The Anti Contemporary Arts Festival invited 'The Walking Neighbourhood' to be part of their 2014 program. “Children and teenagers… (were) the focus of this year's …Festival, which presents site- and time-specific works made for public space.” Alongside the artistic program the festival also presented a seminar allowing for discussion around the theme – “Children operating in the field of contemporary art - subjects or objects?”
'The Walking Neighbourhood' (TWN) which was initially conceived by Lenine Bourke, and developed and delivered in collaboration with a team of various communities, artists, festivals, participants, and volunteers Nationally and Internationally....once again managed to adapt to it's surroundings at ANTI.
I had the pleasure of heading over to Kuopio, Finland to facilitate the project with another Brisbane artist Sue Loveday. We delivered the work as part of an immersive two week residency in the centre of town. The residency included a series of workshops with up to fifteen young people aged 12-17 from a community holiday drama group and took place at the central youth centre. We were also assisted by two generous local artists, Henna Hartikainen and Eerika Jalasaho and a group of committed volunteers from the tourism school at a nearby university.
“A series of guided walks around a Neighbourhood led by a group of local children or teenagers”, may seem like a pretty simple idea, but beneath the surface it is really quite intricate in the way that it asks for participation and engagement from all involved. Facilitating the work this time, it became clear that not only is there cultural exchange happening through working in another country across languages, but what is even more complex is the interaction between the culture of the place, the culture of the community, the culture of the festival, and the culture within the “group” in which we are working. As facilitator, it became obvious that sensitivity and responsiveness are an integral part of the inner mechanics of TWN. In every new context, the work must breath with the pace of it's place and find it's own way in it's temporary home. Like many artist processes we work to build a community over quite a short period of time and this can be intensive work.
TWN definately asks for room to be able to adapt and become whatever it is that it needs to be within it's current cultural context and it was great to work with a festival that could understand that. For example, in Kuopio (a safe small City) we found that TWN stepped away from earlier explorations of safety and became more about supporting its young participants to develop confidence, encourage creativity and provide them with the opportunity to express themselves freely within a predominately adult “contemporary arts” setting.
It was fascinating to work with highly educated teenagers who had equally high standards for themselves and seemed to be very comfortable with specific and directed learning. We noticed that the group were not so used to our more open approach...and it took a bit of time to arrive at a place where everyone was comfortable with working more closely with exploring personal thoughts, creativity and abstract ideas. Understandably we were all still getting to know each other and obviously when factoring in language and cultural differences it adds some time to the process. It was very rewarding to see the group blossom and each individual find their way of expressing themselves through their walks.
In many ways it was a bold and positive move for an international contemporary arts festival such as ANTI, to take on the challenge of exploring the theme of children and young people, and also to begin to build the necessary relationships and understanding within the community to engage with this group in more meaningful ways. It is often the case that presenting participatory work for with and by children and young people is an big time commitment to plan and manage, to generate interest and build and maintain the necessary relationships. To develop best practice, I do think it is really important for rigorous exploration and to generate connections through genuine consultancy with those working in the field, children and young people themselves and their community so that optimum engagement and participation can be possible.
In hindsight I was not entirely sure of why ANTI were motivated to focus on children and young people this year, or how they engaged with this group during the programming process. Despite not being entirely sure of their motivation other then the fact that perhaps, children and young people are like the new black of contemporary art at the moment... overall I felt their program presented interesting and rich work and some truly wonderful artists, with a genuine interest in working with children and young people and their community.
It is my hope ANTI Festival continue to develop ongoing relationships with children/ young people and continue to allow for a place within their festival for this work, so as to reinforce the ideas and discoveries presented in this years festival and to create more opportunities within these contexts for this work. Often projects with, for or by children or young people, are presented purely as “community arts”, “educational” or as part of a “children’s festival” and are not necessarily considered in the field of professional contemporary art. I look forward to a time when work of this nature can be more integrated into various arts festival contexts alongside other contemporary work and festivals like ANTI continue to step up to program these experiences for all.