Fié Neo, artist at Central Saint Martins, joined forces with the Museum of Brands for InTRANSIT Festival, a festival of participatory arts in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea from 8 to 25 June. Fié Neo’s practice is primarily in participatory, socially engaging art that aims to bring about positive social change. In this post Fie explains her initial interest in the project, her artistic intentions, and the importance of community engagement.
Partnership: InTRANSIT, CSM and Museum of Brands
InTRANSIT Festival is an annual showcase of newly commissioned, site-specific, participatory arts and performance, taking place throughout the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Helen Scarlett, co-curator at InTRANSIT, first approached the ‘Performance Design and Practice’ course at Central Saint Martins with open calls for artist proposals. I met at the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising and what immediately interested me in the project was the community engagement element that was emphasised in this site specific brief. All my previous projects work towards creating social change and I have done a lot of participatory art and interventions within the public sphere. I had my reservations at first as I was not entirely into the idea of advertising and consumerism in capitalistic societies we live in now, just because it creates a lot of waste and unnecessary products we don’t need. However, after visiting the museum I had a totally different view. It was a pleasant surprise to go through the museum’s collection and realise it’s really more a documentation of life, of people’s history than psychological persuasion into wanton purchasing. The collection is vast and with a diverse array of objects including souvenirs and posters from Queen Elizabeth’s wedding, something I would never have seen had I not visited the museum. Ahead of me in the ‘Time Tunnel’ was an elderly lady who mentioned that she had one of those magazines on Queen Elizabeth’s wedding, passed down from her mother. How fascinating it is that these objects live on in people’s memories! It’s not a collection of art that only wealthy aristocrats have access to, it’s a collection of everyday items so close to people’s hearts and lives. Nearing the end of the collection I started to see more products that I could identify with and it really made me think, we are the future but we will also be history too, what we do now has a direct impact on the generations that come after.
Family Activity: ‘Make you own Advert!’
Advertisements have a far larger impact on society than we give it credit for. We see advertisements everywhere both in print and on screen with subtle stereotype portrayals and discrimination; they sink into people’s subconscious on a daily basis. With this activity I wanted people to participate and have fun but also determine who they wanted to be, subverting gender roles, and changing stereotypes from the conventional gendered jobs. They get to choose an item to advertise, then a role from “prime minister” to “wrestling champion”, “wizard”, “old lady” from a mystery box, forming their own characters and script. We primarily focused on children and thought it would be best to minimise guidelines and give them as much creative freedom as possible. I believe that there is a lot to learn from children because unspoken social rules and norms are not yet hardened in their minds. While we have a lot to offer as adults perhaps we also have a lot to learn and unlearn because we are bounded by implicit stereotypes and expectations, unless we actively choose to reconsider.
Museum as a social space for community engagement
With this project I wanted to make use of the festival to promote the museum, the cafe and garden, as an ideal social space for interactions with the community. Kensington is an interesting area with a highly affluent community mixed with social deprivation, seemingly these demographics rarely come together and interact socially. Understanding is so important in creating a strong and cohesive society, and beneath the labels of class we are all humans. Out on the streets I don’t see the social status that separates people but the same hopes of parents and grandparents out with their children wanting nothing less for their young ones. Through this event I hope more people will come to know the Museum of Brands and make use of its spaces as an option for community engagement and social cohesion.
This event was a great opportunity for me to learn more about community engagement. It was lovely to see adults in their 20s and 30s having a blast with the costumes, wigs and accessories, putting on as many as 4 layers of costumes and even cross dressing! There really is no age limit to having fun or being a child at heart. Social spaces like the Museum are perfect places in a busy city like London where constant transition can create isolation, especially within immigrant communities without close connections. In a previous participatory art project I was involved with as part of London Design Festival, I met a pregnant mother from the Middle East who had come to London with her husband. In her arms she held an active toddler with another baby on the way, she had no other family or friends except her husband who was mostly at work. From that event I realised the potential festivals and community activities can bring, bringing people together and breaking down barriers. However, greater support is needed from local councils to allow more of these projects to exist. To create an inclusive society means reaching out to people and providing options for community participation, allowing for a strong and cohesive community to be formed. I believe that festivals like InTransit, through grass-root activity, will help to promote an inclusive and diverse community. Now more than ever help make Kensington a more connected and cohesive place to be.
We welcome families and big kids alike to join our second workshop day this Sunday 25th June, please drop in anytime between 11am-4pm. For more information please see our ‘Whats on’ page.