by Filipe Gomes & Emily Hennessey
Taking Flight explores themes of migration music and story, uncovering some of the rich wealth of stories found within migrant communities living in the Thanet area. Supported by Arts Council England and Kent County Council the project was led by artist, Filipe Gomes and storyteller, Emily Parish.
Working extensively with local migrant communities, the culmination of the work was presented as a 'sound experience' at various cultural venues, such as, galleries, theatres and public spaces in and around the Thanet area (east Kent). The experience focussed on placing audiences within a real-time sonic situation, one which attempts to elicit themes of anxiety, fear, hope and aspiration - essentially highlighting the potential emotional experiences felt by migrants (encapsulating the notion of taking flight in to the unknown).
The work was featured as part of the Turner Contemporary launch in 2011, and partnered with various community engagement organisations including, The Kent Cultural Baton, Margate Theatre Royal, Margate Adult Learning Centre and Kent New Recipes.
Although small, Cliftonville in Margate has a very diverse community, made up of overseas migrants, ex Londoners and long term residents to name a few. In the years leading up to the project, community cohesion, representation and engagement were perhaps the most prominent issues amongst residents. Cliftonville had undergone a huge decline since its holidaying heyday; at the time of delivering Taking Flight, it was the most deprived local authority in Kent, suffering from long-term economical and social problems. The once ‘booming’ hotel sector had largely been reinvented in to bedsits and flats. Despite the economic difficulties in the area, a great deal of migrants have decided to settle in Cliftonville.
The project consists of four main community engagement objectives:
- To build positive relationships through a shared creative experience amongst segments of a community, fragmented by highly polarised political views, economic status and social context, the work aims to create opportunities to find common ground, familiarity and empathy; enabled through storytelling and music workshops/events.
- To open up a greater understanding of migration; challenging preconceptions by sharing stories, experiences and ultimately inclusion through the arts.
- To work with cultural organisations to establish creative methods of overcoming barriers faced by the local community; creating the opportunity for individuals to step into a creative setting which, they perhaps wouldn't normally access. A theatre, a gallery and a recording studio to name a few.
- To explore innovative ways of presenting stories, experimenting with multimedia, interaction, performance, sound and music.
Through approaching local community organisations in the Cliftonville area we were able to find in-roads to potentially 'hard to reach' groups. We were also able to achieve so much by simply walking through neighbourhoods - talking to individual residents and businesses on an almost spontaneous level. This was perhaps the single most effective method we adopted in finding participants to take part in the project. It was also an invaluable chance to talk about the challenges and struggles faced by the community; This process substantially shaped the direction of our creative approaches - changing our very own definition of the project.
Once we had established willing participants, we created a series of workshops surrounding storytelling, music and sound. The workshops were hosted in the Margate Adult Education Centre, another key local organisation from which we were able to identify and engage an even wider range of participants.
The workshops functioned as a unique opportunity for connections and relationships; these newly found connections were at the very heart of the project and final artwork. Participants talked about living in the area, work and family life, the experience of moving from one country to another, the challenges they faced, their positive/negative encounters, and their overall hopes for the future. Participants went on to talk about stories; their favourite stories from childhood, fairytales and folktales, the stories we carry with us wherever we go and how the meanings of stories shift and change as our lives shift and change. Through these encounters and dialogues, the participants began developing the source content of the final artwork; The conversations turned into recording sessions and the recordings were then put together and arranged to create the foundations of the sound installation. Although the project delivered a physical outcome which had a very specific aim, it’s important to emphasise that it’s the bridge building between the participants that lies at the very heart of the project; the physical output in many respects had little to do with the legacy of the project.