Los esperamos!

CC-BY-NC: Elspeth Penfold

Elspeth (Billie) Penfold is a textile artist who, in 2012, formed the arts group Thread and Word. Through call outs and personal invitation Elspeth works collaboratively with invited artists and academics to develop performative walks.

This year, she produced A different LENS, an interactive map set in and around Margate (UK), which is shortlisted for the Sound Walk September 2020 Awards.

Here, Billie talks about her work, looking forward to the online walk · listen · café of November 10, at which, in the context of her work and the theme of ‘psychogeography and distruption’, she will play the hostess of the Long Table, a concept for interaction created by artist Lois Weaver.

I would like to welcome you with los esperamos, a greeting in Spanish, meaning “we are waiting for you”, and give you introduction to the projects and our artists through the lens of the Long Table, where it is our intention to highlight our story describing A different LENS through digital, online, participation.

The Long Table is an open source concept designed by the artist Lois Weaver, which basically combines theatricality and models for public Engagement. 
The Long Table  is also a useful structure through which we can explain our map, A Digital LENS.

The digital delivery via online conferencing software, like Zoom or BlueJeans, is for us experimental and will mirror some of the experiences we encountered as we developed our map entries.
Initially, when we were designing and producing our map, it had been our intention to present the map as a hybrid event, online and offline, using the Long Table Format. However, because of COVID restrictions and guidelines in the UK, this has not been possible, and all the experiences we have encountered have been digital.

The contributors to our map would have expected to walk, talk, and make, using the ideas of walking bodies to engage with their surroundings; to make connections with their chosen locations.
However, the COVID lockdown drove us into the virtual, as our map grew into something, more than a digital representation for the telling of stories, becoming an interactive space on a digital platform, mediated through Zoom, as we gathered fortnightly to develop and discuss ideas.
This brought its own challenges and many serendipitous encounters amongst the nine artists who developed the map over a period of six months. 

We have chosen the Long Table to present and discuss this experience, as it is at once a stylised appropriation, and an open-ended, non-hierarchical format for participation.
This is very much in keeping with our map of walks and storytelling, delivered through cgeomap.eu.

The map does not have a set trail, but many entry points for participants to engage with.
This was a conscious decision, taken by the group, as we wanted to represent the many voices and the layers of engagement. The map contains  contributions from artists and community members who shared our vision for the map. 

The map is multilayered with sound, video, photos, and poetry. It is a relational engagement, to be experienced, walked, using GPS and the web app, and also felt through sound, craft, poetry and writing.

These elements, theatrical craft and political commitment, are mutually supporting. They are also found in the widely and internationally toured work of the Long Table.

As described in the introduction to the staging of the Long Table, the (often-feminised) domestic realm here becomes a stage for public thought. The  connection to A different LENS is that all of our map entries were developed in domestic settings, often with family engagement.
This widened the creative participation from artists and community members into the domestic sphere. This, also because of lockdown, is where most of the participation with the map is now being experienced, through participants in their own homes. Indeed the cafe experience will in effect also take place in participants homes, on a platform like Zoom, BlueJeans.

Everyone in our offer for A Different LENS, at the walk · listen · café, will have the power (and imperative, with the communal interest for a more satisfying discussion) to shift the direction of conversation, to mediate moments of tension, and to make space for voices less easily heard.

Our map, too, offers a variety of voices, both on and off the map. These  include not only the initial stories by artists which responded to the project brief but also the #distance drift (walking together though apart), hidden but in plain sight (exploring ways of seeing) and the community participation by members from East Kent Mencap

These all present challenges, springboards, or if you prefer, scores, through an offer to listen, look, and walk with the very many diverse voices and interpretations of spaces. Some of these represent voices that are less often heard. They allow you to create your own interpretation and walking experience.

We look forward to seeing you, los esperamos, on November 10th at the café, and we hope you enjoy visiting and experiencing our map in conversation with A Different LENS.

Billie’s overview is the fourth in a series of the artists shortlisted for the Sound Walk September 2020 Awards talking about their work.
You can join Billie, and other guests, at the Long Table, this Tuesday, November 10, by participating in our walk · listen · café.

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