Voice // Moment // Happening – a guest post by Hayley Alessi

Voice // Moment // Happening

Soapbox oratory…a practice that created its own legitimacy, built its own platform, metaphorically speaking, in the very act of speaking.  In a sense, then, whatever the props and wherever the setting, the precise and enduring instruction of soapboxing is the self-assumption of the right and authority to speak. (1) 

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The Art Sheffield 2013 Zero Hours Festival explores ‘histories of labour, power and social change’ (2), and whilst watching Podium // Zero Hours on Saturday, I began thinking about the history of the phrase ‘getting on your soapbox.’  Its origins lie in protests against the suppression of the rights of working people, including the right of assembly, and Speakers’ Corner (3) in Hyde Park was created in 1872, in response to Chartists and Reform League demonstrations six years earlier, as a space to give a voice to ordinary people.  Something I think the event at Furnace Park did, both in form and content, with the diversity of topics under discussion and a podium made from wooden shipping pallets.

The audience were asked what the phrase ‘zero hours’ meant to us, and my own personal connotation around ‘zero’ was the shape of an open mouth ‘0’, something that happens when speaking.

To speak is to act, using the mouth, tongue and breath to create a movement of air which is transferred into sound.  It is a form of meaning making which carries the possibility of a listener, and promotes a dialogue, a conversation that exists beyond the utterance or event.  A happening.

Zero – ‘0’ – is also a gap or a space, where something can happen, and reminds me of a word I encountered recently:

kairosa propitious moment for decision or action, an opportunity. (4)

Greek, the opening through which an archer’s arrow has to pass

 And to me that seems to be what Furnace Park  represents, an opportunity/space for artists and others to intervene in a discursive place.

Hayley Alessi 2013

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(1) Walker, T.U., ‘Mounting the Soapbox: Poetics, Rhetoric, and Labor at the Scene of Speaking’, Western Folklore, vol. 65, no. 1/2 (Winter-Spring, 2006).

(2) Art Sheffield 2013 guide. www.artsheffield.org

Furnace Park // PODIUM Zero Hours (Part of Art Sheffield 2013) // images

On Saturday October 5th, Furnace Park hosted an exhibition by Ben Cain, We’re In A Delicate Phase. 

Alongside Ben’s work, which was made on the day with the help of volunteers from SKINN, Art Sheffield 2013 and the French Department at the University of Sheffield, Amanda Crawley Jackson (University of Sheffield) and Bhavani Esapathi (Henry Moore Institute) curated a programme of interventions by speakers from Sheffield and Leeds on the subject of zero hours. This was the first in the PODIUM series, which uses an informal and participatory soapbox format to bring together speakers from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines while inviting spontaneous intervention from visitors to the park.

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Once we’ve gathered our thoughts and warmed up a bit from the sunny autumnal chill of the day, we’ll be publishing some of the interventions here online and also putting together a free magazine containing images and ideas from the day, which will be distributed locally in all the usual venues.

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Scott Lavery (Researcher, Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute)

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Tina Carolyn McKevitt (Lecturer, School of Law)
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Amy Gough (University of Sheffield, Department of French) and Patrick Thornley (Roxspur Measurement and Control)
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Ben Cain making We’re In A Delicate Phase
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Joseph Moore (Engineers Without Borders)

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Nick Tietzsche-Tyler and Charlotte Morgan (Art Sheffield)

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David Forrest (School of English)
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Amy Gough and Ella Tainton (Department of French)

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Natasha Chubbock, Festival Producer (Art Sheffield)

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Gabriel Jackson

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Bhavani Esapathi (Curator of Podium, Henry Moore Institute)

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Duncan Brown, Nathan Adams and Joseph Moore (Furnace Park team)
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Keith Wilson (artist & Art Sheffield)

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Richard Ward (Learning and Teaching Services, University of Sheffield)

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Michael Jefferson (Hon. Secretary to the Association of Law Teachers)

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Bhavani Esapathi and Ally Buckle (President of the University of Sheffield Student Union)

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The fabulous volunteer team from the Department of French

Is this not a wasteland? Zero hours and the zero-gaze

A guest post by Richard Ward, who spoke at the Podium//Zero Hours event (part of Art Sheffield 2013) at Furnace Park yesterday

I’ve had a think, as an ecologist by first qualification, about how I look at the world. In doing so I revisited a piece I wrote for occursus in 2012. That piece explored some tentative thoughts on the interpretation of ideas and realities of wilderness and dereliction.

