Borderlands: Rise Exhibition

Last week Borderlands presented “Rise Exhibition” at the Hamilton House to promote The Mentoring Project, funded by People’s Project, in partnership with ITV and the Big Lottery Fund. Refugees and asylum seekers have presented the artworks for the exhibition, prepared during Borderlands’ twice-weekly Drop-in sessions.

 

Borderlands is charity based in Bristol that works with refugees and asylum seekers from all over the world. The members organised a week of events in Hamilton House to promote the Mentoring Project and celebrate the work done by the charity. Since it started in April 2016, The Mentoring Project has been training volunteers as mentors for asylum seekers and refugees, to provide support with orientation, English language and integration into the community.

The exhibition has been launched on the 3rd of March with speeches from Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, and artists from Borderlands. During the past week, additional events have been organized to offer a wider overview of the refugee culture with music nights, short films and talks.

‘Rise Exhibition’ illustrated the solidarity and the connection that has been formed within the community of Bristol. During the past two months, refugees and asylum seekers worked with the local artists Hannah Kirmes-Daly for painting and Joyce Nicholls for photos to present the artworks at the exhibition and tell us their personal stories.

Portraits, painting and photos made us reflect on what it means to leave behind your own origin to adapt to a different culture and the difficulties of being in an unknown place without your family. However, the main feeling coming up from the exhibition was hope and the strong relationship that has been forged between the members of the charity and those asking for help. Last week wasn’t only a celebration of the members of Borderlands but also a chance for the refugees to present their own culture through food, art and music.

It was a concrete example of the main scope of Borderlands as a charity: making people feeling independent, giving them the chance to learn new skills to overcome a sense of isolation and exclusion. These people have been forced to change their life because of traumatic and unviable circumstances. However, even in England, they have to face suspicion, disbelief and racism, and too often they end up living on the edge of society, vulnerable to violence and abuse.

Borderlands is working around this pre-conceived tendency by building a safe space where people can feel welcome. In addition to the practical help, the real aim is forging a one-to-one relationship with the refugees during workshops and recreational activities. The exhibition celebrated the importance of talking with people and working on the social aspect rather than just the necessities such as a bed and hot meal. Playing on similarities and differences, art and music have been used to build a mutual ground between different cultures, a chance to open a conversation with real people rather than giving us a stigmatic overview. or to help break down the stigma, of a “problem of our society”.

Cause+Complexity

After a five days show, “Cause+Complexity’ ended at the Island on Saturday 25th of February. The multimedia exhibition was organised by the members of Bristol Homeless Forum to promote the Bristol Homelessness Awareness Week 2017 and raise people’ sensibility of homelessness in Bristol.

 

£ 306.00 is the average amount that a woman needs in Bristol for tampons in a whole year. The artist Amanda Atkinson left in a corner £306.00 in sterling coins, to raise the attention to a peculiar, humiliating, aspect of living on the street as a woman, that is too often ignored and left on the side. The work of art was part of “Cause+Complexity”, an art exhibition organise to celebrate the Homelessness Awareness Week 2017.

Bristol records the highest number of homeless people in the UK, outside London. Even though the number of rough sleepers or people without a proper home keeps increasing, the Bristol City Council’s budget for homelessness prevention has been reduced by 20% between 2011 and 2015, and further important cuts are coming up next year.

Several reasons make people end up living on the street: the rise of living costs; mental health; relation breakdown; eviction; Counting Court judgments; and, most important, the fact that too often people in difficult situations refuse to ask for help.

Facing the complexity of this problem, the Bristol Homeless Forum’s members promoted the Bristol Homelessness Awareness Week 2017 to raise awareness of homelessness on a larger scale.

Working on prevention rather than on temporary solutions, the idea is to encourage people to look after each other and take action. The help we can provide aims to highlight the importance of an early intervention and persuading people to access the support they need, but also in finding alternative ways to raise people sensibility about the problem.

“Cause+Complexity” responded to this philosophy. Local artists have been invited to investigate causes and complex circumstances that lead and, even worst, perpetuate homelessness in Bristol.

The exhibition aimed to offer an alternative view of homelessness accessible even to those who are not familiar with this problem, either as an artist or as a visitor. With a wide range of media, ranging from ceramic, illustration and collage, to photography and film, the artists responded to the same bottom line according to their own personal approach to the problem.

Several paintings, prints and photos investigate the causes and consequences of homelessness from different angles, while in the Projector Room, a documentary film and some short videos show life in Bristol as a homeless person, with interviews and true stories. The exhibition offered a wide overview of the complexity of the problem in Bristol, as the artists touched different aspects following their sensibility. For example, impressive and straight to the point is the installation by Maxwell Rushton, Left Out. It is made out of black bin bags giving form to a homeless person vindicating change. This piece shows how our society is bringing us to see people like rubbish, a waste that we have to leave behind because it can’t fit with our society’s demand.

