The Role of Objects and Places in Remembrance Culture: Using research in an artistic collaboration

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: School of History

Abstract

Where do the memories of those who have died live? In their homes? Their gravestone or where their ashes were scattered? In the places they loved to visit, such as a favourite beach or a beloved football ground? In an everyday object, such as the clothes they wore? Or even in something living, like a rose bush they planted in the garden?

Using research into the history of death, dying and remembrance in twentieth-century Britain, this project involves the building and tour of an ordinary caravan full of interactive activities and works of art to get people thinking about how and why we remember those who we have lost. A visit to the caravan will involve the chance to read and listen to other people's experiences of remembering those who have died - perhaps someone from the past, or from a different cultural background. And a visit will also involve the chance to tell your own story - by adding to pieces of art in the caravan itself. This might include pinning a place on embroidered map representing somewhere that's special to you, or recording a short audio clip telling us how you remember someone you've lost. That way, the caravan will tell everyone's story of remembering over the decades.

The caravan will tour a number of sites in June 2018 and collect the contributions of members of the public along the way. It's free to visit, and there will also be a chance to take part in associated events in some of the venues, such as Leeds and Glasgow. Overall, the aim is to get everyone involved to think a bit about what role remembering our loved ones who have died plays in our everyday life - and perhaps also how we would like to be remembered when we're gone.

Planned Impact

This project will realise unidentified impact of my Leadership Fellowship, through a major collaboration with an artist, and the use of art to engage the public in conversations about death, dying and remembrance. The project has been planned with The Grief Series team from the outset, and in consultation with our partners and venues, to ensure it meets the needs of artists, venues and their audiences. We have piloted and tailored activities to meet the needs of a broader public audience, through a process of consultation with our professional contacts (e.g. through Leeds Dying Matters Partnership), through four public engagement events at which we've tested our activities to be used in the caravan, and through working with individual participants, using an interview and consultation to develop a representation of their personal story in the artwork.
This project will have a major impact on three different groups:
1) Artists connected with The Grief Series project. This project will provide funding for over 10 artists, to develop new pieces of work, new skills, new networks, and to develop innovative ways of engaging with the public. Using academic research to inform art is a new experience for all the artists, and will enhance the quality and reputation of the work. Moreover, using sources, methodologies, approaches and findings from my research helps elevate the stories in the caravan to a more universal level. It offers the artists an opportunity to develop their knowledge of how practices of remembrance of the dead have changed and vary between communities. Finally, being part of an innovative academic/artistic partnership allows the artists to enhance their professional development and seek out similar opportunities in the future.
2) Partners/venues. The partners involved - Leeds Museums and Galleries, City of Oxford College, ARC Theatre Stockton-on-Tees, The Lighthouse Poole, and Buzzcut Festival Glasgow, with additional venues Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Glasgow, and Kampnagel, Hamburg - will benefit significantly from the project. Hosting this artwork during its inaugural tour offers the opportunity to develop their programmes with an interactive, innovative piece. It will help them attract new audiences and appeal to a diverse range of people: the subject matter is relevant to everyone, and the caravan will feature stories from a wide range of communities. It offers them the chance to present art which engages with a crucial and often taboo social issue. Finally, the project offers the opportunity to participate in an innovative partnership between artists and academics and identify the best ways of maximising such collaborations, enhancing the reputation of the partners/venues involved.
3) Members of the public. This project will reach thousands of people - c.2000 live and c.6000 through online, broadcast and media contact (estimate from Grief Series production team based on evaluation of previous Grief Series events). Interaction with the caravan and events will have a significant impact on participants. It will offer the opportunity to learn about past practices of remembrance, share their own story and in doing so reflect on how they remember and how they want to be remembered - a crucial issue for us all. The caravan will be free, whilst events offer the opportunity for those interested to engage more deeply with the research. Featuring the stories of a wide range of groups such as Gypsies and Travellers, those from BAME backgrounds, LGBTQ* people and those from other minority groups, the caravan will have wide appeal across the British population. By creating conversations about remembrance, we are encouraging people to reflect on death and dying, in a sensitive and non-confrontational way. This can be an emotional topic which many people remain scared of - using personal stories, examples of past practice, and beautiful high-quality artwork (see Visual Evidence) offers a valuable route to personal reflection.

