Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Listening Space: Lessons from Artists with and without Learning Disabilities

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Listening Space: Lessons from Artists with and without Learning Disabilities

Article excerpt

Abstract

In this paper, we develop an expanded conception of listening as 'being-with' and explore this in the context of creative visual arts activities with people with learning disabilities. Through a series of textual and visual interlocutions between Inclusive Artist 'Alice', Social and Cultural Geographer 'Hannah' and members of the contemporary arts group The Rockets', we identify how an expanded conception of listening is practiced and the results it produce. Where listening for the Inclusive Artist includes an attentiveness to visual, verbal and gestural vocabularies of arts-based methods; the construction of conducive spaces for listening and voice with attuned collaborators and appropriate art materials; the use of art materials as 'meeting points', which enable a non-verbal conversation to take place and knowledge of how particular materials and practices can influence a person's work and sense of themselves. The temporalities of these forms of expanded, attentive, curious listening are explored and concern is expressed about how they sit in opposition to the hasty demands for research with 'impact'. We hope this paper provokes researchers to consider what it means to listen through arts-based methods, the crucial role of the facilitator and the temporalities of listening they are bringing into being.

Keywords

Learning disability, art, listening, impact, engagement, creative methods

Introduction

In this paper, we reflect on the embodied and material geographies of listening through creative visual arts activities with people with learning disabilities and develop an expanded conception of listening as form of being-with and responding to a person. Art and performance have been shown to be a particularly useful ways of aiding communication and conducting research when working with people who have distinctive communicative styles or have complex communication needs (Boxall and Ralph, 2009; Hall, 2013). Furthermore, we feel an expanded conception of listening accurately describes a significant portion of Alice's Inclusive Arts practice with the Rockets. The paper has been developed as a series of textual and visual interlocutions between an Inclusive Artist (Alice), a Social and Cultural Geographer (Hannah) and members of the contemporary arts group 'The Rockets' who have learning disabilities.

The paper is structured as follows: Firstly, prior geographical work on listening, including work on listening to people with learning disabilities and other marginalized groups, using art-based methods is reviewed. Then, building on the work of Nancy (2007) an expanded concept of listening as a form of attentive being-with and responding to a person in nonverbal (as well as verbal) ways is proposed. Secondly, the implications of this expanded sense of listening are discussed, in relationship to the ethical and methodological approach used in this research and paper. Thirdly, we explore the importance of particular spaces, materials, techniques and temporalities for facilitating expression and constructing 'conducive spaces for listening'. Finally, we discuss the implications of this work for how research using art-based methods is commissioned and conducted and we propose that the cultures of temporality that animate such work require critical consideration.

Expanding listening

Over the past few decades listening in the social and geographical sciences has come to mean interviewing, recording and transcribing verbal conversation. However, transcripts can leave us with a reduced sense of what it is to communicate and to listen (Crang, 2005). When we confine our research subjects to quotations in our research papers, we miss a lot of the texture and complexity of their communication; from the power dynamics that structure the interaction (Rose, 1997); to the vocal inflections and resonances which shape it (Kanngieser, 2012) to modes of embodied, gestural communication (Laurier and Philo, 2006) and the silences that signal that which cannot be conveyed to the interviewer (Butler, 2005; Harrison, 2007). …

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