Testimony in Practice: Working with Stories of the Self and Others

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Languages Cultures Art History & Music

Abstract

Testimony in Practice develops and extends the cultural and social impact activities of the AHRC network "Culture and its Uses as Testimony" (2016-18). This network brought together researchers and practitioners working in a range of international and disciplinary contexts to explore if and how testimony mediated in and through different cultural forms might foster reconciliation and a sense of symbolic justice in post-conflict societies. The network's findings include the principle that all testimony is produced through culture, broadly understood to include artefacts (e.g., film, literature) and institutions (e.g., education, the law). The network further highlighted the necessity of focussing on the impact of different kinds of mediation on the production and reception of testimony.

An unforeseen pathway to impact resulting from that network was the decision by three network members, Eugenio Szwarcer and Carles Fernandez Giua of the Catalan theatre company La Conquesta del Pol Sud, and the Romanian and German novelist Carmen-Francesca Banciu to produce a collaborative documentary theatre performance. The play is based on Banciu's life as a dissident author in communist Romania and titled *Bucharest*. This innovative production combines verbatim and literary forms of presenting the self to highlight issues of authenticity, voice and power. Testimony in Practice brings *Bucharest* to Birmingham and ensures that the potential impact of this collaboration is fully realised. It does this by engaging new communities and audiences through a series of workshops, a testimonies campaign, and an intermedial exhibition. It will have impact in four areas: cultural production, social well-being, public understanding and economic impact.

The project responds to needs expressed by two different non-academic communities:
- a need for greater sharing of research and practice in the ethics and methods of using testimony in artistic production
- a need for increased public understanding and recognition of the life stories of Central and Eastern Europeans (CEEs) living in the UK

It is divided into two interlinked strands which address these different needs: Creative and Social.
1. The Creative strand engages cultural practitioners with the innovative approach and collaborative method used in *Bucharest*. It does this through the performance of the play at the Birmingham European Festival (attended by theatre practitioners from across Europe), a practitioners workshop, an open-access "Making Of" film and guide, two creative writing workshops on "Writing the self", and a reflective journal article.
2. The Social strand is inspired by the life-story approach of La Conquesta and Banciu and engages expatriate communities, schools and the local public with the subject of the play: the history of communism, the revolutions of 1989 and the experiences of Central and Eastern European migrants. In co-operation with our partners, the Polish Expats Association, the Central and Eastern European Arts Space, Centrala, and the Romanian Cultural Institute, we launch an online campaign to gather the life stories of CEEs living in the UK. The testimonies form the basis of an interactive and intermedial exhibition displayed in Birmingham and London and two schools workshops, in which pupils create their own artistic responses to the material.

The launch of the project in 2019 is particularly timely as Europeans commemorate the end of division and the triumph of liberal democracy over communism. And yet these anniversaries come at a time of great turbulence for a continent that seems ever more divided. Testimony in Practice emerges from this context and directly addresses it. It stages the possibility that culture can provide opportunities for marginalised groups to voice their life experiences and to have these recognised and heard by diverse audiences, thereby fostering a greater sense of social recognition and community cohesion.

Planned Impact

The principal beneficiaries of this project are: cultural practitioners; Central and Eastern Europeans (CEEs) living in the UK and groups and organisations that represent them; school pupils in Birmingham and London; the general public attending theatre performances or visiting the interactive and intermedial exhibition. These groups will benefit from four kinds of impact:

(1) Cultural production
At the core of the project is exchange between researchers and cultural practitioners around the use of testimony in different artistic media. The original research highlighted the ways in which practitioners approach questions of appropriation, empathy and mediation in diverse ways and with diverse impacts on witnesses and audiences. This demonstrated in turn the potential for innovation through bringing together different media forms. This collaborative method is being explored in the documentary theatre production, *Bucharest* - an unintended outcome of the original research - which combines on-stage witnessing with literary writing. The proposed activities bring the outcomes of this innovation to a broader community of practitioners through staging the performance at an international theatre festival, an open-access "Making Of" film and guide for practitioners, a workshop targeted at theatre professionals and two creative writing workshops for emerging authors. The project also explores a second collaborative approach through the production of an exhibition of testimonies combining installation and sound art. Participation in the project will have a transformative effect on the artists involved in terms of their approach to producing and using testimony. It will promote reflection among this user community around ethical and methodological questions in this context and foster future collaborative activity between artists working with testimony in different media.

