Making something small happen

art of the everyday

Month: May, 2012

Artists Testimonies

Belmont Tower, Belfast

19th May

2-4

In the same venue as my last event, a singing workshop, I set up for something a little different. The room has large triptych windows on both sides and in the centre I arranged 12 chairs in a circle. These would soon be filled with 6 people sharing their testimonies, their chosen witnesses and a film maker to document the event.

I introduced my work explaining my intention to explore the possibilities of evangelism as an artistic methodology and my desire to create a fellowship of the faithless. Careful to be clear that it was open to anyone but the faithless refers to the desire that regardless of the beliefs of the group it would not be a fellowship centred around religious belief but a fellowship based on a belief or hope in art.

After introducing the outline for the day I asked whoever felt they wanted to share first to begin. As expected this led to an awkward silence but patiently we all waited until someone spoke. I will not be revealing the details of the other testimonies but I wanted to share with you that I found the event moving and emotional. This may seem strange after pointing out that the event was filmed for documentation and perhaps in time and with permission I will exhibit the work but I do not feel a blog is the place to do so.

In recreating a format most recognised when sharing stories of conversion to religious faith I found the same unity with this group that I had previously experienced  before I left the Christian faith. We had a united purpose and it was this purpose among other things that we shared through artists testimonies.

In an earlier post (https://makingsomethingsmallhappen.wordpress.com/2012/05/09/artists-testimonies/) I shared the promotional information for this event, borrowing from 1 Peter 3:15 “always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks for a reason for the hope that you have” I asked for artists to respond. After all 5 other testimonies had been shared I shared a story of the moment I knew art worked. It was when giving out the buns for Tract 4 when all the passengers who accepted began to talk and share stories that I first really felt a fellowship outside of religion could truly be possible.

The testimonies were followed by tea and cake and a discussion where I asked witnesses to share their thoughts and posed some questions to the group. This is definitely a format I will use again.

I will be continuing to facilitate events as part of the making something small happen project and will share themes and thoughts as they develop.

We did sing!

Belmont Tower

Houston Room

8th May 2012

How does a group action provide fellowship and how does this fellowship function outside of religion. I am interested in deconstructing traditional Protestant Church services – the type I attended regularly in the past. Taking worship as my first area of interest I designed a singing workshop. This workshop was secular or non religious but focussed on the sense of fellowship that can be created by joining all our voices as one.

I introduced the workshop briefly talking about reclaiming the word fellowship, obviously the word community is problematic and fellowship definitely has religious overtones but in the interest of borrowing the strengths of religion (as suggested by Alain de Botton) I feel fellowship give more of a sense of what I am searching for and exploring with this work. Simon Critchley has recently written Faith of the faithless which I am currently reading. I would say faith has strength often from group support through congregation. It is this space of belonging and support that I hope to create for the moment of this workshop.

Anna Newell taught the workshop, she is an inspiring teacher and gently coaxed the singers out of each of the twenty participants. The participants were invited through Facebook, email and promotion on the venues Facebook also. I really had faith in the idea of getting strangers together to sing but as the time drew near I was short of the 30 participants I had hoped for. This in itself is not a problem 20 was a great number for Anna to work with and meant we got a good chance to chat over tea and cake afterwards. However it has got me thinking how do I promote these events so they reach those that are interested? I have mentioned several times about parallels I find between religion and art – both self perpetuate by “preaching to the choir” I am trying to move beyond this, I am currently planning the second event which will take place in Belmont Tower this saturday and explore the idea of giving testimonies.

How to make invisible work visible.

I am a little over half way through the making and distributing of tracts (see earlier posts for details) As the project progresses I have been trying to work out how to make the work visible to those beyond the tiny portion of public I engage with whilst out on the streets. I have already discussed how the work is validated and the problems of electing to make work outside an informed public but still having the desire to have it recognised as art. In finding ways to spread the work and address these concerns I began hand writing personal letters to a select group of people inviting them to become collectors of the work. I picked 14 people who have influenced the work in some way. This influence ranges from being the first person to follow my blog, to writing a key text that I have used in my research. I will not list the names here suffice to say that I consider each one of true value in my work and dearly value any opinion they may be willing to share.

