As Stretch works nationally, with each of our practitioners delivering workshops with different prison/ community groups, we’ve decided to introduce a monthly guest blog. This month’s blog is from our brilliant practitioner Wallis who has been delivering workshops at HMP Wandsworth, Peterborough and with homeless charity Anchor House. All of our practitioners have their own artistic practice and Wallis is an amazing illustrator, so this month’s blog is accompanied by Wallis’ own drawings from her recent visit to a conference in Cardiff where Stretch trustee Victoria Anderson spoke about her experiences working with Wallis’ recent Stretch Digital cohort at Wandsworth.
Creativity in the Digital Age Conference at Cardiff University
What a fascinating day this was! After an early start, I got to Cardiff Uni for 10am to attend a day of talks about all kinds of digital advances I had never heard of before – the spaces they provide, the philosophical thought processes they provoke, and the opportunities to utilise them creatively as we progress into a future world where the global village becomes ever more complex.
I particularly enjoyed the points made about the language of the digital and related world, for example, ‘cloud’ and ‘window’ being all spacious and light, giving us a sense that the digital is ‘out there’, when in actual fact it is all rooted in actual stuff, including old frayed wires on railways! It was interesting to learn too, that the word ‘immersive’ has seen a steady climb between the years 2012-2017. How exactly this has been worked out I can only assume to be down to some digital jiggery-pokery too.
From virtual to augmented reality, apps that help you get lost, immersive art projects that involve actual flying Flying Saucer sweets, it was impossible not to come away knowing that we live in very interesting times indeed, and the future is highly likely to be a very different place to the one our species has grown up with.
Being a Stretch practitioner, I couldn’t help through all this but to think about those in prison who have no access to the Internet and for whom reality takes on a certain skewed and confrontational tone. Cue the first speaker of the afternoon session – Stretch Trustee, Dr. Victoria Anderson. It has been my absolute pleasure to have Victoria work with me at Wandsworth prison over the last few months, and to see her be as inspired as I am by getting to know the prisoners and to witness what they have to offer, and in turn to see her inspire them with her rich understanding of stories and the power of expression. Victoria brought this passion to the conference, injecting it with a much needed element of bricks, mortar and human story.
Victoria began by describing the architecture of Wandsworth prison, and its panopticon design. Jeremy Bentham was a theorist in the 18th century who created this structure which is rather like a spider’s body with legs of corridors and cells spinning off a central base, the idea being to make the prisoners feel they could be watched at any time, but not knowing whether or not they actually are. Rather like an early mode of CCTV. That’s right, Big Brother has always been watching you – he was probably tucked behind a stalagmite back in the day.
The audience were palpably captivated as Victoria continued to give an account of working with inmates, and her recital of one of the stories she’d captured during the first cohort. This man’s life is truly something to marvel upon – the range of his experiences, how challenging they were, and his humility in relaying it all. This will hopefully become a Digital Story on our website soon, so do look out for ‘Tom’s Story’. Incidentally, Tom gave himself a 3/10 at the start of the course in the evaluation question ‘I think I have an interesting story to tell about my life and experiences’ and by the end of the course, he re-evaluated this same statement and gave himself a 9/10!
“The relationship allows for the story to be born”, said Victoria, of what Stretch does when facilitating listening. Without providing the physical space, and then the more abstract safe space within that during circle time, it is extremely unlikely that Tom would have ever shared his story the way that he did, and in turn would never have valued his experiences up to a 9! And thanks to digital technology, Tom’s story can be told far and wide. I hope it will be.
I don’t know what the future holds for prisoners in terms of digital creativity, I hope they aren’t left out of it to roam only the baron and destroyed landscape whilst the rest of the world is plugged into lushly designed pastures, like some inversion of the incarceration system. I prefer to think that the rise of stories being shared will dovetail with what digital technology does best, and that is to connect.
Stretch trustee Victoria Anderson (right) and Stretch practitioner Wallis (left)