(after letting this bit of my website gather dust for a year or so, I thought I’d try a spot of blogging. Next time there might even be photographs.)
I told myself I’d write a blog about my experiences here.
So here I am in Aarhus, for one month (only). I’m doing what my scholarship organisation (the WRoCAH AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership) call a ‘REP’, a researcher employability project, which is intended to give us reckless PhD folk some work experience outside the academy, to show us wider horizons and give us more options when we realise that either academia isn’t for us, or, more likely, that we’re not for academia. I already have a fair bit of work experience, some twenty years’ worth, so I’m treating this as an opportunity to do things a little differently.
I’m spending time in the open workshops at Godsbanen, a cultural production facility located in the town’s old railway goods depot. The workshops are of unusual scale even for Denmark, where there’s more of a culture of craft and making; this is their third iteration, from beginnings as Huset (translation: house), set up by the city council in 1971 after youth demonstrations demanding craft facilities. Imagine. Imagine people on the streets, with placards and chanting and ‘What do we want? Woodwork facilities! When do we want them? NOW!’ After a spell above a supermarket, the facilities were relocated to Godsbanen, which opened in 2012. The premise behind my project involves investigating interactions between users of the spaces – some volunteers, for instance, have been involved with the workshops since the start of Huset, and semi-professionals mix with amateurs, amongst whom there might be very experienced practitioners as well as complete novices. The workshops consist of a metalwork space, a woodwork facility, a big laser cutter, a ceramics workshop and a textiles/printmaking space. On Saturday I hung out in the textiles space, pleased to be in my comfort zone; today I’ve been in the ceramics (form) workshop, observing interactions. There is, of course, a language barrier, and I feel very grateful that the Danish people I’ve encountered thus far are able to speak English.
I sat in the workshop for three hours and these are some of the things I noted: The queue of people waiting for the workshop to open at 1pm, to take up one of the twenty or so places in the workshop; the way in which anyone can wander in, no membership or details required, and get stuck into clay activity; the volunteers on hand to help with technical problems; the equipment and oxides drawn from behind a series of anonymous plywood-faced cupboards; test tiles glazed in every clay and glaze permutation; everyone seemingly focused on their own work, in a convivial atmosphere.
Getting into the groove is proving a little tricky, but there’s plenty of time ahead – I’m reading a paper about shyness in qualitative research(1) at the moment, and reminding myself that it can work in one’s favour sometimes. The intention is that I will create some sort of embroidery to reflect on the relationships between different user groups, along with a report and some photographs. It’s a chance to test out some ideas about creative methods, but it’s very much an experiment, with all the attendant risks.
A month away is quite a thing, once you’ve reached a stage in life where there are pets and gardens and washing to be sorted. I lived alone for years, and though I thought I’d appreciated the solitude, the time to get on with things, I now realise that I squandered so much; but then, don’t we all, sometimes, for want of a crystal ball? Only four days in, and I’m finding that I don’t quite know what to do with myself, with all this time made available through not having to let the dog out, let the dog in, let the dog out, let the dog in, supervise the cats’ dinnertime so the dog doesn’t snaffle it, sort socks, load the washing machine, unload the washing machine, nip out for groceries, let the cats out… and so on. I have a little work to do whilst here, a short paper to write and some thinking to do, but I’m determined that the work won’t fill all the available time. I’ve come here full of good intentions to learn some new habits, to unpick and understand some aspects of academic practice that I daren’t admit out loud to not knowing. I think I’m hoping to believe that a month can transform a person. Failing that, I have embroidery, writing, drawing, lino cutting, swimming attire, and running things. Heaven forbid that I might be bored.
(1) Scott, S., Hinton Smith, T., Harma, V. & Broome, K., 2012. The reluctant researcher: shyness in the field. Qualitative Research, 12(6), pp. 715-734.