9/11

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Sitting in Baltimore remembering 9/11 and the all the years since, reading a book about about the long arm of the tragedy and trying to connect it to the long arm of my own life since 2001. Anyway, I drafted a poem. I rarely share my poems but felt compelled to share this one for everyone feeling things today. ❤️❤️
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The sky in South London was white-grey,
Dove-wing colours,
Bleeding through my lover’s blue curtains.
And later there was the taste of plum on the tongue of this other boy who loved me
And tried to say it but
Everything changed before he could.
The smashedness of possibility.
You felt the world veer off course,
Even though you were far away
And New York was only an idea from movies.
His voice as you moved deliciously in the single bed where moments before you’d been tangled together like serpents,
like two halves of the same thing.
‘A plane has hit the Pentagon’.
Everything shatters.
A million futures splintering.
On Fox News ‘day of terror’, written in blood as we watch the towers fall.
The television flickers.
All day we watch
With tea and biscuits,
Cigarettes,
My lover cooks me vegetarian sausages and frozen potato waffles with beans.
The fork tastes of steel,
Breath from my mouth.
My eyes can’t avert from
The dust billowing up those streets where I’ll walk and walk – much later
Lean inside the footprints carved deep from the rubble of the towers,
To the belly of the Earth,
Where clear water gushes in a crystal cascade,
Over black granite.
A memorial to the rich and innocent,
Though across the country there are whole towns where alive people don’t have clean water to drink.
And there are dead babies lying on beaches,
Drowning to escape the chaos we unleashed
In vengeance.
But the pain of it clings.
You spend years
Imagining the lobbies of those buildings,
Hours looking out at the footprints of them,
Peering through wire fences before the memorials are finished
The wire that same dove-wing grey
As the South London sky.
You close your eyes
Hear the click click of court shoes against a cold stone floor,
You dream of the escalators,
Elevators.
In your dreams everything is rising upwards
Or the wreckage,
Steel frames and dust all around.
Either way you panic.
And the boys I kissed
Shot in the head,
Dead or ruined in the desert,
Avenging this thing
This
You lay in the arms
Of your lover, trembling at the enormity
Shock visible on your skin like tiny ripples
At the surface of a river
Or how the water stretches as it moves through the estuary
Resisting
Before it becomes the sea.
And still that dove-wing sky
Leaks through the windows
In that place before the terrible future
Becomes now.
The hot skin of your lover peels away from
Your own hot skin.
Two separate things.
‘A plane has flown into the Pentagon.’
The blue curtains move as you brush past them.

The television flickers.

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Cheryl Cole, Mark Duggan, Andrea Dunbar, hip-hop, social realism and yearning: What’s inside my book on council estate performance.

Social Housing in Performance: The English Council Estate on and off Stage is published next week. It explores the representation of English council estates on stage, screen, in the news media and in visual arts practices. It is the only book-length study to focus solely on analysing the representation of estates. Below is an overview of the book, which details in succinct summaries what you can find in each chapter. I’ve written these brief summaries to provide a quick gloss for those wondering whether the book, or parts of it, will be useful to them. I hope this post might both whet your appetite for the volume and help you find the bits of it most relevant to your own interests.

Introduction: The council estate, definitions and parameters

Here, I give a working definition of the term ‘council estate’ and offer a brief history of the evolution of the estate and its place in the British public imagination. I think through how ideas about estates intersect with discourses of class, race, crime, poverty and survival.

I develop a taxonomy of council estate performance, mapping out the different ways twenty-first century performance and performative practices have engaged with estate space.

I also map the theoretical territory in which the book intervenes, using Edward Soja’s ‘trialectics’ to explain my rationale for the use of three case study examples in each of the following chapters.

Key theorists include: Henri Lefebvre, Lisa McKenzie, Edward Soja

Key words: Crisis, council estate, complexity

Chapter 1: Quotidian performance of the council estate

In this chapter I explore what I call ‘quotidian performance’, looking at how the estate has been performed in the ‘everyday’. I examine poverty porn television, newspaper coverage and discuss the culture of what I call the ‘authentic real’, where the term authenticity is often used to infuse council estate representations with ‘truth’.

Developing Imogen Tyler’s method of ‘figuring’ I explore representations of three ‘real’ council estate residents across different media: Karen Matthews, Cheryl Cole and Mark Duggan. I look at the ways these figures authenticate ideas about estates and working class people.

