Super Slow Way community coordinator Ruth Shorrock joined Jean Mcewan and her group Circle of Friends in one of their weekly sessions yesterday in a walk around Blackburn. Here she shares her thoughts and experiences of one of our community projects where end products and “art speak” is not on the agenda.
As part of our community commissions programme, yesterday on a rather wet Wednesday I had the pleasure of joining the Circle of Friends group on one of their art walks with artist Jean Mcewan. The walk started from the boulevard centre in Blackburn but our destination was unknown as we were following random directions from a zine produced by Jean in response to her initial 3 months working with the group. The walk became a gentle, thought provoking journey which had us all viewing the town from a new perspective.
Familiar sites held a new resonance as the group discussed their own relationships, memories and experiences which led to us dancing at the former Manhattan Heights site, discussing Laurel and Hardy “doing a turn” and taking in the famous aroma of fermenting hops as we overlooked the drizzle filled vista from Eanam Wharf. Yvonne cocooned in her waterproof realised that our perception of sound seemed to increase as we walked in our protective waterproof “tents” reducing our visibility in the driving rain. The noise of the traffic and construction work became overpowering, reflective of the constant state of dereliction and renewal that the town seems to be undergoing.
We collected urban flotsam and jetsam and imagined their place in a life once lived, shadows of stories. We passed sites of graffiti and other street art and considered what interventions we could make and indeed if we should. As the rain persisted we decided to take refuge in the cafe at Morrisons where the conversations continued and we talked about walking to each other’s houses and sharing tea in each other’s homes.
What instantly strikes you when you meet this group is their warmth and open nature. I never feel like an outsider or visitor but a friend, welcomed into the circle where we share and learn from each other with no judgements made. Similarly, Jean with her gentle nature, quietly self-confident, inquisitive about her new surroundings talks with the group in a manner which is not dogmatic or instructive but calm and responsive, encouraging us all to notice things and to “see” in new way, to experiment and play. We don’t talk about “art” the collaborative process of rediscovering a place is all the “art speak” we need, for now anyway.