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Thursday, 7 October 2010

'Making Conversation' - Workshop Profile

'Speed dating' with sensory questions

'What is Making Conversation?'
‘Making Conversation’ is a series of workshops that I run at ‘Manchester Art Gallery’ roughly three times a year. The workshops take place once a week in three-week blocks. For the first week we visit the current exhibition, discuss our personal responses to it, and the wider issues the work touches on. The participants then discuss what they would like to make in response to their experience of the exhibition, including any new techniques they would like to try. Over the subsequent two weeks the participants create work, often collaboratively, and I help facilitate this. I will also introduce some short activities that link in with themes the participants have chosen to explore. Over the course of 'Making Conversation' the work participants have produced has varied enormously, for example: performance, creative writing, photography, sculpture, drawing, digital art.
Creating sound art with dictaphones inspired by Bruce Nauman's 'Raw Materials'

"We Love Naomi" from Naomi Kendrick on Vimeo.

How it works
I plan each ‘Making Conversation’ by combining the themes and art forms present in the current exhibition with my own focus on muli sensory and self-directional experience, which is present across my entire art practice.  I provide audio description as we go around the exhibition and whenever else required. I use other sensory methods, such as sound effects, objects, taste and smell to provide further, multiple ways in to the themes of the exhibition. I take care not to influence the opinions of participants when it comes to their views of the exhibition and decisions about what to make, and encourage volunteers working with me to do the same. My role is to build the confidence of participants, introducing them to new materials and techniques and ultimately to facilitate independent creativity and group discussion.

Generating random questions with a dictionairy for mail art
Open Doors = Great Conversation
I established the workshops in 2006 with the invaluable encouragement and support of the Adult Learning Manager at the gallery, Meg Parnell, and more recently her job share colleague, Kate Day. ‘Making Conversation’ was originally aimed at local visually impaired and blind people.
Over the past couple of years Meg, Kate and I have actively worked to broaden the Making Conversation audience. This has not just been about increased numbers, but specifically to advertise it as ‘open to all’. Our reason for this, successful, shift in marketing is our shared belief (with ‘Making Conversation’ participants) that audiences should not be separated out because of a disability or social ‘category’ but rather should be free to select their events because of personal interest. There are for example people who attend the Galleries programmed audio described tours, but do not come to ‘Making Conversation’, both offer a sensory approach to the exhibition, but, and it sounds obvious, some people want to make and some just want to listen.

‘Making Conversation’ now consists of an established group of regulars who have been coming since 2006 and new participants; together they make up a diverse group of visually impaired, blind and sighted people with a relationship to art that varies from the professional to very limited previous contact. Meg and Kate advertise the workshops through gallery publicity, including a notice in the exhibition space, through ‘Henshaws’ (a local organisation for blind and visually impaired people) and by contacting regulars directly by phone or e-mail.
What it’s like for us
The diversity and enthusiasm of ‘Making Conversation’s’ participants makes it hectic to run at times but also a great social situation, full of rich discussion and personal discovery. That goes for me as much as for the participants. The feedback we have had from participants themselves has been very positive; here is some feedback from Gary a participant since day one of ‘Making Conversation’.

‘Over the workshop lifetime I have found participation fun and a relaxed atmosphere, a wonderful opportunity to meet like-minded individuals who equally share an  interest  in the exhibitions and artwork at Manchester Art Gallery, who provide a valuable social amenity.
And an excellent opportunity to develop social and communication skills bringing together groups of individuals from diverse backgrounds who in many cases feel excluded from society and therefore unable to participate in activities non-disabled members of the public take for granted.
I feel that the Making Conversation workshop’ is also an excellent opportunity for disabled (particularly the visually impaired like myself) to gain equal access to not only physical exhibits and artefacts but also actual human contact and discussion, in order to interpret the exhibits in a unique perspective.
I undertake voluntary work twice a week on a regular basis at The Imperial War Museum and the Making Conversation workshop’ give me an excellent opportunity to relax and enjoy my hobby activity in a stress free zone’

All images are from 'Making Conversation' Sept 10, working with the exhibition 'Recorders'
To see more examples of 'Making Conversation' follow Manchester Art Gallery's flickr links below
Making Conversation June 2010
Making Conversation February 2010
Making Conversation July 2009

Shadow work
Participants create work to interact with the exhibition 'Recorders'
Participants create work to interact with the exhibition 'Recorders'
Participants create work to interact with the exhibition 'Recorders'

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