4 March 2014

DSC 7392

"After a few months of lurking under the surface at FACT, I am taking the plunge and writing a blog post! I know. Can you contain yourself?

I started working here in November, acting as Head of Engagement whilst the marvellous Kat Dempsey has a baby. Since starting, I’ve been slightly in awe of the work the Engagement team does here. Working with people in Community, Health, Learning, Military Veterans and Young People, they are absolutely passionate about co-producing work with participants and artists. And more than a little skilled.

What has been particularly impressive is how ready everyone is to learn from others, and in particular from participants. Issues around language and meaning have been particularly prominent over the last few weeks, epitomised by an older gentleman from our community programme. An artist suggested that we place a ‘post’ on the participants ‘wall’. A fairly frank exchange about the meaning of these words in a digital context ensued. Swiftly adapting, glossaries are being created, helping us to make meaning together. In this way, participants are moving from “I think the internet is great, but what is it?” to “when I’m with the family and they’re jabbering on, I want to know what they are talking about! Oh mother, they say! They know about it, I need to know, you need to keep up with things! It’s all about technology and apps, I now know what they are.”

This is not an issue reserved for the older generation. At a recent event for young creatives, the audience was asked how they would define ‘a computer’. The response “It’s like an iPad with a keyboard attached to it”. In relation to technology, our Digital Natives are greeting the world with knowledge that is every bit as cultural and temporal as those before them. Following this thinking through to its conclusion, how might we now describe a piece of paper or a drill or a map? And how do we bridge the gap between the meaning we attach to technology and art, and the perceptions of the learners we are working with? FACT responds by keeping the conversation going. “FACT knows that children can be very creative and independent.  However young a mind is, it can still come up with brilliant ideas.”

And it’s worth meeting these issues of understanding head-on, and learning from each other as we go. We shouldn’t lose the potential that technology has to engage behind a veil of technical language. As a keen, but non-specialist player in the technological world, there are times when discussions about work I love (such as Minecraft) start to make me feel distant from something that had felt like a comfy pair of slippers. That’s good for us – to a point. By placing these conversations in a context that people can relate to, we start to cross boundaries, creating rich collaboration. The Minecraft exhibition here in March will bring people together to explore making it all real – helping us to see beyond the boundaries of our particular practice and stretching our ambitions.

Take ‘games’. As a committed ‘player’ I adore games in all shapes and sizes, but the games I play in isolation are different from those my mother plays – mostly board shaped – or those a psychoanalyst might refer to. Playing a game when you don’t have a shared understanding of the rules might be amusing to start with, but doesn’t make for an afternoon’s fun. At FACT, the team here is committed to ensuring we don’t get lost in translation, to create spaces that engage, inspire - and challenge. They strive to get the balance right, sometimes meeting people where they are and sometimes providing artistic experiences that challenge, but ultimately inspire.

This weekend I’m off to play Scrabble – with my mother-in-law – on a board – with my phone out of irritation’s way. That’s perfect for now – we’ll cross more digital bridges when we’re good and ready."