This is the first post in what I hope will be many that will chart the progress of this project. I say this project, and you might be reading this thinking, 'what project'? Well, a bit of me is thinking that too. Here's the background.
Six years ago I started working on this project in my spare time. In a nutshell, I shadowed people as they worked, interviewing and photographing them as they went about their business. I turned the stories I documented into a website and some zines.
I think it was the beginning of me questioning a bunch of things, top of the list was, how do any of us end up doing the stuff we are doing? It was also the next stage of me questioning how I spend my time and how that might be affecting others. I was doing a lot of thinking about who I was helping and began to feel like I could be doing more closer to home. Wrapped up in all that were questions around money and class.
Yes, it's a bit of a jumble of thinking, so I decided to turn it into another project, and this website is the placeholder for this.
The image above is of a block of flats on the Bristol Estate in Brighton. I lived on the estate between 1974 and 1993 until I was 19. Lots have been said and written about this part of Brighton which includes Whitehawk and Manor Farm. When I was living there, I didn't have much of an idea that the area I grew up in was undesirable. It wasn't until my late teens and early twenties that I began to mix with more people from outside of the estate. I began to hear friends speak ill of the place I'd called home, parroting the kind of stories that stick about a council estate.
Search online for statistics about the area, and you will be sure to find a pretty negative portrayal of East Brighton (for simplicity sake, I will use this term to mean Bristol Estate, Manor Farm and Whitehawk). One of the questions that kept popping up for me, was, who are these statistics serving?
So this project is an attempt to do one thing, to find and document the stories behind the statistics. Over the next six months, I'm going to be working closely with four residents, supporting them in the process of documenting their lives. I have a bunch of ideas on how we might do that, but I'm not going to enforce a toolkit on the residents, I'd rather wait and see what emerges as we start spending time together.
This is an R&D project, and the main hypothesis I am testing is whether this kind of 'research' can have an impact, directly on the participants, in the wider community and potentially on government policy. If I can prove that it does, I'd like to expand the work to a much wider group of residents.
This is quite a challenge because its foundations lay in an art project, and this phase is supported by the Arts Council. Can art be taken seriously and inform policy? Where will my voice be in all of this, as 'the artist', how can we make sure we are transparent about how we are working and how we are picking the stories we share? (this journal will be one way we'll do that).
I will be working closely with Dr Simon Newitt, an experienced anthropologist used to working on social projects around inequality. I'm looking forward to working with Simon because he's done some brilliant work where he is based in Bristol. Most importantly I hope that our working together means the work will have that extra layer of gravitas, a flexible but rigorous methodology and that it will be taken seriously.