A lot to do with hope; Reflections on working with Junction 25

It’s been about twenty months since I started working as Associate Artist with Junction 25, and in that time I have began my second year on the Contemporary Performance Practice programme at RCS, moved out of my family home, voted in three elections and one referendum, and become part of a community in Glasgow that feels expansive, always on the cusp of new ideas. As I consider these changes in my life, I feel particularly alive to the approaching winter – to the trees turning and the ice in the wind.

It makes me think of this time last year, and particularly of the Wednesday we gathered in the studio of Tramway with a depleted sense of hope following the election of Donald Trump. In the check in at the beginning of the session we found it difficult to articulate those feelings, the edges of our words caught by a fraught sense of disbelief, anger and fear.

But as we spoke together, I felt a deeper appreciation for circles like this and a sense of privilege in our ability to offer meditations on challenging subjects. It is a space liberated from the mainstream school system, outwith the pressure of deadlines and social standards, a place for ‘other’ in discourse and friendship. I’ve really sensed how much that matters to the young people in Junction – it’s hard being a teenager and it’s hard being in school – and so I hope coming together in this way feels like a relief from it all.

To dance with people you might never have met

To question what led to things being the way they are

To laugh or swear or cry

To be in conflict, or stand up and say no

To learn with our bodies about the world and our place within it

To have fun on a Wednesday night

I think that this depth of feeling in the room is testament to Junction 25 as a long-term project. While much participatory art is by nature temporary, the investment of working in the same community with a core group of young people since 2005 (when I was only seven!) means that everyone grows together and relationships are long-lasting and trusted.

When I became Associate Artist in March 2016, I was concerned about how I might fit into that dynamic, and more specifically what it meant for me as an eighteen year old to facilitate other young people. I quickly realised, however, that I was working in an environment opposed to hierarchy and my identity as a young person perhaps created a bridge between the members of Junction 25 and the lead artists of the company.

I also had larger questions around the ethics of my role as a privileged white man to ask others to share their stories in performance making – stories that might never come close to my experience of the world, or stories I am fundamentally incapable of relating to. As I grappled with those questions, I was also bound up in a process of intense personal archaeology as a student on CPP, interrogating the context of my body and the histories I carry with it. Most weeks I would arrive at Tramway ready to hold the space for others to explore their autobiographies while I had shared mine in a performance not so much as an hour before. This process feels vital for any facilitator and one that should always be in motion.

To feel the weight of what we are asking

To consider the tension between my projection and your intention

To be vulnerable

To look in to look out

To resist subscribing to the rhetoric of ‘giving a voice’

To tell the truth

In many ways, I wonder if the role of a facilitator is the ultimate role of a white man working in performance contexts. To make space for stories other than mine. To release power. To listen. It feels like a good development of my own explorations of male privilege, a place from which to interrogate whose voices are being heard and what the aesthetics of social practice are right now. I’ve had some really interesting conversations with some of the members of Junction 25 about their own privilege, and without homogenising those feelings, I think that continually being aware or conscious of all of this is exactly the right place to be.

I want to resist writing with a sense of completion. These reflections are murky and not quite complete, unable to capture my experience in full – but I am enjoying leaning into that quality. It feels strange not working with Junction every Wednesday, and I suppose I miss everyone, but feel excited about the potential of our relationship. Perhaps I am also feeling a sense of gratitude for the weight of the work we made together and the images that stick in my mind – the simple, the challenging, the unexpected.

 

A few weeks ago, I saw one of the young people we worked with in Shawlands Academy when walking down Victoria Road, and she shouted ‘Justin Bieber!’ in recognition and we both laughed. It’s hard to measure the impact of our work there, its legacy or its ‘success’. In loads of ways, I feel like this reaction, shouting the nickname she gave me in the street over a year later, is all that matters now. We are making small shifts in our relationships with each other, remembering when we jumped over skipping ropes or ran down a hill together in Queens Park. It’s the small things, the ones we might forget or laugh about later, that make a difference.