A Doll's House

Came back with the shakes from drinking cocktails during my 60th birthday week in Spain with my daughter. The fallout of my Battle for £11,000 blog had began in my absence. Keep feeling like I shouldn't mention it. And that makes me feel that I should.

I've been sat here for 2 hours in the Whitworth Cafe eavesdropping on American artist, activist, Suzanne Lacey planning her upcoming installation with Sam. Alistair left about an hour ago. The main features I have noticed is they are talking about fundraising. They are listening to Suzanne's ideas and questions, including the ones she is asking herself. They are suggesting people Suzanne can work with. Alistair goes to buy them coffee. I ask who Suzanne is? He introduces me. She is lovely. They have told her all about me and the project. I know a little about her. I have just looked her up. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suzanne_Lacy 

All I have wanted is the same respect. The same level of interest. That I, and my project, are not a cause. But I have a cause. 

Before I went to Spain, for a long while I have been thinking about the end of slavery in conjunction with the new label decolonisation. 

Decolonization meaning: requires individuals, governments, institutions and organizations to create the space and support for peoples to reclaim all that was taken from them. 

What was taken from them? In my case. Because I am the only person I am truly ever gonna know. 

Let's go back to slavery. But first I want to say something. Slavery has probably been around since the dawn of time in one way or another. We are closest to the black/white version. Colour has made identifying the genetic make up it has left behind more obvious. But my mum who was white and Irish suffered her own version.  

I've been trying to think about my own remedy. What would have been a perfect end to slavery so we would have been able to heal more quickly. Both the victims and the perpetrators. There seems to me a really simple little moment that has been overlooked. The actual moment when it ended whose language was the future painted in? 

Yesterday me and Alistair were trying to talk about the fallout of my blog. How upset the Whitworth institution is by it. How it has upset other arts institutions. How it has upset the individuals concerned. How mediation will have to happen because I have made an accusation of bullying. I listen as he talks to the language he is using. The rules by which he is setting the agenda. Controlled by the agenda of the institution. The institution is colonial. I point out as part of our discussion: how can you use the language of the colonialism to decolonise the system? We talked about this too. We also discussed how my blog belongs to me and no one can tell me what to do with it. It is a deep conversation that is pretty painful, leaves us both feeling awful. Yet, In some ways comfortable and relaxed because other than these conversations it is just surface, plasters on a nick. Initiated by Alistair checking I'm all right we have a text conversation later in the evening. 

Let's go back to slavery. Okay. They've just said, I can only do a shit representaion, I wasn't there. They've just said: slavery is over. In that moment what did the slaves do? Put down their tools and walk away and rejoice? Well probably for a few hours. A few days. Even a few months. But then when they went shopping say to buy butter, maybe I am making it all too simplistic, but you have to bear with me, they went to buy butter, and the former mistress is there also buying butter, do they say hello like she is an equal? Do they feel ashamed to be in the same shop? Do they feel hatred because of what she did to them? Do they leave feeling they shouldn't be there? Do they push past her? There are so many possibilities.

Does the former mistress see them as an equal? Does she expect to be served first even though they were first in the queue? Will she accept the same butter or does she want a superior butter? Does she miss the slave and want to embrace her really? Does protocol, the institution, colonialism, call for her to keep her hands by her side? Does the slave worry about mistress's frayed cuffs and scoff about them when she gets home, while secretly feeling sorry for her? 

We are all 2 things. The individual with our secret wants and desires, and the institution, the culture, we are slave to. Who we could be; who we have been made into. Yesterday, I interviewed Raheel about the Hacienda, and without any provocation from me, aged 55, he arrived at the rub between the secret him and the him he had been made into. We tried hard not to talk about our colour, class, poverty. But they are our shackles. Like me he knew he was an artist when he was little, but his shackles stopped him. The difference with me is I have stood still while they cut mine off. But still I have an array of feelings when I buy that pack of butter in that shop.

But even before I interviewed Raheel the other day trying to think about how to address this: how do you have a prefect end to slavery, or its modern day equivalent decolonisation, on holiday in Spain, I filled out an application for a project I hope to begin in 2020. The way I was thinking is supposed you didn't just tell the slaves that slavery was over. But you gave them an ongoing feeling in their quarters of what it feels like to be entitled. Maybe you set up a a beautiful dinner table in one of their huts, or the following week a dressing table with perfume. As I said before, I only know me. After 60 years I know me well. I'd have been fucking furious about the whipping and the degradation. But most of all I would have wanted those silk sheets. Clean hands. Hot baths. Bought by expressing myself about what I see around me. My secret want was to be an artist. Suppose all my life I had thought this was a possibility in my life?  

