Earlier this month, as part of the VC Early Career Research series of guest speakers, we heard from two art and design researchers whose work with local communities has recently developed into an AHRC Knowledge Transfer Fellowship.
Paul Haywood and Sam Ingleson have many years experience of working with young people, often in economically deprived areas, to develop interactive works and products that are all about place and local knowledge. Examples included wallpaper based on local fauna and a project called REdGENERATION – a range of paints informed by the colours of the redbrick houses of particular Manchester regions, later turned into a range of nail products, marketed a sold by a team of enterprising school children. Most recently, they have worked with communities in Salford affected by gun crime, who are keen to voice a strong message of peace – a voice which is often ignored in media stories on gun crime. Guns into Goods engaged with young people at risk of becoming involved in gang and gun culture as victims, witnesses or offenders. This has developed into an ongoing project, Wearpeace, which uses recycled gun metal (collected from arms amnesties) to create commercially viable products.
The examples discussed were fascinating and inspiring in themselves. But the talk also raised loads of really interesting issues about the relationship between practice and research, collaborative projects, and community engagement. The perspectives represented were those of artists rather than problem-solvers. These projects, which set out models of ‘inclusive action’ (as opposed to, say, ‘public art’) were all practice led. Creative practice was the primary aim – the impact might be captured, defined and theorised in research terms, but this tends to come after the event. At times, the research can seem like a potential distraction. The temptation to think about art as a regenerative ‘tool’ was also questioned. In this case, the artistic impulse to create works that are disruptive can be in direct tension with the ideals of the bodies and organisations responsible for urban regeneration schemes, schemes which often prove highly controversial among the communities that are affected by them.
This was a really thought provoking presentation from Paul and Sam. If you are interested in finding out more, you can view the power point slides showing some of these examples mentioned here.
You can also view the Wearpeace blog here.