Thursday, 19 September 2013

Hola! Que Tal?

This is the in-depth blog for the project 'Gender, Process & Collaboration' which is supported by public funds through Arts Council England's Grants for the arts. My main art practice blog can be viewed at:

So I'm here in Barcelona, finally, for this project.

A bit of a back story about what's brought me here. 

Last year I attended a European Summit for Women in Business in my capacity as Business Mentor for the We Mentor programme. Chatting to the other women there, I mentioned that the reason that I felt my former film business had failed was because of a lack of confidence. Not in the product me and my former business partner were producing, in fact I still can't quite understand what the lack of confidence was about. It was just some subtle, inner thing that questioned my belief in myself. Anyway, it materialised that this was what the whole conference was about: self confidence, self esteem, self efficacy and the fact that these things are actually learned in the early stages of our lives.

It also materialised that there was a clear gender divide when it came to these ideas of confidence, and that this confidence and belief that you can do something is formed in the early stages of our lives, at home and in school etc. and that the tendency to encourage young people into one direction rather than another to fulfil gender stereotypes was also culturally specific. 

After the conference I saw a great piece of work at the Bluecoat Gallery in Liverpool as part of Liverpool Biennial. 'The Unfinished Conversation' was a film that explores ideas about cultural and ethnic identity. This three channel video was so beautifully executed and so easily understood that it was the stand-out point of the festival for me. 

That same evening, I was shown another piece of genius when a friend showed me some youtube footage of flamenco dancer, Carmen Amaya, performing 'El Embrujo del Fandango' from 1937. 

This excited me. I was already questioning gender roles in society and the fact that there are still many ideas and societal 'rules' about what men and women SHOULD be doing in certain situations in 2013 was bugging me. The expectations and paths of men and women are still so rigid in so called modern society, so it was refreshing to see this archive footage of a woman who back in the late 30's really pushed the boundaries of gender norms and re-appropriating gender identity through a dance that was, to my limited knowledge, very strict in its boundaries. 

Of course her performances in matador attire and her flouting of gender roles in her uncompromising performances caused controversy at the time, but thinking that this was back in the 30's made me wonder just how far we have really come in assigning gender roles. 

Amaya performed with such confidence and passion. How could I use this inspirational performance in my work?

Almost a year on I'm here in Barcelona, Amaya's hometown, and though Amaya wasn't formally trained, today I will take my first steps in flamenco, taught by a male flamenco dancer, at a Flamenco school here, to try and learn the routine in that archive film. 

Why? Because I'm interested in researching this dance to utilise in my creative making process (similar to the residency in Japan when I learnt the art of Kyudo) and also to understand the male perspective of this dance, as a woman, and does this collaboration have an impact on my process as an artist?

Back in the UK, I'll be using footage of this re-performance to create video installation with two groups of young people from my old school - Halewood Academy Centre for Learning (formerly Halewood Comp). I'll be working with young men and a male editor will work with young women as research to challenge and raise their confidence and aspiration through this type of project and also, what impact if any does the gender of the artist collaborating with a group of participants have on the outcome and also, how does this type of project challenge those ideas of societal gender roles and minimise any disparity between young men and women in terms of self confidence?

Tying all of those original motivations for this project together, we'll present this at an exhibition on the 19th November 2013, the 50th Anniversary of Carmen Amaya's passing, in homage to what she brought to flamenco and the challenges she brought to the world. Great timing ay?

This in-depth blog will be exploring the process of this project on a daily basis, so back to the recent present and I've learnt so much already in terms of organisation and preparation of this type of project when I reflect on the last few weeks since the funding was confirmed.

The least I can say is, always add in time for an administrator into funding bids and try at least to learn some of the language of the place you're going unless its a totally non-collaborative project.

Also, preparation time for your mind and body - if its a physical activity - is essential. I've been doing pilates for the last fews weeks but could really have benefitted from more mental preparation time. I read somewhere to dance flamenco you have to be in the present. Maybe I needed more time to adjust to this?

Also, as I learnt with the Japan residency, give yourself time to ease yourself into the project, or adapting to the place you're going. There are positive and negatives to this but it just allows more time for preparing for the type of project I'm about to undertake.

So Phase One is in full swing. School are preparing to help engage the participants for when I'm back in the UK. I arrived here late Tuesday night which has given me a day to sort out some of the things I needed to sort including shopping for flamenco shoes and getting my bearings for this amazing City, which is so alive right now.

Had a great conversation yesterday with a young Catalunyan woman (who can speak English) from the place where I'm staying, all about her adventures across Europe dancing flamenco as a way to get by.  Although she wasn't trained, she told herself she was a gypsy and performed in hotels and bars. Her face was alive with the memories and the experience, but the beautiful thing was when she said she felt like she found her passion through this dance. Flamenco brought out the passion in her. This part of the process interests me because I like to work with processes that strip away at the ego and allow us to just let go of everything. Its also about that confidence I was talking about earlier. Can this confidence be passed on to the young people I'll be working with when back in the UK creating the video installations? Do they even need it? We'll see.

Right now I'm preparing for the first lesson at Escuela de Baile Flamenco Jose de la Vega which is at 5pm this evening. I'll be taught by the School Director, Toni.

Some other schools said I couldn't be taught by a man because I am female, so interested, if a bit nervous, to see what this first lesson will be like.

Anyway, as a woman, it took no persuading for me to go shoe shopping yesterday. Look what I got for my lessons.

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