I also argue that the council estate can be understood as a local articulation of the ‘global hood’, emerging from popular understandings of urban marginality in inner-city US neighbourhoods. I trace how influential hood forms such as hip-hop are adopted and appropriated on the English estate.

Key theorists include: Chris Richardson and Hans Skott-Myhre, Bev Skeggs , Imogen Tyler 

Key words: Class, race, ‘the real’

Chapter 2: Class and the council estate in mainstream theatre

In Chapter 2, I look at three productions performed in building-based, subsidised theatres: Out of Joint’s 2000 revival of Andrea Dunbar’s Rita, Sue and Bob Too (performed in tandem with Robin Soans’s A State Affair), Simon Stephen’s Port, revived at the National Theatre in 2013 and Conrad Murray’s DenMarked (Battersea Arts Centre 2017).

The focus in this chapter is on class and its relationship with what I call ‘mainstream’ theatre forms. I argue that although class has, until recently, rarely been named in arts policy and theatre scholarship, class relations and their attendant power dynamics have played out through representations of estates and significantly influence the ways estates are produced and received in the public imagination. I critique social realism, arguing that the form often works to further ‘authenticate’ troubling representations.

Key theorists: Elaine Aston and Janine Reinalt, Paul Murphy, Raymond Williams

Key words: Realism, authenticity, rage

Chapter 3: Located on the estate

In this chapter I examine three site-specific works that took place on estates: SLICK, by the National Youth Theatre (2011) at Park Hill in Sheffield, Roger Hiorns’s installation Seizure at Harper Road in Southwark, London, later moved to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (2008/2014-) and Fourthland’s ‘The Wedding to the Bread’ (2017) ceremony at the Wenlock Barn estate in Shoreditch, London.

I explore how these works are implicated in so-called artwashing, often becoming complicit in gentrification processes: but also their capacity to resist such processes. I examine ideas of utopia, beauty and mythmaking in light of these works.

Key theorists include: Jen Harvie, Grant Kester, James Thompson

Key words: Artwashing, site-specific, ambivalence

Chapter 4: Resident artists

Here, I explore how artists who are also estate residents have used the space of the estate to ‘speak back’ to dominant, negative representations of estates in one way or another. I discuss grime music, the Focus E15 campaign and look at three estate performances by resident artists based in East London. These performances (Jordan McKenzie’s Monsieur Poo-Pourri series, Fugitive Images’ film Estate: A Reverie and Jane English’s show 20b) take us through the process of estate regeneration: an artist still living on an estate in a rapidly changing neighbourhood, residents in the process of being removed from their homes and a resident trying to recreate her estate after its demolition.

I analyse these works by framing them as examples of broader ‘strategies’ – of subversion, yearning and nostalgia — that estate residents use to resist reductive ideas about their homes from the bounded estate location.

Key theorists include: David Harvey, bell hooks, Laura Oldfield Ford

Keywords: subversion, nostalgia, yearning

Conclusion: Three thoughts

I conclude  by offering three thoughts that draw out the main findings of the book, exploring the themes of authenticity, ambivalence and hope that recur throughout earlier chapters.

Key theorists include:  Paul Crowther, Mark Fisher, Chantal Mouffe

Key words: Capitalist realism, spatial ecology, hope

You can hear more about the book and my thoughts on estates, class at culture on this podcast, produced by the New Books Network, click here.

You can pre-order the book here, although before you click be warned it is very expensive. I explain why here. Perhaps you can order a copy for your local or institutional library. If you can’t afford a copy and don’t have access to a library but would like to read the book please email me.

New Project, Please Sign Up

Hello. Happy New Year.

I mentioned online, and on my Reasons to be Single blog, way back in late summer, that I had this idea for a sixteen-part weekly mail-out. In fact, the idea was to publish the book that I started back in 2014, a spin off of my Reasons to be Single Blog, which sadly never got commissioned — despite some early interest from publishers — but the idea has kind of spiralled into something else since then. I don’t want to write that book at the moment. I especially don’t want to write it for free.

So this mail-out is a new project, where I’ll be doing some experimental writing that is a mash up of fact and absolute fiction. At the moment I am utterly obsessed with the space between the real and the not real in theatre and literary fiction and non-fiction, the authentic and the fake, the cultural obsession with reality despite our receding — culturally, politically — from trust in experts and reliance on anything like fact (for more on this, I am working on an academic book, which I’ll point you to in the near future). I am not sure where this new project going, exactly — but I know I find it much easier to motivate myself when there are people reading as I write. I know that it is called ‘Sixteen Parts: A Love Story’, and that each entry will be about 5,000 words long. I like the idea of writing a novel length project really, really quickly, like a draft.