(2) Social well-being
Since the June 2016 referendum on Britain's membership of the EU, CEEs living in the UK have reported an increase in hate crime and a sense of marginalisation. With the support of our project partners, Centrala, the Polish Expats Association and the Romanian Cultural Institute, Testimony in Practice addresses this through the launch of a campaign to collect and exhibit (online and through installation and sound art) the testimonies of these communities. The aim is to improve social well-being by fostering an increase in social recognition of the life experiences of the witnessing group. The original research highlighted the benefit for marginalised groups of the opportunity to give voice to their life stories and to have these heard and recognised by a wider community. Cultural products, such as theatre and art, can mediate these life stories in a way that allows the creation of distance for the witness, yet creates the possibility of an empathetic and affective response on the part of visitors and audiences.

(3) Public understanding
Related to the impact on social well-being, the project increases understanding of the histories of Central and Eastern European countries in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and how these histories relate to contemporary politics. This is especially important in 2019, as Europe marks the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the (beginning of the) end of communism, and yet faces a present in which the continent appears increasingly divided. An increase in knowledge and reflection on Europe's past and present is achieved through the theatre performance, testimonies exhibition and two schools' workshops.

(4) Economic Impact
The artists directly involved in the theatre performance and art installation will benefit economically from the attention brought to their work by the project, as this will likely result in future commissions and/or increased sales revenue.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title Documentary Theatre: A Land Full of Heroes 
Description A Land Full Of Heroes follows the life of Romanian writer Carmen-Francesca Banciu. Having grown up within the rigid ideologies of the Romanian communist regime, she remembers her life-changing trip to Berlin in 1990, a year after the fall of the wall and immediately following the Romanian revolution in Bucharest. The play is co-authored by La Conquesta del pol sud and Carmen-Francesca Banciu, including integration of excerpts from her literary texts. It is performed by Carmen-Francesca and her daughter, Meda Gheorghiu Banciu (a professional actor). It is a complex interweaving of testimony, fiction, art and reality. The play was produced in collaboration with Testimony in Practice and premiered at Birmingham European (BE) Festival on the 6 July 2019. Following the Birmingham performance it will perform in other European locations. Other partners on the project are Théâtre La Cité (Marseille), Forum Jacques Prévert (Carros), Théâtre des Doms (Avignon) and Théâtre Jean Vilar (Vitry sur Seine). 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact The interweaving of different forms of testimony and layers of fiction and reality makes the production an especially innovative and unique piece of theatre. Despite their extensive experience of putting witnesses on stage, La Conquesta had not considered working with literary testimony before the collaboration with PI Jones and the result is "a poetic level that in other pieces, we don't have" (see "Making Of" film). The use of a second narrative voice, in the form of Meda, further disrupted their understanding of authenticity as Meda and her mother perform multiple roles, all of which relate to reality and fiction in different ways: "it's a new language. Mix these two territories, these two levels of fiction, literary fiction and acting fiction, it's new for us". Published reviews point towards the innovation of the piece. They describe A Land Full of Heroes as "an extraordinary piece that proves that political theatre can use a cross-artform approach, and experiment in form, whilst simultaneously conveying the truth of real-life historical and biographical experience" (Dorothy Max Prior, 'Total Theatre'). For another reviewer, the piece jumps "to great effect between an interview or spoken word piece and a theatrical recreation of [Banciu's] novels" making it a uniquely "effective portrayal of life before and after communism, revolution or violence" (Lauren Cole, 'Birmingham What's On'.) 
URL https://testimonyinpractice.bham.ac.uk/theatre/
 
