Applications were invited from professional artists of African heritage, based in the South West Region, wishing to explore the ways in which using digital media might expand their practice. Enquiries were welcome from visual artists, filmmakers and writers, as well as practitioners of other artforms. Artists already familiar with digital technology were welcome, as well as artists who might not have used it before. It was important that the artists express a rigorous interest in interrogating, exploring and experimenting with the inherent qualities of digital media, however these are defined.
Calling has an explicit bias towards socially aware and socially inclusive artwork. There is an emphasis on artist’s development, but also a real stress on how to engage new practitioners and new audiences. The publication of essays in the Commentaries section of the website is part of this strategy of engagement, but we also, more practically, provided free access to the technology for eligible artists who expressed an interest in the project, by providing a laptop, image-manipulation software and a facilitator part time at Kuumba, Bristol, and arranging similar provision at Phoenix Media Centre, Exeter, during March – April 2004. We also organised an “Ideas Day” on April 17 2004, at the St Pauls Family Centre, where interested artists and other creative professionals came together to brainstorm in a workshop setting.
The selection panel met on Thursday 20 May. The panel consisted of Tanuja Amarasuriya, Live Art & Dance Co-ordinator, Arnolfini; Yasser Rashid, creative technologist and interactive media artist; and Simon Poulter, co-founder and -director of PVA Medialab. For their comments on the selection process follow the links in the right-hand menu panel.
The artists selected were Jenny Davis from Bristol, whose area of practice is writing for theatre and broadcast media; Dalila Hamdoun from Exeter, who has worked in Media, film and digital video; and Gloria Ojulari Sule, from Bristol, a painter and visual artist. For further information, and to view artists' diaries, visit the Residencies page.
The training budget also allowed for small commissions to be awarded to some of the other artists who had expressed an interest in Calling. Details of their progress will be published as it becomes available.
Workshop practice is often seen as a method to bypass patterns of conventional thinking. In drawing workshops, for instance, techniques are developed to bypass the brain’s critical verbal processes (the theory is that these left-brain processes cannot observe properly, being too busy trying to achieve a match with prior knowledge).
In drama also, workshop techniques are developed both to try and overcome participant's inhibitions, releasing their expressiveness, and to shake them out of their received opinions. The work of Keith Johnstone (“Impro”; exercise in spontaneous literary composition: Imagine you’re in a room; are there any books? Take a book off the shelf. How big is it? What colour is it? Open it. What can you see on the page? What does the writing say? etc.) is a case in point.
Within a more political context of social action, the theatre practices of Augusto Boal have wide currency, concerned as they are with revealing power structures, mobilising opinion, releasing emotion and envisioning new possibilities; and in bringing about change the widest possible sense, and the realest possible way.
Workshop practice often has a political agenda of inclusion and/or identity-construction.
This has been true in Africa also, in the area of cross-cultural fusion-type
visual arts. It’s possible to trace the ideal of ‘internal imagery’
as a methodological influence on workshop practice, fusing with local ideals
of creativity such as Mbari in Nigeria and spirit carving in Kenya, all
the way from the Slade school through to Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Nigeria
in the fifties, sixties and seventies. Several artists emerged from these
open-access workshops into professional careers, among them Thomas Mukarobgwa
(sculptor, Zimbabwe), and Jimoh Buraimoh (painter, mixed-media, Nigeria).
In the UK in the eighties the film and video workshop movement, initiated
through support from the then new broadcaster Channel 4, was
instrumental in opening up moving image production to a much wider group of people than had previously had a voice in moving image media. Amongst them were Black creatives whose work challenged representational orthodoxies, though one has to question how sustainable such gains were in the face of changing policies. More recently the Capture Wales conference at BBC Cardiff was celebrated with an unabashed and exhilarating sense of pride in Welsh national identity. In fact, as far as creative digital work with an agenda of inclusion goes, Welsh models seem to have a more positive sense of how ethnicity impacts on the process than is usual in England.
It was a challenge, to say the least, to integrate all these strands of thinking and intention into one day’s activities. Digital technology is resource-heavy and demands a tactical engagement (Clodagh Miskelly, CYBA conference). It is a specialised and challenging tool. Yet surely the techniques for getting the brain to play with this new tool have to be similar to those used in other arts?
For a further account of the Ideas Day, follow the links to the right. For a first hand account of participating in one of the Habitat New Media Labs established by the Canadian Film Centre, Shawn Micallef’s text is also available from the side menu to the right.