I want to capture the experience of being inside yourself and the world at the same time, and that sensation where your mind feels like a computer where all the tabs are open on your browser and you just keep opening more.

I want to say things that are unpalatable and true, but, at once, not true.

I think women’s writing is always most interesting when we’re experimenting with form, and I have always been obsessed with the internet and the different formal structures it has created for writing. These are under-exploited and undervalued because the book, the novel, the ‘industry’, is still and is set to remain the dominant literary form.

I don’t think Sixteen Parts is going to be funny, at least not in the way Reasons to be Single was funny. And it will definitely be more difficult to read than anything I ever wrote there, if only because of the length.

It would be massively motivating for me to start this new project with even a very tiny readership.

Please do subscribe here, the first post will go out this Monday, 8th January 2018.

Thanks for reading,

Katie.x

Housing, Activism and Performance: Call for Papers

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I invite proposals for a special issue of Studies in Theatre and Performance exploring the relationship between performance, activism and housing in conditions of crisis. Please do pass this CfP on to anyone you feel might be interested in contributing.

*

This Housing, Activism and Performance special issue will investigate how and under what conditions performance and performative practices have historically and might currently, productively (or otherwise), respond to conditions of housing inequality.

The right to safe, decent housing is commonly understood as a fundamental human right; enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Despite this, the right to adequate shelter and housing is, globally, under threat. As population growth and the emptying of rural communities leads to congested megacities, housing conditions become increasingly disorganised and shambolic (Brown 2003). In 2009, a report published by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights indicated that millions of global citizens face insecure housing conditions — with over two million forced evictions annually, and hundreds of millions of slum-dwellers living in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions (OHCHR 2009). According to the 2005 United Nations Commission on Human Rights report, there were over 100 million ‘homeless’ people worldwide half-way through the first decade of the twenty-first century (UNCHR 2005).

As David Harvey (2008) points out, the neoliberal trend towards owner occupation has exacerbated existing housing crises and resulted in a global crisis of affordable housing. Over the past decade or so, a global ideological shift has transformed houses from ‘homes’ into individual units of financial investment — a development of wider shifts towards privatization that have been ongoing since at least the end of the twentieth century. The collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market (as aspirational homeowners defaulted on unaffordable loans) was widely reported to have played a significant role in the 2007/8 financial crisis and subsequent global recession. Across the world, many people who had been unable to keep up with mortgage payments found themselves under threat of eviction or repossession. This has deepened local and global inequality, intensifying the displacement and disenfranchisement of those unable to buy their own homes.

Artists, activists, academics and policy makers have responded to local and global housing crises in myriad ways. In Detroit, the Heidelberg project, launched in 1986, drew attention to the neglect of the city’s suburban houses, and facilitated ongoing protests against the City of Detroit’s plans for urban development. In 2011, in cities across the world — including Amsterdam, Hong Kong, London and New York —people disenchanted by capitalism chose to respond to the state of the financial system with ‘Occupy’ protests. Protesters took over public (and public/private) spaces using makeshift tented dwellings — symbolically referencing the fact that the recession had threatened the individual right to basic shelter. In 2016 Camden People’s theatre hosted a festival ‘Whose London is it Anyway?’, which explored the ways in which unaffordable private housing and the decimation of existing social housing provision is leading to a so-called ‘social cleansing’, where the city becomes unaffordable to all but the richest residents.

This special issue aims to bring together insights from across disciplinary fields to expand our understanding of performance in conditions of local, national and global housing crises.

Papers might take the following topics as provocation (although we welcome expanded interpretations of the theme):

Housing and activism

· What are the intersections between performance, artistic practices and housing activism?

· How does performance practice offer productive strategies for resistance?

Art, Housing and Neoliberalism

· What is the complicity of creative practices in creating and sustaining housing inequality?

· What is the impact of gentrification on the cultural practices of urban and suburban spaces?

Housing and the Domestic

· How do conceptions of home impact on our understanding of the housing crisis?

· How might performance address the absence of ‘home’ from wider debates about the housing crisis?

Social Housing

· How have policy interventions in social housing intersected with creative and performative practices?

· In what ways have representations of social housing spoken to the housing crisis?

UK Austerity

· How have government austerity policies been understood and represented through creative engagements with housing conditions?

· What is the impact of austerity on the creative practices of the city – including the ability of artists to live in ‘adequate’ homes?