Title Exhibition: Testimony in Practice 
Description The testimonies of Central and Eastern Europeans living in the UK that were gathered in our online campaign formed the basis and focus of an innovative, intermedial artwork created by our project partners, Centrala Space, and an international team of artists. Centrala produced a unique exhibition exploring perspectives on life under the communist regime, the importance of 1989 and the revolutions leading to the fall of the Iron Curtain. Two artists worked with the testimonies gathered through the project: Maciek Baczyk from kinoMANUAL focused on analogue sound art and visuals reflecting the nature of memories as voices from the past in the present while Emma Lockey created a physical structure to present the testimonies. The exhibition launched on the 6 September 2019 at Centrala (18.00-21.00) and was displayed at Centrala until 25 October 2019. It then move to the Romanian Cultural Institute in London, where it was displayed from 12-26 November 2019. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact The exhibition enabled Centrala to meet three of its core aims: delivering high quality art, educating, and integrating audiences. It attracted a total of 2166 visitors, including new audiences for the gallery. Qualitative feedback indicated that the exhibition provided a space for Central and Eastern Europeans to voice their experiences and, in so doing, increased public understanding. Visitor comments indicated an improved understanding of communism and/or the experience of post-socialist migration and new recognition of the similarities between the UK and Poland. Visitors with experience of living in Central and Eastern Europe saw themselves and their past represented in the exhibition. Significantly, respondents indicated that the effectiveness of the exhibition and the transformed understanding they describe was due to the innovative use of testimony and the new perspectives this affords. 
URL https://testimonyinpractice.bham.ac.uk/sounds/
 
Title Testimony in Practice: Clock Tower Projection 
Description A piece of unique audio-visual art was developed by the artist Maciek Baczyk as part of his collaboration on the main Testimony in Practice exhibition. The artwork was projected onto the University of Birmingham's 'Old Joe' Clock Tower during an event in October 2019. The projection was one of a series of events that were part of UoB's 'Green Heart Festival'. The series had the title: 'Revolutions 1989 in 2019'. 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact The series of events aimed to bring to public attention the histories of Central and Eastern Europe and in particular the revolutions of 1989. The Clock Tower projection contributed to that aim by showcasing work produced by Baczyk in response to the life stories of Central and Eastern Europeans living in the UK. 
URL https://testimonyinpractice.bham.ac.uk/sounds/
 
Title Testimony in Practice: Youth Artists Exhibition 
Description This small exhibition showcased the outputs of the youth artists workshop: Creating the Self I. It was hosted at the University of Birmingham in October 2019 in a series of events that were part of UoB's 'Green Heart Festival'. The series had the title: 'Revolutions 1989 in 2019'. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact The series of events aimed to bring to public attention the histories of Central and Eastern Europe and in particular the revolutions of 1989. The exhibition contributed to that aim by showcasing work produced by young people in response to the life stories of Central and Eastern Europeans living in the UK. 
URL https://testimonyinpractice.bham.ac.uk/workshops/
 
Title The Making of A Land Full of Heroes (Film) 
Description This short film documents the process of making the documentary theatre production, A Land Full of Heroes, and the cross-sector collaboration between PI Jones, La Conquesta del pol sud and Carmen-Francesca Banciu. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact The main impact of this output is to showcase the cross-sector and innovative method used in the creation of A Land Full of Heroes. It has 183 views on Youtube and is also embedded into: https://www.theatrejeanvilar.com/2605-18900/la-saison/detail-d-un-spectacle/fiche/a-land-full-of-heroes.htm https://www.theatre-contemporain.net/video/Making-of https://testimonyinpractice.bham.ac.uk/theatre/. 
URL https://testimonyinpractice.bham.ac.uk/theatre/
 
