The Act of Making as Participation and Enquiry
Despite a growing appreciation of the role of participation and ‘co-production’ within community art, architecture and design these processes are often applied to places, with people being compelled or encouraged to participate in the work rather than the work participate in the place. Community consultation increasingly adopts processes and attitudes which appear to emotionally coerce members of the public into providing information and knowledge through obscure exercises in mapping, game playing, post-it-notes and questionnaires, later to be disseminated back to the community by community engagement professionals as banal phrases and pithy hashtags. Instead of learning within the context of the contrived realities of contemporary participatory practice – through an enforced collection of words, pictures, phrases, sketches – I believe in a process of participating in many aspects of a place through the act of making to create an embedded and responsive process of critical and creative enquiry. Through the application of this method we gain knowledge through experience. These experiences are very simple in their application and utility; we use local shops and amenity, we spend time in parks and pubs, we attend events, functions and consume the culture of a place as it exists in the present. We converse. We collaborate. We Enquire. We observe. We register.
The process of making within public space as performative rather than finite act also situates the maker as an observer as well as a participant. This creates opportunities for the considered and critical observation of people’s behaviour and the impact of this behaviour on the visual amenity of place presents another form of documentation. Capturing evidence of behaviour and the impact of this behaviour not only reveals the existing physical and visual condition but also reveals desire, frustration, conflict, oppression, agency and ideas. In some cases, these characteristics are implicit rather than explicit but always revealing. This type of analysis reimagines the built environment as continuous and ever evolving register of life and experience; we believe that the marks, scars, reactions and interventions created by the actions of individuals, collectives and institutions create a story of place that can be read and interpreted as if they were chapters in a book. The documentation and interpretation of this physical narrative then reveals desires, needs, functional and dysfunctional behaviours. The act of making as performance positions me explicitly as a participant in the existing life of a place and to observe that condition creates insight and knowledge that isn’t predictable and which is genuinely learnt through experience instead of being taught. This mode of practice, of seeking to create curiosity and to participate in place whilst simultaneously creating curiosity and a desire to enquire and engage has, for me, the following benefits.
1.work of this type creates curiosity through live, visible action that invites conversation, engagement and participation with people and place.
2.the act of making within a defined condition coupled with the challenge of sourcing material, support and/or labour locally forces local resources to be both mapped and experienced
3.the possibility of changing the manner in which people perceive and utilise a space is tested and documented
4. this type of participation methodology identifies informal actors and users of a space who might feel marginalised by other consultation methodologies.
This work creates objects and things in order to enact and embed permanent and sustained change in either the dynamics and culture of people and place or in my own understanding of a condition. The small and the temporary provides an opportunity to manifest modes of change that are immediate and tangible; an opportunity to display agency, amend a condition and shift and evolve your own sense of place and your own identity within that condition.