In-Situ often uses the word embedded to describe our approach. By this, we mean In-Situ seeks to become an operational, responsive part of the community in which it exists. Rather than a reflective extension of existing community activity, In-Situ seeks to actively engage with and build upon communities in a slow, discursive way. Facilitating community, open-invite conversation, therefore, is at the core of In-Situ’s programme. In response to unprecedented change caused by COVID-19, we felt it necessary to continue providing space for people to come together, sharing their experiences and opinions. To do so required a shift into the digital realm, via Zoom, and the consequent online congregations have taken place through Digital Talking Society and the Digital Gatherings. We are reflecting on these events, asking: beyond a temporary fix, to what extent has Zoom been a useful tool that we can take forward?
Digital Talking Society put into practice a digital rendition of Talkaoke (developed by The People Speak) - a format In-Situ uses to facilitate community discussion that enables people (who might be strangers) to discuss perspectives on shared interests and concerns. In the past, Talkaoke occurred as a pop-up event, spontaneously appearing in a carpark or the town centre but this spontaneity was restricted by Zoom. Instead of stumbling upon Talkaoke, this digital version requires registration and access to a link. Participants must align their schedule with the event and are aware of the conversation’s topic before they arrive. Who arrives and what is discussed is therefore dictated by access to technology, confidence on Zoom, interest in subject matter and time, in ways that Talkaoke was not. Digital isolation has affected people of all ages and access to technology, such as a personal device and internet connection, is now a key concern that will influence programming at In-Situ.
"Beyond a temporary fix, to what extent has Zoom been a useful tool that we can take forward?"
These restrictions also affected the audience in attendance at the Digital Gatherings, an annual event series (usually in person) that is part of The Gatherings programme in collaboration with Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership. We enjoyed this opportunity to showcase Pendle and the events were well-attended by members of Pendle’s rural communities, as well as those from further afield with an existing interest in the relevant themes, such as folklore and sustainable tourism.
As well as removing geographic barriers for attendees, a key benefit of Zoom across our programme has been that access has increased for people living with a disability. This has prompted us to take further action to increase the accessibility of our events, both digital and physical. Our internal work has been influenced by this learning too, as we have began extending and improving our policies to work towards becoming a more inclusive organisation.
"Across conversations, of laughter and shared fears, In-Situ has offered a platform for people to learn, and perhaps even move forward, together."
Importantly, these online events have provided a consistent opportunity for connectivity and reflection that both In-Situ and our audiences have benefited from throughout the pandemic. Across conversations, of laughter and shared fears, In-Situ has offered a platform for people to learn, and perhaps even move forward, together. As we continue with our online programme, we endeavour to address the access issues exasperated or brought to our attention through our use of Zoom. Key to this will be expanding our digital resources, especially for local young people, and introducing safe face-to-face interaction where possible. Overall, our use of Zoom has introduced new audiences whilst also putting in place complex barriers unique to online, digital tools. In-Situ will move forward with one ear to the ground and the other in a Zoom call, as we continue to explore the importance of community conversation in Pendle.
This writing has been created and shared as part of Thinking Out Loud - a series of texts and conversations from a wide range of perspectives within In-Situ's practice, that explore the social role of art in everyday life.
Calum Bayne is a Graduate Trainee at In-Situ and a practising artist. A studio holder at Mirabel Studios, Manchester, Calum has most recently shown work as part of the solo show Stunts (2020) at Mansions of the Future and Queer Contemporaries (2020), supported by Superbia and Manchester Pride. He is also part of the Programming Committee (2020-21) at The NewBridge Project, an artist-led space based across Gateshead and Newcastle upon Tyne. www.calumbayne.com