The Human Bower: Exploring Heritage-Futures Through a Participatory Arts-Research Event
Morgan J (2018) The Human Bower: Exploring Heritage-Futures Through a Participatory Arts-Research Event. All Things Considered...Material Culture and Memory, University College Cork, 09.11.2018-10.11.2018.
Abstract The experience of ‘overload’ - or the complexities of choosing what to save for the future when faced with material (and increasingly digital) proliferation - is the topic of this paper. It emerges from my research as an anthropologist on the Profusion-theme of the AHRC-funded Heritage Futures project (https://heritage-futures.org/). Led by Co-Investigator Sharon Macdonald (University of York), the Profusion-theme explores what museums and householders decide to keep for the future when faced with mass production and mass consumption.
In this paper, I respond to the conference theme of looking at the ways in which material culture interacts with the visual arts. I recount an on-going collaboration with artist Shelley Castle of Encounters Arts (http://encounters-arts.org.uk/). Blending ethnographic and participatory arts practice, we explore what material - but also immaterial - elements of everyday life people think are worth preserving for posterity. By discussing our collaborative process, including fieldwork in peoples’ homes leading to an installation of ‘object stories’, and a public creative event called ‘The Human Bower’, I focus on the facilitation of (what we call) ‘guided conversations’. Undertaken in tandem with creative response and interventional making, these conversations encourage participants to imagine what the future might look like, and to consider what could be held onto (or let go of) to make that happen. By discussing findings from our ‘guided conversations’, I argue that blending an ethnographic sensibility with a participatory arts practice has been an especially effective route for reflecting on the relationship between keeping and futures - a relationship that typically remains unarticulated.
Connecting with key themes of the conference, the paper provides insight on the ways that an innovative research-arts collaboration invites people to consider how futures are actively made through the choices they make about the (im)material world, and on the very many different values that inform such selections, including in ways that go beyond the economic.