So it falls to me to sift though the footage and see what shape it suggests. I work through my usual method, which is to cherry pick all the material I feel might be useful. I make long timelines of rough assemblages.
Being that all verbal material that makes it onto the screen will need to be in caption or subtitle format I decide to transcribe everything in the rough cut, as I want to see what potential the words have. This edit is unusual in that I am as interested in how the words look at this stage as in how the picture looks.
I mentioned some time back that the ‘challenges’ around signing for the hearing impaired were to become a positive visual reference for this piece. I had asked Tasha, a very engaging and enthusiastic member of the group, to sign everyone’s name for me direct to camera. At the time I wasn’t sure how I might use this, but when I reviewed the footage it became obvious that the very movement of her hands, and the fact that they so evocatively described something as simple as a name, could become the basis of the screen introduction to our group members. The very fact of looking at, what to many of us is something akin to hieroglyphics, is both intriguing and provocative. For me it worked.
Following on from this pared back approach, I decided to use blocks of strong colours alongside each person on screen. If they were to be mute then they should compensate by being extra visually eye catching. These two structural elements made the look and feel of the short videos and would hang them together – hopefully making them memorable if a viewer were to see others from our series around town.
Big text, ruthlessly edited, made it onto screen. It really helped that I had transcribed everything, it allowed me to pull out blocks of sentences more easily and to condense what had been expressed a number of different ways during the project overall.
Our walkabout around Tynemouth with Tasha and Gill brought up some issues. It was a very windy day, as often happens on the coast, and the sound outside wasn’t as good as it might have been (due in no small part to misplacing the external mic on location…oh dear). In itself that wasn’t necessarily a problem, as I had always intended that these sequences would be akin to overhearing a conversation, where you didn’t get all of the context.
I had the idea that I could re-film the BSL interpreter with Tasha (whose original conversation I had already transcribed) and we could film it again like it was a script. I liked that it would be re-made, it was playful and introduced another layer of how the piece might be read. In my world, the fact that the edit might be apparent to the viewer, and that this might make them question the whole process, was a useful approach and possibly something not often attempted with BSL.
The interpreter booked for our re-shoot was a different one than had been there on the first day. I liked that idea too. It would wear its own deceit on its sleeve so to speak. Interchangeable hands.
But this did not go well. Try as they may, the conversation did not flow. To my untutored eye and ears it all looked and sounded fine, but both parties were concerned that the nuances were not right. There was apparently a certain stiffness to the delivery which did not sit well for them.
I in turn said I understood this, it was akin to a hearing person reading a script of something they had originally voiced as free speech. I put forward that it was intriguing, in that the nuances would be different and that would make an unusual texture to the piece. But we were looking at this from two different perspectives. I was arguing for hearing impaired people to be exposed to such concepts in the name of ‘art’ in the same way as anyone else.
The BSL interpreter was having none of it. To her the only acceptable way of doing things was her way. I found this in itself interesting.
We did eventually work out a compromise, but on reflection I think this is another big topic of conversation to be explored within the relevant groups. Is it possible to just ‘overhear’ BSL I wonder – in the same way one might any other conversation? Perhaps you can’t just ‘fill in the gaps’ of BSL? Perhaps ‘interpretation’ is a bigger issue here?
As I progressed with the edit, we invited the participants back to Disability North for a review of what I had put together so far. One of the things to be aware of with a group of people with disabilities is that it is necessary to factor in that it may be more difficult for some of them to attend regularly, and to keep sessions relatively short. In fact our group seemed quite committed and available, but inevitably not everyone was able to attend all the sessions.
Feedback on the day was great though…and received a big thumbs up for the way I had treated the material. It became apparent that no-one had really known what it would look like (me too!) but they were pleasantly surprised “Oh I get it now” said one person. I think they were just impressed it looked professional and that they were actually in it!
Continuing to work on the edit, having established a look and feel that seemed to work, I also needed to make the graphic interpretation for the windows. We had become ambitious in this respect, seeing that it really needed more than just some words next to the screen to be significant enough in a public location.
I came up with an approach that framed the screens with a neutral grey vinyl which I felt would emphasise the screen content. The work had to be identifiable as part of the Great Exhibition art trail, so we duly included the relevant logos, though I was mindful that I didn’t want this element to overpower the piece as there was a lot of bright signage all over the city relating to the GEOTN and I wanted our screens to be distinguishable from the environmental visual noise.
Some elements of the installation went smoother than others. Nexus installed their own widow, using my artwork. Intu provided help to install our video screen, and I arranged for an outside contractor to apply the window vinyl. Similarly with the Central library.
The master videos were all delivered to their relevant locations and I was looking forward to the fine tuning when…there is no easy way of putting this…I had a heart attack.
You could say, if you’re going to have something like that happen to you then, just after you’ve delivered the videos is good timing if there can be such a thing.
Having survived this unforeseen health hiccup, the immediate responsibility for overseeing the launch fell squarely on Dr Vic at Disability North and the launch date came and went without a hitch as I kept such tabs as I could from my hospital bed.
Given more time and more resources it would have been an ideal opportunity to run a social media campaign alongside a blog which could have involved other interest groups, and to perhaps have developed a wider sphere of participation from a potentially huge group of people. We just don’t have the means to go further at this stage although it is obvious that there is so much scope for further development.
For now, the piece is out there in the public domain and we have achieved far more than might have reasonably been expected given the set-backs we had in the early stages. We hope a larger project, like the one we originally envisaged, might now be possible given that we have proven the concept via what is ostensibly a pilot for that original ambition.
Hopefully someday soon I will be writing another blog which links to this one, describing how we brought together people from across the country and citing this project as its proof of concept validity and viability.