Housing in History

· How do responses to the current crisis speak to responses to historical housing crises and vice versa?

· How far might we understand the housing crisis as a product of our time – and how might we conceptualise it as timeless?

Homelessness

· What does homelessness mean and how has it been conceptualised in light of the housing crisis?

· How might creative and resistant responses to homelessness help us to address housing inequality?

Beyond the Crisis

· What are the intersections between performance practice and housing beyond the crisis?

· How might the staging of ‘house’ and ‘home’ operate outside of a ‘resistance’ model?

Housing Solutions

· How have imagined solutions to the housing crisis been articulated through performance?

· How might performers stage creative solutions to the crisis so that they directly impact housing policy?

Proposals for traditional articles of 5,000-8,000 words, and creative responses to the call (which might include photo-essays, shorter articles, ‘blog’ style posts or artists’ statements) should be sent as abstracts of 250-300 words to k.beswick@exeter.ac.uk

Deadline for proposals: 7th May 2017

Acceptance (subject to peer review): No later than July 2017

Deadline for first-drafts: January 2018

Publication date: Spring/summer 2019

Home in the Housing Crisis: Interdisciplinary Symposium

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I have been working with some fantastic colleagues from Queen Mary, Birkbeck and Royal Holloway to organise an interdisciplinary symposium on home in the housing crisis. Although there is a lot of academic research into the nature of the housing crisis, and its impact on lives across the globe, these debates remain separate from considerations of home. We will bring home and the housing crisis into conversation through a series of talks, provocations and an interactive performance event. You can register here.

Ruin Lust and the Council Estate

God's Property

Over the past couple of years I have attempted to develop my approach to performance research by thinking about the ways in which my personal experiences feed into my reading of plays, and my writing about them. For me this is a political act. Far too much performance scholarship still fails to explicitly acknowledge the subject position of the writer, or to think through ways in which our understanding of artworks is conditioned by our social, cultural and ethnic positions. In their excellent book Habitus of The Hood, Chris Richardson and Hans Skott-Myhre argue that our habitus – that is our classed, embodied learned behaviours – structure our interpretations. We will all read a play, novel, film or painting differently depending on our personal embodied experiences and the ways in which the artwork operates to evoke these.

In my latest publication ‘Ruin Lust and the Council Estate: Nostalgia and Ruin in Arinze Kene’s God’s Property’, I use the discourse of ruin to think through ways in which Kene’s play – set in Deptford in 1981 – evoked my experiences as white, South East London native. I discuss how the ‘dialectal landscape’ (Smithson) of the play produced a ‘paradoxical site’ where nostalgia and ruin intertwined to give way to critique of racism.

You can read my article in the special issue of Performance Research, On Ruins and Ruination, by clicking here.

In Defence of ‘Lazy’ British Universities

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On Saturday, Dr Anthony Seldon, Master of the elite UK independent school Wellington College and newly appointed Vice Chancellor of Britain’s first independent university, the University of Buckingham, accused British Universities of laziness. ‘An ocean of complacency exists in the sector,’ he wrote in an article for The Times, complaining that the UK Higher Education system offers inadequate teaching, terrible student support, poor pastoral care and insufficient time and facilities for extra-curricular engagement. His article also included the baffling suggestion that this ‘complacency’ was borne of universities’ public-sector status. The performance of British universities is, he argued, ‘reminiscent of the nationalised industries before they were privatised in the 1980s.’ (Have you taken a train recently, Dr Seldon?) HE could learn a lot, he suggests, from private schools.

‘What is my experience of running universities?’ asked Seldon, rhetorically, before giving a succinct and telling answer: ‘Absolutely nothing.’

Although I have never run a university either, I have worked as an academic at British universities for the past seven years (and studied at them for five years before that), and I do not recognise the broken system that Dr Seldon describes.

The academics I have worked with care deeply about their students. They work hard to deliver engaging sessions and to offer guidance and support both in and outside of class. They have contact with their students through supervisions, emails, virtual learning environments and via personal tutoring systems – where each student is assigned an academic advisor who they can go to for pastoral care.

Despite consistent attacks from those outside the sector (including journalists, politicians and soon-to-be VC’s of private universities with an ideological bone to pick) about fairness, contact hours and narrowness of focus, students do not appear to be unhappy with the state of their higher education. Indeed, in 2014, a record 87% of undergraduate students reported that they were satisfied with the teaching on their degree programmes. Even the HEPI-HEA report that Dr Seldon cited to bolster his argument suggests that 77% of students are satisfied with their HE experience, and that 36% of those who were unsatisfied admit to not putting sufficient effort into their own learning.

