‪Art + Care: A future. Book launch. by Alison Rooke

photo           A Palace For Us - ShootOn Saturday 28 at 4PM in the Sackler Centre for Arts Education there was a launch of the book ‘ Art + Care: A Future” at the Serpentine Gallery . The Art + Care book speculates on future alliances between the fields of art and elderly care.

The book is based on essays by key thinkers on issues of aging and the future, and is contextualised by case studies, carried out by CUCR.The Skills Exchange research assistants Cristina Garrido Sánchez, Ananda Ferlauto, Laura Cuch, Mara Ferreri and Katey Tabner worked as part of the team of artists, agencies and participants as the projects unfolded over five years with the Serpentine Gallery.

Skills Exchange: Urban Transformation and the Politics of Care. (http://www.gold.ac.uk/cucr/research/skillsexchange/) brought together artists, designers, researchers and architects working in the field of elderly care. Each Skills Exchange project was based on an extended artistic residency in a space of elderly care, through which participants were invited to engage with the creative process to challenge stereotypes and social norms.

Projects took place during periods of imminent change – the relocation of a care home, the transformation of a neighbourhood or a point of transition in the cycle of life –since these are the times when elderly people are more often marginalised and excluded.

Principles of exchange and participation were integral to the research methodology. Central to the research was the role of five research assistants who have had a long —term engagement with the project, charting, and in some moments stimulating, two core aspects of the project:

The ‘Skills Exchange’, that is the shifting of roles from stereotypical perceptions and habituated patterns of relating to more generative means of engaging their immediate social contexts, and the degree to which the project enables participants to increase the efficacy of their engagement with local, urban contexts.

A Palace For Us - Shoot

The methodology was based in the methods and principles of Participatory Action Research (PAR). Initiated and named by practitioners in the global south, (PAR) re-orders the traditional positioning of the researcher as a silent observer and the research subjects as the object of the study, to suggest that research questions, outcomes and methods be shaped by those who are the basis for the study and who are most likely to be effected by its findings. Research in PAR is oriented towards realising social justice and social change collectively and thus speaks directly to the aims of Skills Exchange.

While the methods used in this study, which included ethnographic participant observation, facilitated discussions, mapping, interviews, and research diaries, did not always differ from more traditional sociological research methods, PAR mobilises these methods towards larger social questions about the distribution of power and voice, both within groups and the wider society. Thus the role of the researcher is active and one that can be questioned and re-shaped by the group.

A Palace For Us - Shoot

For this reason, the CUCR research assistants took on different roles. In some projects they worked alongside the artists and participants from the outset of the project, instigating group reflection on the process and the exchanges that took place as they unfolded. In other cases — where groups did not have regular meetings — they have worked with participants individually, relaying reflections to other participants. In others, the role was related to the recording of events as they took place or tracking people’s reflections after the fact.

The research participants, whether older people, those who work with older people, or artists and other cultural workers, were co-researchers on this project. They played an active role, often deciding on the shape of the methods used. At times this meant that groups refused methods and suggested other means to get at the same questions, thereby shaping the research and the artwork as it developed. These subtle refusals and discussions led to moments of reflection between artists, older people and research assistants. Other aspects of the research overlapped directly with artistic process i.e. the making of interviews, recordings of group conversations. They were not replicated by university researchers but were made use of in the overall project analysis. The research archive thus includes art works and social initiatives, opening events and manifestos in addition to interview transcripts and social mappings, each oriented towards the cultural and socio — political changes groups hoped to enact.

A Palace For Us - Shoot

The openness, conflictual responsiveness and reflexivity of the groups were integral to the development of the projects from artistic, research and social perspectives. At best this meant that all involved learned to create inspiring responses to the many contradictions between institutions, participants and social contexts to which they were responding. Other times, due to the habits of art-making, research and/or social care, or indeed the busy schedules of participants, this full ambition of embedded and reflective research was not realised. Here we have the opportunity to reflect and learn.

Though each project started with the union of artists and older people, the communities surrounding them grew to include children, students, care-givers, market-traders, local activists, media figures, policy-makers and many others.

As contributors to this book suggest, beyond these immediate needs the concerns of the elderly intersect with those of many others. Sylvia Federici’s essay argues that decreased welfare-state contributions for the elderly have a significant impact on women, who,with migrant workers, bear the unpaid or underpaid brunt of care. Franco Berardi (Bifo) argues that the postponement of state pensions has equal ramifications for a younger precarious generation of workers, who reach the workforce later in life as a result. It is only through understanding the intersections between elderly care and other social sectors that we can begin to imagine what the future could look like.

A Palace For Us - Shoot

How can artistic practices assist in this re-imagining of elderly care and all of its complex interdependencies? Responding to this question and to broader public debates regarding housing, pensions and the well-being of the UK’s aging population, in 2007 the Serpentine Gallery launched Skills Exchange: Urban Transformation and the Politics of Care. Initiated by then Head of Programmes Sally Tallant and Projects Organiser Louise Coysh, the project was developed by Projects Curator Janna Graham. Through Skills Exchange, the Serpentine Gallery placed artists, architects, researchers and designers into spaces and services for older people in five London Boroughs. Skills Exchange began with the idea that people in the later stages of life possess vital skills, insights and experiences that should be shared and exchanged.The project aimed to bring the voices and concerns of this often marginalised section of society into contact with a range of artistic practices. Through these exchanges, participants in the field of art and care realised that the picture of the elderly that we have seen to date does not reflect the myriad of experiences, desires, plans, ways of knowing and networks that older people possess. Indeed very few Skills Exchange projects in the end focused on older people. What we heard from our Skills Exchange collaborators was more often related to broader social changes that they wanted to make: the de-stigmatising of social-housing tenants; the preservation of local street markets; the right to imagination at the end of life, and the creation of more equitable relationships in caring.

A Palace For Us - Shoot

For more information about CUCR’s Modalities of Exchange Report and the Skills exchange Project please contact a.rooke@gold.ac.uk

For report go to : http://www.gold.ac.uk/cucr/research/skillsexchange/

Images by Laura Cuch.  www.lauracuch.com 

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