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Blog: Artist-Researcher Collaborations in Coventry UK City of Culture

Pictured above: Emerging From Lockdown displayed in the window of the Cosy Club in central Coventry.

By Professor Jackie Hodgson, Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research)

This has been an amazing few weeks, during which we have showcased a huge variety of artist-researcher collaborations inspired by our research and engagement around City of Culture – in our major digital exhibition Coventry Creates 2021; through our collaboration with Warwick Arts Centre’s Feelings of Freedom festival; and our ongoing support for researchers working with artists in the Coventry Biennial.

Coventry Creates 2021, our second exhibition under this project, was launched on 8 December 2021 to an excited audience of more than 80 people. Coventry Creates is a major digital exhibition of artworks created in collaboration with researchers from the University of Warwick and Coventry University. Together with the 2020 project, it now includes 30 artworks created by dancers, poets, rappers, theatre groups, performance artists, filmmakers, singer-songwriters, illustrators and more! It’s an exciting way to engage with research and to explore the ways that artists challenge and represent what is generally thought of as academic work. It is clear that the practice both of artists and researchers is impacted in interesting and positive ways by this collaborative process – which we hope will encourage greater interest in this way of working. Read our evaluation of Coventry Creates 2020. The commissions cover a range of challenging topics from women’s activism and increasing the political participation of women of colour; to the impact of COVID-19 on healthcare workers and hospice care; the challenges of being an independent freelance artist; the importance of genetic diversity in vegetables; reimagining the city and its spaces; and understanding the impact of museum closures, as well as much more.

As part of Warwick Arts Centre’s Feelings of Freedom festival on 25-26 November in conjunction with Resonate, Professor Kate Astbury spoke about her work on Black history in the Caribbean. Focusing on the women and children brought to Porchester Castle in the UK as prisoners of war in 1797, she has been working with English Heritage and the National Youth Theatre (NYT) on a project called Freedom and Revolution. Inspired by the stories of these women uncovered through archival research carried out by Kate and her team, Lakesha Arie-Angelo wrote a new play “The Ancestors”. The audience was given a taste of the play’s performance (filmed at Porchester Castle) when two NYT actors took to the stage to read extracts from the play.

My own talk as part of the Feelings of Freedom festival was “Emerging from Lockdown”, an ambitious project that involved collaboration with photographer and creator of the Grid Project Dave Allen; creative writer Georgie Evans; and actor Bharti Patel. The project began with 25 research interviews with people in Coventry city centre in July 2021, asking them how they had experienced the policing and legal regulation of lockdown as a national public health pandemic, and how it felt to return to the city. After analysing the themes and experiences reflected in these interviews, these were woven into a fictionalised story by creative writer Georgie Evans – “Blinking in the Light”. Emerging from Lockdown was then used as the theme for a mass participation public photographic project led by Dave Allen (The Grid Project) in August as part of Resonate’s theme of Freedom.

And perhaps most exciting of all (for me anyway!) was bringing all of this together in the production of a short film entitled “Emerging from Lockdown.” Georgie’s story was narrated by Coventry-born actor Bharti Patel and featured all 198 images from the Grid project – brilliantly produced by Mark Udall of Warwick Print. The result is a moving account of different people’s experiences of the joys and pains of lockdown. Being involved in every aspect of the project design and production was a lot of work, but I found it hugely enjoyable to work in a more creative way with such great artists and to present my research in a new way. They were also very excited to work in these new ways and we hope to do more of this soon!

And finally, I should mention the support we have provided to Coventry Biennial to work with several of our researchers in two of its exhibitions, as well as other associated events. Dr Anastasia Chamberlen has worked with Faye Claridge to co-create a project working remotely with people in prisons in the UK and the US. "We Bear" asks what being in prison today has in common with being a chained bear in Victorian times.

Dr Michael Piggot has curated the exhibition “Listening to the Anthropocene” at Coventry Cathedral and he was joined by Professor Alice Mah, Dr Leon Sealey-Huggins, Dr Jonathan Skinner, and Professor Noortje Marres for a November event entitled "Talking about the Anthropocene."

Jackie Hodgson is a professor in the School of Law and Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research) leading on the promotion of research around City of Culture. She was PI on the Arts Council England funded Coventry Creates 2021; and the ESRC IAA-funded projects for Coventry Creates 2020, Coventry Biennial and the evaluation of Coventry Creates 2020. She is currently working on a project looking at the role of West Midlands Police as principal partners in the City of Culture.