There are questions to be asked about value-for-money, sure – but as the comments on Seldon’s article suggest, many people believe that since students are paying more for their education, they should receive an enhanced service. This standpoint fails to recognise that universities themselves aren’t receiving more money now – increased student fees were brought in to cover cuts in government subsidy.

It is ridiculous to suggest there is inadequate provision for the wellbeing of UK university students. The university sector takes student welfare incredibly seriously – with designated ‘student support’ Deans, senior administrative faculty overseeing that quality is maintained, and constant attempts to quantify satisfaction through institutional and national measures; including module and programme evaluation questionnaires and the National Student Survey. Almost all UK universities now require teaching staff to hold a PGCAP or a similar professional teaching qualification (unlike in private schools, Dr Seldon, where teachers are routinely employed without postgraduate teaching qualifications) – and the REF (despite its problems) ensures that academics must strive to produce rigorous, original, impactful research outputs, which in turn inform teaching. In the institutions I have worked at there are formal and informal lesson observations, peer-to-peer mentoring schemes, as well as in-house, university-wide training and development courses for staff and graduate students with teaching responsibilities.

And care for students doesn’t stop at teaching quality. Many British universities provide students in need with free or subsidized counselling, administered by qualified professionals, and dedicated disability services, which offer specialist support for students with diagnosed and suspected learning difficulties (significant numbers of students are not diagnosed until university level, as high-functioning dyslexic students are often missed within the school system). Although this structure of care differs significantly from the kinds of hands-on, personal support offered by teachers in loco-parentis at secondary school level, surely it is better that students with serious emotional and learning issues are supported by experienced specialists who can help them, than by academics who usually have no formal training in these areas – and who anyway are not primarily employed to give expert care tailored to each student’s complex needs? How much more ‘care’ might universities reasonably be expected to provide, when we consider they are first and foremost places of learning – not social, emotional and medical services?

As for extra-curricular opportunities, there are an array of societies, volunteering schemes and paid work experience placements on offer for students attending British universities. At the University of Leeds, for example, the volunteering programme enables students to search for placements that will allow them to practice and develop specific skills, which will enhance employability. And although Dr Seldon is correct when he points out that our system does not place the emphasis on sports that the US system does (and this is no bad thing, considering the corruption that dogs US college sports), there are excellent sporting provisions and world-class facilities in many UK universities. In most, there is an agreement with the student union that the university will not timetable sessions on Wednesday afternoons, which allows students to participate in national inter-university sporting competitions. In the 2012 Olympic Games, a number of students studying at British universities won medals. Bronze medalist Laura Unsworth claimed that the support offered to her at Loughborough as she undertook her Olympic training was a key factor in her sporting success. There is an active arts and theatre scene at many British Universities too – with the competitive annual National Student Drama Festival showcasing some of the most innovative work.

Of course, the transition to university can be – like any major life change – difficult. But universities have extensive welcome (or ‘freshers’) week programmes, with most also running specialist first year orientation modules and peer-support schemes to help students acclimatise to the university environment.

Dr Seldon misses the mark on many points, but, as an incoming VC, he ought to understand that universities are not schools. In many ways they are more like small towns – over 100 British universities have in excess of 10,000 students, and in several of the largest there are more than 30,000 students enrolled at any one time. The pastoral care model adopted by the school system would be completely unworkable in a university context. And there is nothing to suggest that privatising universities (because, let’s face it, that is what Seldon is getting at here) would do anything to improve students’ satisfaction, or, more importantly, their learning.

Of course, there are some universities where the infrastructure works better than it does at others. And of course we must continue to consult students, and to find ways to innovate in order to deliver an internationally competitive university education. There is much to improve, and there are ways in which best-practice might better be shared across institutions. But it does a disservice to the British Higher Education system (still widely regarded as one of the best in the world) to suggest there is widespread complacency. If anything, the complacency rests with those who insist, against all evidence to the contrary, that an expensive private university system will enhance the experience of UK students. We should be mindful that, in the US, there is increasing evidence that the private, and expensive state, university model – which creates huge, insurmountable debt for thousands of citizens – is forcing students into illegal and dangerous work, including drug dealing and prostitution, while administrators and senior university staff get rich. I can only hope that Dr Seldon’s position is motivated by ignorance, rather than greed.