So often we encounter what I’ll call the ‘zero-gaze’. By this I mean reaching beyond an unseeing in our construction of the world, to consciously explore perspectives and values.

As you approached this space you may have considered the rationale for building a fence around nothing, or the appearance of nothing. A locked gate holding nothing in? Perhaps keeping the wrong something out? A place which might imply the need for explicit permissions in order to be opened to you. Do you, or did you, have preconceptions of the space? Did you embrace the zero hour with the zeroed gaze of an open mind?

Throughout life we encounter anew ‘zero hours’ experiences; undiscovered places. They are territories in the heart and mind that may be full of promise, sometimes bleak and scary. Alternatively, they may simply be new and unexplained, just as light and sound pour into your experiences when you enter the world. We are inquisitive beings and will grow to make our own sense of being even though we live in a world of order, classification and control. We are rarely invited to question, or to interpret. We are invited to accept. To conform. To receive. Notwithstanding, we make and remake the world in ways unique to us as unique individuals experiencing that world. Through art we try to share and to challenge. To open a dialogue. Each dialogue has a starting place. Another zero hour. Perhaps an uncertainty whose resolution we seek. A chance meeting with a stranger who becomes a friend as the dialogical blank slate is gradually filled.

I am deliberately exploring a different kind of zero hours to that of, for example, exploitative employment practices and all the very real ethical and economic uncertainties, that they bring. Tom Morton discusses the echoes of consumption intrinsic to ‘…the odd crisp packet or chocolate bar wrapper blowing among the headstones. These always tell us more than what they once contained’. These then are the windblown husks of consumerism past and passed. In the zero hour you might rehabilitate them as a jetsam collage tangled in a bramble canvass. Through the zero gaze you can embrace disorder, madding jostling and undifferentiated. Perhaps formless rubbish. Nothing? Or something worth talking about from first principles?

So then. Shaping. Re-imagining. Re-birthing spaces and places. The wild. The not wild and the not quite wasteland. We are standing now in a partially tamed and reclaimed space. When the gates opened on Furnace Park we entered into a new dialogue with a space in transition. Coming here today you have a new lens still. There is permission to question.

In Furnace Park the urban landscape yields up transient wilds that challenge us to re-imagine. In these spaces there is a lag-phase between, in human terms, past and future notions of utility. Here we can apply our zero-gaze to help to make sense of places, labels and potential: wasteland; brownfield; contaminated. In societal terms such opened-up spaces might be seen as emblematic loci of decline and decay. They speak of economic failure and the descent into a dereliction, perhaps even non-conformity.

We might seek to rehabilitate the ‘wasteland’, to domesticate the apparent anarchy of less orderly spaces, just as we contest ideological spaces in the construction of rights and the abuse of rights. In clearing and reimagining space we may also unlock potential allowing long buried genetic materials to emerge for its days in the sun. Changing states of being pose questions. Make of them what you will.

Richard Ward, 2013

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PODIUM // Zero Hours // Saturday October 5th 2013

PODIUM // zero hours
Art Sheffield 2013
Furnace Park

11am – 3pm
Saturday October 5th 2013

A series of interventions on zero hours by speakers including

Michael Jefferson (Hon. Secretary to the Association of Law Teachers)

Peter Watt (Lecturer, Department of Hispanic Studies)

Scott Lavery (Researcher, Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute)

David Forrest (Lecturer, Film Studies)

Richard Ward (Learning & Teaching Services)

Bruce Davies (Curator and Chair of Basement Arts Project)

Tina Carolyn McKevitt (Lecturer, School of Law)

Amanda Crawley Jackson
(Director Furnace Park and Senior Lecturer in French Studies)

Slots for spontaneous, impromptu and prepared interventions – please come along and share your thoughts and ideas on the day