Description As an Impact and Engagement project, it was not the aim of this award to bring forward new research findings, rather to put into practice those emerging from the network 'Culture and its Uses as Testimony'. The main findings that were put into practice in this project were:

• A broadening of our understanding of what testimony is can help us better appreciate how it can be put to use. For the purposes of this project (and the network on which it is based), testimony is understood as an account (in any form) by an individual with personal experience of past atrocity about those experiences. This testimony might be presented as a fiction (e.g., a novel or feature film), but it should nonetheless be a "truthful" account in the sense of being representative of the experiences, thoughts and feelings of the individual. Secondary witnesses can also produce works that can be considered testimony by reusing (or "remediating") the testimony of primary witnesses with the same requirement for that representation to be "truthful".
• All testimony is mediated through culture in some way and different kinds of mediation can have an impact on the ways in which the audiences receives the testimony in terms of authenticity, empathy and critical engagement.
• Allowing witnesses of mass or state violence to speak can function as a form of social recognition for marginalised groups: mediation through culture can contribute to this process as it allows for dissemination of testimony across space and time
• The production of empathy needs to be considered carefully: in order to avoid being overwhelmed by the stories of others, audiences should be encouraged to develop an "other-oriented" empathy (see Coplan 2011) - allowing them to experience the emotions of the speaker, as the speaker. Artistic forms of mediation can be very effective at promoting just this kind of response.
Exploitation Route As an impact and engagement project, our aim throughout has been to put testimony into practice through collaboration with multiple partners. These major impacts and outputs are described under 'Narrative Impact'. The engagement with multiple practitioners in different sectors of the creative economies - theatre, literature and visual art - has demonstrated the relevance and significance of our approach to testimony for these groups. We anticipate that this will be taken forward into new creative outputs and collaborations.
Sectors Creative Economy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL https://testimonyinpractice.bham.ac.uk/
 
Description As an impact and engagement project, Testimony in Practice had collaboration with non-HEI partners at its heart. This has resulted in a number of non-academic outputs and impacts. The co-operation with La Conquesta del pol sud and Carmen-Francesca Banciu resulted in an innovative theatre production - A Land Full of Heroes, which was premiered at the BE Festival in July 2019. The production put into practice the research findings relating to the fluid boundaries between fiction and authenticity, the role of mediation in the transmission of testimony, and the value of art in providing a space for difficult experiences to be voiced. It was performed to a full house at BE Festival and will tour in France in 2020. The production met with enthusiastic reviews, which pointing in particular to the originality and effectiveness of the approach. The testimonies campaign and the use of the testimonies in the multi-media installation, 'Testimony in Practice' provided a space for Central and Eastern European voices to be represented and heard (especially important in the context of increased discrimination against these groups following the referendum on Britain's departure from the EU). The exhibition attracted new audiences to Centrala Space and was rated highly in visitor feedback. Qualitative feedback indicated that the exhibition had improved understanding of the histories of the region and encouraged reflection on the role of first-person accounts in this context. The exhibition was viewed by 2166 visitors. The innovative method used in Testimony in Practice was disseminated further through a series of practitioner workshops with theatre practitioners, writers and youth artists. Feedback indicated that these workshops had a significant impact on understandings of the fluid boundaries between fiction and authenticity and had resulted in a greater willingness to experiment on the part of participants, including with multiple perspectives and media. Follow-up feedback has indicated that a number of new creative outputs are emerging from this changed practice. The collaborative method has been disseminated further through the creation of a "Making Of" film for the documentary theatre production. The team are also working on a "Guide to Testimony in Practice", which will be freely available to download in spring 2020.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Creative Economy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description Collaboration with BE Festival 
Organisation BE Festival
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution BE Festival had long been interested in staging the work of Barcelona-based theatre company La Conquesta del pol sud. The collaboration allowed them to bring a new full-length piece by the company to the Festival in 2019, thereby contributing to their programme and supporting their aims to bring high-quality European art to the UK. The workshop - Archive, Memory, Performance - delivered by the project team at BE Festival fitted perfectly with the 2019 theme.
Collaborator Contribution BE Festival contributed to the project substantially in terms of staff time (supporting the development of the production, marketing and dissemination) and by providing a venue for the rehearsals and performance. The staging of the premiere at the Festival ensured that the production would reach key audiences, i.e., theatre practitioners from across Europe. BE Festival also provided a venue and support for the workshop - Archive, Memory, Performance - which allowed the team to disseminate the innovative method to the same key audiences.
Impact Documentary theatre production: A Land Full of Heroes; Testimony in Practice workshops: Archive, Memory, Performance (Birmingham)
Start Year 2019
 