Application [I've cut out the boring bits]

Proposed Project: The Doll's House

I want to tear the gable end off the house on the end of the street in Moss Side where I grew up, and transform it into a mini art’s centre: The Doll's House. Where shutters can roll up and reveal a doll’s house like theatre. A Moss Side audience pitched in the small playground opposite can watch the show. A famous works. Or something they wrote them selves. Or the shutters can stay up and Perspex walls can concertina across to protect the Old Masters hung on its terraced house wallpaper. Or museum artefacts can transport the passing audience back to Egypt, or China, or the Celts.

The mini art’s centre is manned by 3. MCR arts institutions donate a senior staff member: for example, the Whitworth donates their senior curator for one year. They learn how to engage the ghetto from a real experience. They take that skill back to their institution. They impart valuable managerial skills onto the Moss Side admin. A working class artist bridges the gap between the staff and Moss Side. Our little art’s centre becomes a rite of passage for any self-respecting art practitioner; an outpost for MCR art’s world, and an introduction to culture for many who may not venture from their area or into an art building; inspiration to make that journey; and a challenge for artists to make something work there.

Result & Happen Next?
In the 1960s aged 3, 4, 5 I used kneel to my coffee table and draw, paint, and write. 7,8,9 I used to take myself to my library, which is gone now. It was not in my psyche, my immigrant Irish mums, or Jamaican dad’s that I could be an artist. Too late by the time I am 14, 15 and I am with my ‘gang’. ‘I’m gonna be a playwright.’ ‘Fuck off you twat.’ 30 I began. 40 by the time I succeeded. Now imagine if on the corner of my street when I was 3 to 9 I walked past plays, or famous paintings, or an Egyptian mummy. I can stand in front of it and wonder. I can go in and lend a book. Talk to the nice lady in charge who will tell me about the things happening at the local Whitworth Art Gallery, or Contact Theatre running an acting workshop.

Since she was a few months old I have taken my grandniece Renais to cultural locations. To her, now aged 5, a good day out is: feed the ducks, have coffee and cake, a quick go on the playground, then Whitworth Art Gallery where she tells me what the pictures make her feel, then to MCR museum where we discuss what it would like to be on the earth with dinosaurs, and then to Waterstones to buy a book. I want to expose Moss Side children, to an ever-changing kaleidoscope, putting art and culture in their realm of possibilities. I would like to expose the MCR arts organisations to Moss Side by putting them in its heart. I would like this combination to put an end to the box ticking engagement practised now. The project in itself is a work of art.

Why will this project create a step-change for you/the artists involved?
Up till now all I knew how to do was moan. Then I asked myself the question on the walls of my Whitworth studio: ‘what conversation would I have if I didn’t talk about race?’ Practising ‘not talking about race’, I noticed middle class white people use race to have something in common with me. Constantly talking about what has happened is similar to me leaving an abusive relationship and no matter what someone says, I say: ‘ and then he put my arm up my back.’ ‘What did you have for dinner?’ ‘Then he slammed my head against the wall.’ Where are you going on holiday.’ ‘I lost all my teeth.’ I am, we are, trapped. This project fills the child, the Moss Side resident, myself, with other conversations on our own turf. The step-change is creating an environment to safely begin this new dialogue.

What artistic development opportunity does it represent?
It connects me to the establishment. It connects me to my roots. I need both to flourish.

What risks are you taking with the project that you would otherwise not be able to?
I constantly take risks. I am proposing the opposite of risk: a year to uncover the feasibility of this project. The risk is getting in bed with the institutions I would need for it to be a success, and leaving with my individuality in tact.

The short-term impact is time to question how the project might work to serve the establishment and Moss Side. The long-term impact is someone who completely understands an impoverished inner city culture sat at the table that plants the cultural landscape. Someone who can investigate what plants oxygenate us.

What are the three key learning/developmental outcomes of the project for you and those involved?

The art’s organisation manager learns to buy patties for lunch in the pattie shop, the name of the owner, the social structure of the ghetto for real.

After initial distrust, Moss Side socialise, court, on the bench [pictured] opposite the Dolls House. Art is now their lives’ wallpaper. 

Gradually both parties begin a dialogue. Programming and managing ideas begin to flow as stereotypes and prejudices are worn down by familiarity.

I'd really like your thoughts on this. Both positive and negative. If you're having trouble commenting use Chrome. I'll post Raheel's Hacienda Memoir next Wednesday. 

Read more about:


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