Conscience is a touring project in two stages that explores the relationship between young people and the armed forces in contemporary England. Based on initial research gathered during an Adam Reynolds Bursary supported artist’s residency completed by Caglar Kimyoncu at the New Art Gallery Walsall, West Midlands, Conscience is a multimedia installation in progress. Two stages of touring connected by a production phase are aimed primarily at young people but hope to reach wide and diverse audiences affected by this topic throughout the country.
Britain is one of a few countries that allow people to join the armed forces from age 16. Every year the British Armed Forces visit thousands of schools, offering presentation teams, ‘careers advisers’, lesson plans, away days, one-to-one mentoring, interviews, and more. They also offer to support young people’s ongoing education, while Cadet Forces offer low-cost or free clubs and activities for younger children to get involved with. Youth-oriented media, including films, television and video games, often seem to glorify the exploits of soldiers and armies around the world.
As the Armed Forces become more involved in mainstream education and after-school programmes, are young people able to make informed choices about the role the military plays in their lives? Do young people, particularly in targeted areas of the country, have access to other options? Should military initiatives in schools be balanced with Peace Education that offer alternative models of conflict resolution and career paths?
The project’s first stage focuses on engaging young people and on collecting further research. There will be expert witnesses to consult on different viewpoints and experiences. The artist will visit schools, universities, cadet forces, peace groups and other youth-orientated organisations and locations affiliated with or affected by the armed forces as well groups opposed to the military’s involvement in education. The aim is to explore the topic with its key demographic and to share with young participants the research on which the project is based (for example interviews, art, media coverage and studies). Additional activities such as improvisation exercises or art-based workshops with interested young people in smaller groups will give participants further opportunity to respond, and to share any relevant experiences they might have in a safe, open environment.
Activities will be informative and interactive, and will seek to determine how young people are affected by and think about this subject. The artist will invite actors along to the sessions to help facilitate a neutral and creative space for exploration and discussion. Relevant organisations and locations throughout England will be contacted to ideally reach young people across many regions.
This will then be followed by a production phase, in which the gathered material is used to create an immersive multimedia/video installation that incorporates and responds to the research.
As with his previous work, COnscription, Caglar will work with selected young actors to create narrative videos based on the research, using improvisation techniques to develop characters and storylines. These actors may include participants in the research phase outlined above, as well as actors who participated in the initial Walsall-based R&D.
The use of improvisation allows actors to incorporate their own experience and responses to the research materials, to invest in work as collaborators and have a voice in subject matter that affects them. It enables the work to express complex and competing responses to these controversial issues, so that it asks questions rather than expressing a unified or didactic position. This is an essential component of Caglar’s work and allows a way in for audiences, to feel that their own responses are valid and important components of the work.
This collaborative approach also informs the artist’s methodology in working with a film/video crew and design team, who will work together to create an innovative and interactive installation structure that is flexible and cost-effective to tour to multiple locations.
This installation will use multiple art forms, ranging from video and audio to photography and performance, and including tactile elements to engage a wide and varied audience. Arguably art, and specifically installation, is ideally suited for creating a relaxed, accessible environment in which to inform, explore and challenge different viewpoints. Inter-active elements will turn the audience from passive consumers into active explorers. The immersive, multi-sensory aspects of this installation will ensure inclusivity for those with access requirements – not just disabled visitors but also those with language barriers, the very young and elderly.
The final stage will be a touring exhibition of the finished art work. This will visit places of interest to young people (again these could include e.g. schools or youth clubs), but will also tour other unconventional venues as well as more traditional gallery spaces, focusing on places that are of particular relevance to the subject matter (e.g. areas near military bases or areas in the radar of armed forces recruiters). The purpose is to reach and engage diverse audiences that are not exposed to art on a regular basis and to broaden the discussion of this topic. The tour will again seek to cover several regions. While the art work will always be installation-based, there will be multiple versions to be adapted to different spaces, keeping it flexible and relevant.
The goal is to ideally go to at least 2 conventional gallery spaces and 3 less conventional but relevant venues (there already is interest from Friends House in London and New Art Gallery Walsall). The exhibition will furthermore be supported by artist talks and live performances and will involve select guest speakers (ranging from young people with experience of this subject to army recruiters or representatives of peace organisations such as War Resisters International or Veterans for Peace), who can offer a comprehensive and balanced view on this topic.
Inclusivity will be key for both production and exhibition tours in order to reach and engage all and any audience members or participants.
Throughout all stages, research, production and the finished art work will be shared through an interactive blog (including live streaming), enabling an even wider audience to take part, particularly from areas not covered by the live events and exhibition. Young people especially can interact via social media or comments on the blog, which will be constantly active and updated. The blog will act as a resource for learning and research and will form a library of information that can continue to be used after this particular stage of the project has finished. It will also form a helpful basis for evaluating this project.