 

Particularly interesting for the whole idea of the awareness week, it was the installation presented by Art4Change, “Why am I here, and you there?”. Already displayed last December in Arnolfini, the two mock houses installation is the pilot of a project started in 2016 by Frankie Stone and Mark Skelton. With the aim of engaging the public about the realities of homelessness in Bristol, this project truly engaged everyone, homeless, artists and viewers. One of the two mock houses is a collage created by homeless as result of a workshop ran at San Mungo’s, while the other one has been left blank with three question to answer for the visitors. Postcards with members of the public, homeless and service providers from the workshop have been left with the same questions, in order for all of them to be part of the exhibition itself or being spread across the city.

This project is particularly meaningful to the idea of keeping us from just giving a bed for a night or giving some spare change. Art4Chenge’s project showed us the possibility to create an environment where people usually kept on the margins can be free to share their experiences and, most importantly, learn new skills to start again and feel actively part of a community.

 

Cause+Complexity and Art4Change gave us an alternative to tackle the root of the problem that we too often consider to be part of the city routine. Art can’t offer a solution to the problem, but it has the capacity to deeply investigate the complexity of it, giving us a new key to read the problem. Through local projects and working on the peculiarity of the city, we can be closer to the people, rather than the abstract problem, and offer concrete help. We can act on preventing rather than dealing with the consequences, not only creating a second chance for these people, but also increasing our sense of responsibilities and opening our mind to a constructive critical spirit.

 

IBT/17: ‘STAND UP, STAND OUT!’

In Between Time 2017ended last week after five days of festival with dance, performances, music, live art and activism across theatres, galleries, city streets and outdoor spaces.

 

Since it started in 2001 as a part of a live project in Arnolfini, In Between Time became an independent organisation in 2009. From the beginning, the idea was to push out radical live performances from the usual art spaces to interact with people in alternative environments. According to this philosophy, 40 artists have been called to present cutting-edge pieces to involve visitors on a deeper, interactive level and challenge the canonical boundaries between disciplines.

 

The festival opened silently with Ghost Dance, a 12 hours dance by Lone Twin dressed as blindfolded cowboys. From Midday to Midnight the performers never stopped their dance, perfectly matching each other’s steps, with people joining them to dance against fatigue and pass time. Meanwhile, Lone Twin’s Beastie, created by children’s imagination, popped up unexpectedly to go around the city dancing with people and playing with children.

Arnolfini, the core of the festival, hosted talks, short films and participative performances. Some particularly interactive and innovative examples include Race Cards, a public forum project by Selina Thompson that exposed racial tension; Undress/Redress, a live performance by NoëmiLakmaier on the ambiguity between consent and tolerance in the act of being undressed and redressed by a man; and Vesper Time by Stacy Makishi offered an “evening prayer” to reflect on ageing and on acting before is too late. Finally, Triple Threat was a trash step-dubpunk morality play for the modern world by Lucy McCormick.

 

Various performances spread across other locations, like Workshyby Katy Baird, where the artist reflected on having, or not having, a job today and dealt with the relationship between labour, class and aspiration. A particularly interesting project was, that selected 45 Bristolians and individually coached them for this performance on stage, when the people met for the first time to dance together.

 

The performers also worked outdoors, on the city streets with Rita Marcalo’s project Dancing with Strangers: From Calais to England. Starting in the Calais”Jungle”, this project was the result of a workshop with refugees and it involved people on the street to dance with strangers. The festival went even further with Woodland, where the artist duo French & Mottershedcreated a meditative audio work in the woods with a self-portrait of the body after death.

The brave and risky programme reflected the mood of the work of the organisation over the years, focusing on the idea of making art to express meaning and actively involve people in the performance itself. However, the festival this year assumed a slightly different meaning. As the bravest festival yet, Stand up Stand out was not only a chance for the artists to present avant-garde pieces of work, but was also a call to take a position and stand up for what you believe regarding the global realities that we face as a society.

 

And this call to stand is not meant only for the artists, it is a call for everyone. Brexit, Trump, social injustice, gender, racism: these are important and unavoidable faces of the world we are living in. As much as our political situation is bringing us to reinforce the cultural and geographic boundaries, the art is blurring the boundaries between disciplines and art spaces to open up the possibility for taking art and culture in unexpected new directions.

 

It is hard, if not impossible, to provide a single solution to our global problems and change the world. However, the art can open a conversation between us, forcing us to reflect on our reality from unexpected angles. And, maybe, it can open our mind to the controversy that characterizes our society.

 

 

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