Description Collaboration with Centrala Space/Polish Expats Association 
Organisation Centrala
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution PI Jones and Centrala Space collaborated closely on the campaign to gather the life stories of Central and Eastern Europeans living in the UK and the design and display of the resulting multi-media exhibition (hosted by Centrala and the Romanian Cultural Institute). Centrala have commented that the exhibition gave members of the community a chance to be heard and feel that their voice is being respected. The exhibition brought new audiences to Centrala and fostered a growth in social media engagement with the gallery, including 199 new followers. Participation in the project allowed them to realise the 3 of the organisation's major goals: delivering high quality art, educating, and integrating audiences.
Collaborator Contribution Centrala were essential to the success of the testimonies campaign, ensuring that we were able to reach relevant audiences and persuade them to participate. They commissioned the artists for the exhibition and ensured that the work produced was of a high quality and would attract large audiences. The gallery hosted the exhibition for six weeks (attracting 2166 visitors), the project launch event and the youth artists workshop. They worked with the artist to produce the projection for the Clock Tower event. In sum, Centrala provided essential know-how in terms of artistic engagement, Central and Eastern European audiences and communities, and cross-sector collaboration.
Impact Testimony in Practice Exhibition; Testimony in Practice workshop: Creating the Self 1 (Birmingham); Testimony in Practice Youth Artists' Exhibition; Clock Tower projection.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Collaboration with La Conquesta del Pol Sud 
Organisation La Conquesta del Pol Sud
Sector Private 
PI Contribution The documentary theatre company, La Conquesta del Pol Sud, were involved in the research network, 'Culture and its Uses as Testimony' from the start of the project and attended workshops and the conference. They therefore had the opportunity to benefit from the discussions around the ethics and methods of using cultural forms of testimony that are extremely relevant to their practice. The company were official project partners in the follow-on project 'Testimony in Practice'. Close collaboration with PI Jones in this project, resulted in the production of a documentary theatre performance - A Land Full of Heroes - staging the life and literature of Carmen-Francesca Banciu, a Romanian and German novelist who is also an active network member. The collaboration was recorded in the "Making Of" film, also available on the project website.
Collaborator Contribution La Conquesta del Pol Sud were active participants in the network events and contributed a unique perspective on the use of testimony in cultural forms developed through their practice. This will feed directly into research outputs. The company led on the collaboration with PI Jones to produce the documentary theatre performance, A Land Full of Heroes, including considerable in-kind contributions in the form of staff time. They contributed to the "Making Of" film, the theatre practitioner and youth artist workshops and will contribute to the Testimony in Practice Guide (forthcoming). The collaboration has provided PI Jones with important insights into working with life stories in artistic production.
Impact Further Funding: AHRC Follow-On Funding for Impact and Engagement (Testimony in Practice); Documentary theatre production: A Land Full of Heroes; The Making Of A Land Full of Heroes (film).
Start Year 2016
 
