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Mixed media artist

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Home Sweet Home_under construction

Home Sweet Home_under construction was a participatory art project that looked at social meeting areas of Amsterdan Noord that have disappeared or under threat of closure. The final results were exhibited through public art and the process was documented and made into a film.

The findings and results were carried out through a residency with KijkRuimte over a period of 16 days and a 5-day workshop with participants.

KijkRuimte is a public art project. It is a house in the middle of the district that serves as a meeting point for the various art and cultural communities in Amsterdam North. A programme designed by Daniela Paes Leão and Merel Willemsen made possible by DOEN, Amsterdam Fund for the Arts, VSB, Prince Bernhard Culture, Ymere and District Amsterdam-Noord. For more info see www.kijkruimte.nl

During a series of workshops local people of Amsterdam Noord, all immigrant on an integration course were asked to create a poster that would visual demonstrate who they are, where they are from and why they have settled in this area. This was to include an object that they felt symbolised their connection with home.

The objects they identified were sort and the group was invited to apply decorations to personalise each piece. Their final objects were placed on the landscapes that are disappearing to symbolise the participants’ sense of belonging, their loss of community space and to show that they exist. We glued their objects onto window ledges, street signposts, on buildings, benches and to the ground, etc.

Before the project began, I visited the area of Amsterdan Noord to get a better understanding of the current situation. The purpose of this visit was to speak with people, especially those underrepresented, and to see how a renewal development programme managed by Ymere and City Council was affecting the area. I wrote a blog during my visits. Please click here to read it here.

Over a period of 3 days, I learnt that there were well-used social hubs under threat of closure or have disappeared completely. For the people here this poses a problem, as these social areas give space for their children to play and for them to connect with others that they are akin to.

A series of workshops were designed, outlined above, and these took place over a period of 4 weeks in my absence, supported by KijkRuimte and Susan Delsing who lead the integration course, where the participants attended. It was important that participants understood the concept behind placing art in the public realm – to stir a public curiosity and to see if this can be used to create a dialogue between different groups to draw attention to the re-development.

On my return visit I attended the final workshop filmed and we collect the decorated objects made.

For some of the participants this was their first time art / creative experience.

Though the project was designed with an outcome in mind – to open up a dialogue – the process was also experimental.

The objects worked on by participants through the Home Sweet Home_under construction programme moved from insignificant to significant from their personalisation and story.

The objects were chosen because they represented to the participants their relationship to the home and how they also stir memory, thereby creating stories, which are also objects.

So what separates the object and subject? Relating to physics there is no separation. When we break everything down to the smallest particles, where does the separation lie? The boundary between the two becomes ambiguous.

This separation really struck me when hearing stories whilst staying in the neighbourhood of Van der Pekstraat during my initial stay. Social meeting places in the area have been closed down or are under threat of disappearing. The decisions being made by one group of people, in this case Ymere and the City Council, is affecting another. A ‘them and us’ type relationship is apparent here. However, a need to relate and communicate in a social environment is a commonality recognised by all. With this generic understanding decisions to close such spaces still continue…

So is it possible through familiarity with objects and through projects such as this to inform? The objects became significant through decoration and through story. Without such places how can local people initiate imagination that may help develop and shape the future of the neigbourhood?

During the presentation of the project, the question arose, where can this go? It was felt that the project left a ‘cliff hanger’ and that there was a further need. It was suggested that the participant and the person posing the question took the film to the Ymere and City Council to open up a dialogue. However, in reality I am not sure that this will happen.

One of the participants spoke with me and expressed that it was her first time being involved in a project that allowed her to connect art with her personal story. She was from Uganda and was in Amsterdam seeking residency because her situation back home was volatile. What she got from the project was that it gave her a deeper understanding how art can deliver an expression.

A special screening for participants at KijkRuimte was later arranged where all participants were able to view the film and see the project in an exhibition settings.

The following is feedback from participants:

  • Are we important enough to make a movie about?
  • Loved the whole process / experience with the workshop
  • Impressed with themselves
  • Proud of themselves
  • Discussion about public / social spaces and their necessities
  • Talk about the lack of places, other than shops, to go and socialize
  • First experience with art
  • Taking the process further
  • Some came back later to show the film to friends / family
  • Talk about art and society in general

As an artist the project has given me further evidence that art should be accessible to everyone. Participatory art is one way in which this can happen. However it feels to me that sometimes there is too much emphasis placed on predicted outcomes, which does not allow for spontaneous development.

It is my understanding that residency programmes may benefit by giving artists a platform for experimentation whilst at the same time giving guidance to the local demographic required dependant on what each project is proposing. The KijkRuimte guest stay offered this process, which has proven valuable in my personal development as an artist and I hope to further look at how my own practice can build on what was given in this space.

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