Publications

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Title Journey with Absent Friends: Part 6 of the Grief Series (artistic installation) 
Description This piece of work is a caravan full of artistic pieces and interactive activities. It asks visitors to consider where the memories of the dead live, think about how they remember loved ones, and consider how they would like to be remembered when they die. The caravan toured a range of sites, and continues to do so in 2019. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact The impacts have been two-fold: - my research has strongly influenced the artistic piece, as both materials from my research (such as material from archival research) and the key themes and findings of the research (around remembrance, and material, spatial and sensory culture) permeate the caravan. Our collaboration has made the artists think historically and root their work in social context, and this can be seen in the caravan, in the audio archive and the share your story features. The caravan is effectively a growing museum and archive in miniature. - in turn, the caravan and research within it have strongly influenced those who have visited it. This impact has often been emotional, as visitors have reflected on their own mortality and wishes after their death. The caravan offers opportunity for reflection and deep thought. 
URL https://www.griefseries.co.uk/projects/journey-with-absent-friends
 
Description This grant was a 'Follow On Funding' award rather than a research award. However, there are key findings emerging from it, particularly around the potential for artist-academic collaborations. In particular, this award has demonstrated how artists and historians can form a collaborative and mutually beneficial methodology, which can better root the artistic work in social context, and understand the historical example in its individuality. Furthermore the project has shown how art and history combined can provide a gentle way through which people can talk about uncomfortable topics such as death.
Exploitation Route The artwork can be used by a wide range of organisations and publics to instigate discussions of death.

The methodology we have used could be applicable to other projects. Indeed, we have sought further funding to explore this potential, and are writing a journal article about the process.
Sectors Creative Economy,Healthcare,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

 
Description This whole award was geared around using my research in an artistic project. My research on remembrance, and specifically how places and how food play a role in remembrance have had a deep impact on the work of artist Ellie Harrison, of The Grief Series. Harrison has used the findings, sources and methodologies of my research to shape her latest artistic project, a caravan which is full of stories and reflections on using places to remember. The caravan also invites participation by adding to a map and an audio archive, thereby using the historical approach inherent in my research to drive the audience interaction with this piece of art. Harrison notes that my research has 'made me ask questions about authorship when charting the histories of more marginalised communities', developed her confidence in working with archives, allowed her to 'more deeply understand how current attitudes towards death and remembrance have been shaped by the past', and adds that 'working from historical source material has allowed me space free to play with ideas before inviting the participation from the public which then has to conform to the pre-determined structure. This both allows me to more rigorously interrogate ideas and therefore [I have] been able to look after participants better.' Overall, she notes that my research has introduced a 'healthy scepticism [that] allowed me to consider the balance of nostalgia and challenge in my own work'. In turn, the caravan has been on tour around the UK and to Germany, introducing the research to a broad audience and reaching hundreds of people on its inaugural tour (June 2018). Meal events alongside this in five locations (Leeds, Poole, Hamburg, Arran and Leeds) have reached a different set of people and directly focused on the role of food in remembrance. Audiences have clearly found that the caravan offers a new way of reflecting on remembrance. The caravan has facilitated reflection on how people remember and want to be remembered, and helped them value the most everyday practices as part of this. It has also helped people talk about death, something which remains difficult for many.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Creative Economy,Healthcare,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description Use of artwork to engage audiences through formal events and drop in activities 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Through the artwork created through this project, a caravan full of material and themes from my research, we engaged members of the public in discussions about how they remember and would like to be remembered when they die. This was highly effective, engaging audiences who may not have visited a museum or art gallery. The caravan toured sites around the UK and Germany. Visitors could drop in to explore it, or attend five events in Arran, Poole, Leeds (x2) and Hamburg.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019