Description Collaboration with Romanian Cultural Institute 
Organisation Romanian Cultural Institute
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution The collaboration contributed to the programme of the Romanian Cultural Institute (RCI) in the anniversary year of 2019 by providing a high-quality exhibition based on the life stories of Central and Eastern Europeans living in the UK and focused on memories of communism and 1989. The two workshops, hosted by the RCI and delivered by the project team, brought new audiences to the Institute.
Collaborator Contribution The RCI contributed to the testimonies campaign by supporting with advertising and reaching relevant communities. They provided staff time in kind, as well as a venue for the exhibition and launch event, and for two practitioner workshops (Writing Stories of the Self and Others II and Creating the Self II).
Impact Testimony in Practice Exhibition; Testimony in Practice workshops: Writing the Stories of the Self and Others II and Creating the Self II (both London)
Start Year 2019
 
Description Launch Event: Testimony in Practice: Education, Art and Performance 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This event combined the outcomes of two AHRC-funded projects: the network 'Culture and its Uses as Testimony' and its follow-on project 'Testimony in Practice'. In the first half, the Romanian and German novelist Carmen-Francesca Banciu read from her works of literary testimony, described her involvement with Testimony in Practice, and presented her work in progress. In the second half, a panel of experts - comprising survivors, teachers and representatives of national Holocaust education providers - discussed the future of Holocaust education and the place of testimony within it. This included consideration of the resources produced as one outcome of 'Culture and its Uses as Testimony' (Using Testimony in the Classroom).
The event was attended by approximately 40 members of the public drawn from diverse fields of activity (academic, third sector, education). The reading and panel discussion sparked lively discussion around questions of forgiveness, reconciliation and the role of the second generation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Post-socialist Britain? Central and Eastern European Identities, Testimonies and Art in the UK 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This event presented the project, 'Testimony in Practice', to a wider audience with the aim of disseminating the initial findings, encouraging participation in the online campaign to gather the life stories of Central and Eastern Europeans living in the UK, and exploring possibilities for future collaborations. It was attended by academics, artistic practitioners and representatives of third sector organisations nationally.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Talk at Creative Mornings Leamington Spa (Theme: End) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact An invited talk by PI Jones about the project and its outcomes as part of the 'Creative Mornings' programme (Leamington Spa chapter). The talk was delivered in person to an audience of approximately 40 and broadcast internationally to the Creative Mornings community. Multiple audience members expressed an interest in future co-operation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://creativemornings.com/talks/sara-jones-on-end
 
Description Talk at the Polish Professionals in London 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact An invited talk by PI Jones at the Polish Professionals in London in order to promote the project. Following the talk, a number of audience members participated in the online testimonies campaign. The PI and the Polish Professionals have also planned future co-operations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Testimony in Practice: Launch Event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact The launch event took place in March 2019 and was intended to introduce local communities to the project and to encourage participation in our campaign to gather the life stories of Central and Eastern Europeans living in the UK. The event was hosted by our project partners, Centrala Space. The launch was the starting point for the campaign, which gathered approximately 50 testimonies. The testimonies then formed the basis of the exhibition, 'Testimony in Practice', hosted by Centrala and the Romanian Cultural Institute in the autumn of 2019.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://testimonyinpractice.bham.ac.uk/testimonies/
 
Description Testimony in Practice: Practitioner Workshops x 5 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact In order to disseminate the innovative practice developed in the project, we delivered a series of 5 practitioner workshops for:
- Theatre practitioners (July 2019 - with La Conquesta del pol sud, Carmen-Francesca Banciu and Little Earthquake)
- Creative writers (September and November 2019 - with Carmen-Francesca Banciu and Emilie Pine)
- Youth artists (September and November 2019 - with La Conquesta del pol sud, Carmen-Francesca Banciu and Boyana Aleksova).

Approximately 75 practitioners were engaged in the 5 workshops which were hosted by our project partners: BE Festival, Centrala Space and the Romanian Cultural Institute. In feedback, participants indicated a changed understanding of the boundaries between fiction and testimony, a greater willingness to experiment (e.g., with perspectives and media) and the intention to change their practice. Follow-up feedback indicated that the workshop had resulted in a number of new creative outputs.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://testimonyinpractice.bham.ac.uk/workshops/