Each letter written addressed the reason I had chosen to invite that person to collect the work and included the first few tracts in the series. I sent out the letters and waited. This waiting became very uncomfortable as I began to conclude that the work was not strong when removed from its context here in Belfast. This is a definite fear I held. I spoke with a tutor about how to follow-up the letters as sending more out into the world without hope of reply did not appeal to me. It was suggested that I email those I had first written to and say I was getting ready to send the next set of tracts and an update on the project and asking did they wish to be included. On opening my laptop to begin I found my first reply waiting for me. One of the collectors had emailed to say how pleased they were to have received the work and they would love to continue to collect them. This really boosted me in sending out emails to the other potential collectors. Of the 14 originally sent 12 want to continue collecting the work and 2 gave no reply.

I am currently working on a way to present the tracts as a set and also this will double as a gift to the collectors. Each will receive a book which their collected tracts can be mounted into. This book will also be available in a limited edition to buy. These will be made of tracts that remained from the limited edition sets and I plan to have 40 in all including those that will be sent to the collectors. These two images show the prototype for the book.

I am really enjoying the process of the project, addressing problems as they arise with creative solutions.

 

Artists testimonies

always be prepared to give an answer
to everyone that asks
for the reason for the hope that you have
but give it in gentleness and respect.
1 Peter 3:15

I have long struggled with this question and on giving up my Christian faith I still strive to answer it as an atheist. I am not without hope and as an artist that is where my hope now resides.
What relevance does this statement have when stripped of religion. If we were called as artists to give testimony, of our reason for the hope we have, could we answer? Testimony is a term traditionally used in Christian religion to describe the sharing of how one became a Christian or a particular event where God has done something worth mention in one’s life.

How did you become an artist?
What drives you to continue your practice?
What struggles have tested your hope?

You are invited to give testimony, but give it in a language that is accessible and does not hid behind the vagueness of some artistic expressions. What hope in art means in your lived experience and to share this with an understanding that the audience may not be used to the language of art. This work calls not for the polished presentation of an artist’s statement but an honest sharing of our beliefs.

There are ten spaces available and each volunteer/participant will be asked to bring a witness for their testimony. Testimonies will be shared with the entire group.

Each testimony will last up to ten minutes and light refreshments will be provided afterwards.
The event will take place on May 19th 2-4 at Belmont Tower, Belfast.
The event will be documented as research.

If you are interested in sharing please contact Julie at
miller.julie83@gmail.com

Tract 5, day 4

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A man stopped to tell me how long he had been saved for, he is a street evangelist and has been a Christian for 41 years. It was such an awkward conversation as at no point did I feel I could say I am an atheist. He obviously identified with the aesthetic of street evangelism that I have adopted and spoke to me as if we shared our beliefs. This work has really made me question how to share beliefs on the street without imposing them on the person you are sharing with.

On a practical level the sign is easier to hold when balanced properly but it really restricts the number of tracts I distribute. Perhaps I will have a vest made but I am struggling with what I would have written on it to ensure it can be used with all tracts. I would love your thoughts on this!

Tract 5, Day 3

Day 3 found me shuffling in alongside the Festival of fools. I was surrounded by street performers and again set myself up beside the tourist information map at Cornmarket. As it was a saturday there were mostly teenagers in town and many shared their opinion of what I was doing and what I looked like as they went past, for the first time I really realised what I must look like. I look younger than I am and I am sure if I was an older man I would not be subjected to the “whispering” shouts of how stupid I am and how much my presence pisses them off.

As has happened a few times on other tract giving days, I saw a few people I know. One stopped to chat and said “that looks like a Jesus thing” and I explained it is meant to. That this tract was a reaction to always being asked if I am saved and how I hate that question. Instead I would ask are you lost and then offer some direction only to those who asked.  That as an atheist I wanted to be able to have a presence in Belfast that is helpful.

Some young boys asked directions for Kennedy square. It isn’t on my map and I googled it but couldn’t find it, they stayed and waited for a bit then said not to worry and on they went, another couple passed and asked the way to rosemary street. I was looking at my map when they spotted it and even though I had been no help at all they still thanked me. Two tourists from Spain arrived to look at the map and wanted to know where to go and get the titanic bus tour – again I wasn’t much help. I have to admit my morale was pretty low at this point. I put myself in the position where I am offering advice on something that is not a strong point of mine. I real this awkward tension is important for my work so I resolve to carry on.

A girl asked if I had seen a group of girls one of which is wearing a purple hat, I would have laughed if she hadn’t looked so worried. I asked if she was meant to meet them in Cornmarket and she explained they had all gone into a shop then left without her. I offered my phone to call them and she told me she didn’t have their numbers. She told me they aren’t very nice before wandering off in search of them anyway.

