the full verse of poetry to inspire you:

 

the sweet sharp smell catches in the back of my throat, sticks like a truth I can't swallow

The patina of old film – filmpoem week 5

This week a contribution from Bernie McAloon takes us back towards imagery of nature, but purple and grainy with age. The road up through trees is the ‘Bank’ and perhaps the ‘challenge’ mentioned in the verse, the tint of the film stock is the stain of the burst berries.

Cherophobia: an Autumn Journal from Joanna on Vimeo.

 

Next week is our midpoint, verse 6, and we would love you to contribute a 20-second clip of video that responds to the following text:

Renga 6

Here is your challenge – can you send us something that shows neither forks, nor pots, not vinegar, but still illustrates the mood of the poetry. Repetitive action, the suggestion of unspoken hostilities in the word ‘drown’?

Send your landscape-oriented footage to sleeperpoems@gmail.com by 5pm Friday 8 May!

Archive splices – filmpoem week 4

Our film-poem takes a new turn this week, as archive footage contributed by Wilf Wilson is spliced into the mix. When imagery of war appears inside the confines of what has so far been a domestic setting, what is the psychological impact? Where is this story going? Take a look at the film so far, and then read the verse for week five. We want your 20 second film clip to take us forwards!

Cherophobia: an Autumn Journal from Joanna on Vimeo.

Week 5 prompt is this –

Renga 5

We need 20 seconds of footage that reacts to this verse, but it doesn’t have to be a direct illustration of it. Bring us something that speaks of challenge, or bursting? Remember to film it in landscape orientation, and email it to sleeperpoems@gmail.com by 5pm on Friday 1st May.

 

How images and words collide – filmpoem week 3

This week’s clip is provided by Lilly Flypchuk, whose daily lockdown walk takes her along the banks of the upper Tyne.

Looking at how the film is progressing, it’s really interesting to notice how the mind forges links between the words of the text and images that may seem quite unconnected. In week one, there was a clear link between Ali’s film (light shining through a glass tumbler) and Jo’s words “dim light on a glass of brandy”, but also the way the light twisted and turned seemed to fit well with the text “incoherent babble”.

Natalie’s footage used spoons, which weren’t mentioned in Jo’s poem at all, but their silver shininess chimed with “kept for best”, the domestic nature of the object matched with “cupboarded”, and of course their Hall of Mirrors reflections gave us the “face…but folded”.

This week we see a river whilst reading “pond reeds” and our mind puts the sense impressions together. When the text gets to “fresh out of the cellophane” the transparent glisten of the water becomes the plastic wrapping – or it at least it did in my mind!

Have a look for yourself, and then please do spend 20 seconds this week recording a clip for verse 4, using these guidelines.

Week 4 prompt:

Renga 4