Creative Lives Collaborations: Roots and Routes

Recently, we invited the artists involved in Creative Lives to come to Sheffield to talk about the progress of their projects and the collaborations that they have been undertaking. Following the prompts from Carmen Levick in May 2022 to respond to memory, trauma and/or age, the paths that the artists have taken are proving to be rich and varied, although crossroads are appearing connecting the responses.

John Powell Jones talked us through his interactive ‘choose your own adventure’ story. Players journey with Atamur (spot the anagram?) to search for protection against their hypersensitivity – ultimately questioning how much protection they really want. Created in the convention of science fiction, this stands alone as an adventure on another world, whilst exploring concerns closer to home. 

Maya Chowdhry showed us her process of using artificial intelligence (AI) to interpret and manipulate images. Taking images and phrases associated with her own lived experiences and climate justice, she is experimenting with applying AI tools to creating intriguing, sometimes disturbing images and audio. 

Julia Griffin and Steve Sutton presented their ideas together, as they have been collaborating on the theme of ‘trap’. Steve has built a sculptural cage, using found materials of metal and wood, which Julia has been exploring using movement. Parts of an old retail crate are being transformed by Steve through the insertion of branches and the winding of roots, when Julia enters the space, she is difficult to see, emerging and retreating, choreographing a slow dance in the shadows.   

Omid Asadi described how, in response to Carmen’s prompt, he is exploring saffron as a memory source for Iranians; he explained the significance of the spice, how this is changing within Iran and its importance for those who have travelled away. Following this explanation of his most recent work, Omid shared several clips of his work, including one that showed feet attempting to balance on a disinterred tree root; the difficulty of finding a point of balance on displaced roots providing a metaphor for the precarious relationship between place, heritage and memory.

Andrea Small explained how conversations with Carran Waterfield about family history in performance had been useful in giving her work direction. Andrea’s mother was given away as a child and, for Creative Lives, Andrea is working on poetry and song in relation to this history. She stunned us by singing part of a song, currently titled ‘A Mouthful of Silence’, in the meeting, pausing only when she plans to introduce harmonies. 

Picking up again on the theme of genealogy, Carran Waterfield talked about her own personal history and her family history reaching far into the occupations of generations of grandfathers. The genealogies that Carran is tracing are also those of performance and she talked about the layers of meaning-making that she is exploring through the work that she is undertaking for Creative Lives. 

Hannah Leighton-Boyce spoke last and remarked how, having listened to the others and especially Carran, there were so many connections emerging. Hannah has been working closely with Bridget O’Gorman, who unfortunately couldn’t attend the meeting. They are developing work ‘in conversation’ assessing and re-assessing what it means to both of them to make work and live in this ableist society.

Sadly Jessica El Mal wasn’t able to attend, but she is collaborating with Maya and Omid, separately and together, working on exchanging knowledge, feedback and ideas about each other’s work on trauma and memory. In her own work, Jessica is exploring the strait of Gibraltar as a site of trauma, violence and a politicized water, layers of history, and the colour of longing.

Listening to the artists speak about their work, I was struck by the concepts of routes/roots. The route that each artist is taking, the route that the work follows and the identification of roots of work, of story, of activism, of the individual and of family. The invitation to collaborate and to share has prompted these artists into discussions that are helping them to develop ideas and to consider new approaches. In September, we’ll be presenting these works-in-progress on our website – so keep watching!


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