A large group of girls and boys stopped, basically to make fun of me. They asked for directions to all the shops, one by one, that are around the edge of Cornmarket and were in plain view of where I was standing. I patiently answered every question. One boy in the group said she is just making fun of you and I said “that’s ok I have plenty of time” When they realised I wasn’t getting annoyed they left. I was secretly singing inside at managing to find a way to remain totally patient, it felt like a performance break through.

I went for a cup of tea after the distribution and bumped into several people, some artists and friends in town for the festival of fools. Each asked about my project and gave great encouragement. Saying how interesting it was to deal with this topic in this way and how courageous. We talked about how rejection can be motivation. The inner feeling of believing you are right and the more people who disagree or reject this, the more important the work becomes.

It was really exciting to talk to people who knew about my work, a real change from my encounters with the public but it left me feeling sheepish. No matter how I choose to work in public without disclosing that I consider it performance or art it is still when I return into the art fold that I receive my validation and after an afternoon out on the streets I welcome this validation more than I feel I should.

 

Secular Fellowship – we shall sing.

In an exploration of how singing together is used to create a bond between people, I will facilitate a singing workshop in an attempt to create a momentary community.  The focus will be on the relationships created by singing together and the links this has with sharing beliefs. For many people in Northern Ireland singing began at Sunday school and church. I am interested in what happens to this desire to sing together if we move away from this faith. Perhaps concerts and gigs are now the times we sing together but these are performances of a talent by a group with which we associate ourselves as fans. Church singing is a singing of equals to show praise for something greater than ourselves.

Alain de botton has suggested that culture can and should replace religion but what are the practicalities of this. Singing in church brings a comfort, your voice is not important as you are not singing to those around you. Can this be recreated in a secular format? There are many choirs and community singing groups that meet but this group is not focussing on the strength of the voices but rather the connections the act of communal singing can have.

8th May, Belmont Tower, Belfast.

Tract 5 day 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today was a beautiful sunny day and on arriving at my Cornmarket spot I found two street performers. I positioned myself beside the tourist information map sign and held my sign with the new addition of maps on the back to aid my direction giving. It is so strange to be giving directions as my sense of direction is not wonderful but I think this really adds to the work. On the last day of distribution I was asked the way to a couple of shops which I was unsure of and I found myself asking “Does it have to be that shop?” and trying to direct them to a shop which sold the same things that I knew how to get to. The story on the tract talks about being offered directions you didn’t ask for and I am becoming aware you can only give directions within your knowledge base.

I had a couple of friendly conversations today, one with an older man who asked what I was doing. I explained I was offering directions if anyone was lost and he told me about supermarkets getting staff to carry “May I help you?” signs which he thought was a great idea. He shared that he was originally from Derry but considered himself a Belfast man. He asked where I lived and when I told him east Belfast he said his sister lives there but he prefers north Belfast.

Another man, around the same age as me asked the way to City Hall. At this point I began to suspect he was joking as he wasn’t far from there I turned my sign to the maps and began to direct him anyway. He looked really embarrassed and said he thought I was “taking the piss” he walked away but continued to say in a really loud voice ” I think you are lost, you are the most lost of any of us – If I blindfolded you and spun you round you’d end up in Japan” It seemed like he had wanted to make fun of me and realising I was offering directions didn’t really know what to say.

Another man passed by and said “stony heart” I looked confused and he repeated the term then asked what I was doing. I said offering direction and he apologised and wandered off. I am researching the biblical meaning of this term  and came across this post http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0456.htm

A few tourists asked for directions to places to eat lunch and again several people joked that they were “lost but now found” on the way past.

It is very difficult to give away tracts and hold the sign but it is an interesting exploration as it changes the dynamic of the encounters I am having.

I will be in Cornmarket again tomorrow around 2 so if you are in Belfast keep an eye out for me.

Are you lost?

Having been asked many times if I am saved whilst distributing tracts I found a great contrast in being asking only once if “I considered myself lost” This as a theme for a tract really excited me. I am interested in how you can influence someone elses feelings of security by suggesting they may be lost. This question still rattles me as a former Christian. Fear is not a basis for belief and having had many discussions with those that accept my tracts I am interested in what happens to this fear or feeling of being lost when you are confident that you are not a believer nor in any danger from an afterlife you do not believe in.