A Ghost knocking at the door?

There’s a ghost knocking at me door

And he’s asking…

(Ribbon Road, from the song ‘The Ghost’ from the 2016 cycle ‘Our Streets are Numbered’)

3Part of our contribution to the AHRC Utopia Festival, 2016

A team led by ESRI Research Fellow Geoff Bright has recently won more funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council to develop the ‘impact and legacy’ of their arts-based investigation into the ‘social haunting’ of deindustrialised communities. Under its full title of Song Lines to Impact and Legacy: Creating Living Knowledge through Working with Social Haunting the new project builds on two earlier AHRC Connected Communities investigations also led by Geoff – Working with a Social Haunting and The AHRC Utopia Festival project Opening the ‘Unclosed Space’: Multiplying Ghost Labs as Intergenerational Utopian Practice. Once again using the Ghost Lab approach, the team will take their innovative technique of ‘Community Tarot’ readings to new audiences in marginalised de-industrialised communities in the UK and, from there, to other national and international audiences in the Basque Country, Slovenia, US, Hungary, Haiti and Malawi through the channel of community radio.

If you’re a follower of this blog, you’ll know that our earlier projects drew very significantly on the conceptual framework of a ‘social haunting’ articulated in Avery Gordon’s Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination, and developed the Ghost Labs – essentially a “participatory art-philosophy-political event-space”, in Brian Massumi’s words – to query how difficult affective meanings carried into the present from contested pasts might, rather than narrowing the scope of imaginable futures, might actually be harnessed as energies for benevolent change. The Ghost Labs’ success seems rooted in their capacity to allow participiants to reflect on community histories and values and to reimagine alternative futures in a way that is enjoyable and social, even when those communities have suffered divisive traumatic change. As one of our participants from a previous project summed up: “We had a laugh, did something different, got to know each other and ourselves a bit better…It felt good to try to express myself through unusual means (for me) like poetry or even drawing. Doing it together created a powerful and lasting feeling…”. The Community Tarot is just one of a repertoire of arts based methods that the Labs employ. It offers a simple, playful, but richly productive device with which to bring to light contradictory aspects of what Valerie Walkerdine has called “communal being-ness” in de-industrialised communities that exist in the form of ‘sticky’ and difficult affects, like those surfacing in the aftermath of the Brexit vote. There is thus a real timeliness to the work.2

The Ghost Lab Tarot cards, designed by our project partner: comic strip artist, Jim Medway

The new project will have two phases: the Community Tarot technique will be rolled out by means of Ghost Labs held in five new communities: three in the NE of England – Seaham, Horden and Willington on the Durham coalfield – and two in the NW – Rochdale and Hyde, Tameside. In the second phase, the creative materials generated through those Community Tarot readings will stimulate the creation of a set of contemporary ‘video ballads’ that ally with local traditions of dissenting song and will be specially written and recorded by our partner folk musicians, Ribbon Road. The video ballads will be used to initiate “song lines” of living knowledge outwards from, and back into, the originating communities as they circulate through a series of interactive public engagement and dissemination channels that will have a local, regional, national and international reach. These channels will include pop-up theatre delivered by our partner New Vic Theatre Borderlines; community open air video projection by film maker, Steve Pool; interactive community radio; a specially commissioned website: and a practitioner and policy maker conference to take place at the People’s History Museum in late autumn 2017.

The established project team of Dr Geoff Bright; award-winning poet Andrew Mcmillan Dr Sarah McNicol; Unite Community; the Co-op College; New Vic Theatre Borderlines and community broadcaster, Max Munday, is joined this time by Workers’ Education Association in the NW; East Durham Artists Network; Durham Participatory Research Hub; community broadcast media specialists Sheffield Live and the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC). So there’s quite a bunch of us.

1A 2016 Communty Tarot ‘reading’, at the New Vic Theatre Ghost Lab, Newcastle under Lyme, Staffordshire. Max Munday recording.

We’ll keep you posted on our activities in our new community settings and our out-and-about ‘ghost hunting’ activities at the 2017 editions of the Durham Miners’ Gala, Great Yorkshire Show, Wigan Diggers’ Festival, and the Co-op College Conference. Listen out for the beautiful voice of Ribbon Road’s, Brenda Heslop! It’ll make you burn with righteous fury, marvel at the capacity of communities to survive, and weep with joy and sadness. Get a taste of it here: Ribbon Road. Try listening to Daddy for You; Eddie’s Tattoo Studio; or The Numbered Streets and you’ll see what we are getting at. Also, if you’re interested in the more experimental arts-based approaches we’re messing with in our attempt to ‘hear and say the ghosts’, then also check out this roughly recorded demo of a freely improvised sound/word/data collage that we are working up for the European Congress of Qualitative Inquiry in Leuven, Belgium this year https://soundcloud.com/socialhaunting/ecqi-final-shortened​. Geoff Bright is on soprano sax, Andrew McMillan on “poetics”, Max Munday on Ghost Lab “data”, and Gill Whiteley on accordion.

So, there’s a ghost knocking at the door according to Brenda Heslop of Ribbon Road, and according to life of our Ghost Labs. Why? Well, here’s a bit of an interactive blog task. Look at the geography of the Brexit vote, and zone down to the coalfields and look at the level of the ‘leave’ vote. Then Google “miners’ strike 1984-85” and have a look at some of the images. Alright, coal has had its day, and done a lot of damage. So there’s no going back. But park that thought for a moment, and ask yourself what it might be like to live live through 84-85 and then witness the closure of the last UK deep mine in late 2016. And then ask yourself again what it might be that the ghosts are saying. And leave us a post.

Geoff Bright

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