With several workshop and presentation events marked in the Long Time, No See? Project’s diary, I’ve been giving some thought to various ideas informing the project and how we can make the most of them for our conversations with others. While letting my mind wander this morning, I started to join some more dots between the Long Time, No See? and the Transmission Lines projects in terms of the way ‘communities’ (or, if you prefer, ‘publics’) have formed around these creative works.
Transmission Lines is a writing and mapping project that was commissioned by the State Library Of Queensland as part of an artist books project. It documents my father’s working life as a rigger and linesman with the Electric Power Transmission and its Italian parent company. He kept a photographic record of his working life and the photographs featured in on a map that reconstructs some of his journeys and power lines are his personal photographs from Australia and Italy in the period 1955 to 1974. He commenced work in Italy in 1954 with SAE, which sponsored his migration to Australia, and remained working with EPT until 1975. Since starting this project, several former EPT workers and their families have been in touch to send photographs, messages and documents, which I am posting to the blog. While never intended as a participatory project, I was compelled to respond to those communications and acknowledge the social dimensions of that history. A relational dynamic emerged beyond the project itself. Transmission Lines is now only one node in a network of remembrances and commemorations of EPT and our fathers (uncles, brothers etc).
One of the sons, Matthew Q, has decided to write a book and in his most recent email to me mentioned the various meetings and gatherings he has attended with the former EPT workers. He has also set up a facebook group where many of the former EPT workers have posted photos and other reminiscences as well as photos of more recent gatherings. Until recently my mother would attend EPT reunions near Brisbane as many of the wives and families of EPT workers formed strong bonds. The facebook group has an open and easy feel about it whereas Transmission Lines, as a blog based project, required more moderation and handling of the content. Through the facebook group, in particular, a small community and network emerged, sparked by this modest project of mine in which I simply sought to honour the work of my father as one of many who contributed to post-war nation-building. It is further enlived by Matthew’s ongoing commitment and attentiveness. I’ve been quite touched and surprised by how this rippling has occurred as the facebook membership grew to 55 with many of the children of EPT workers (mostly post-war migrants) contributing photographs, asking questions, taking pride and reconnecting.
In my wandering thoughts this morning, I realised that, inadvertently, this dynamic seems to have contributed to my thinking about the kind of ‘community of change’ that I had hoped would take shape with Long Time, No See? Maybe it’s an Italian thing (whatever that means). There’s the sharing of experience and content; the potential to have conversations outside of the workshop and other organised events; there’s the multiple platforms of blog and facebook group which participants are free to use in ways that suit them. There’s also the opportunity to spring different projects out of the Long Time, No See? network (for example, our Community Catalyst process is about enabling communities to self-organise – not just contribute to Long Time, No See?). Others have seen potential for their own community projects such as a ‘chalk fest’, undertaking more walks, continuing conversations and the like. There has been a sense of project participants wanting to remain connected in creative ways. And, I think, it makes a point about how arts-led community engagement and capacity building can provide some cues for people to set their compass for futuring and resilience. Perhaps the comparison to Transmission Lines is a stretch, but that project seems to have reached into the hearts and lives of the people who have encountered it. There is, on a facebook group, a growing social archive of photographs and social network which tell us something of this country’s migration and infrastructure history (though the nation’s collecting institutions have shown no interest in acquiring this memorabilia).
While there’s much theory underpinning the participatory aspect of Long Time, No See?, there’s also experiences like Transmission Lines with the organic and surprising (re)emergence of a community that was once transitional and transitory. It tells stories of once hopeful aspirations for infrastructure, for migrants, for progress and for the nation itself. For Long Time, No See? the word ‘flourish’ keeps coming to mind: it’s written into my earlier texts about the project in terms of a ‘human flourishing’ that is borne of another kind of hopefulness and aspiration with futuring and changemaking at its heart.