From Blokes to Notes

By Madeleine Cater

Visual Arts was lucky enough to speak to ‘Men’s Voices’ artist, Rupert Philbrick, whose series of soundscapes were created to accompany Changing Relations C.I.C‘s exhibition exploring what it is to be a man today. He ran artistic workshops, alongside other artists, with marginalised men and boys from Deerbolt Young Offenders institution, Barnardos Domestic Violence Perpetrator programme, The Woodlands School and Stanley & Eldon Men’s crees around this theme . Rupert then created his soundscapes based on the conversations that he encountered.

Did you have any preconceived ideas about the workshops you ran?

From my experiences as a community arts facilitator and particularly working within the North East over the last five years, I’ve learnt that going into these kinds of workshops with preconceived ideas – whether of the participants or the artistic outcomes – can be a barrier to the process as a whole.

You have to enter into the experience as a blank slate. And allow yourself to react instinctively to the responses and ideas offered by participants.

In my work, one of the most important considerations is about sustaining a degree of transparency in the representation of participant narratives, honouring their views and opinions – even if they are in conflict with my own.

Delivering this kind of work is for me about offering up vantage points for the public on the microcosms of our society. And in doing so trying to dig beneath the surface and tap into the undercurrents and influences that build the structures through which we interact with the world at large.

Were you surprised by the men’s responses?

Reflecting on the responses of the men and boys who participated in the project, I think that for me it became clear that the stereotypes and assumed traditional roles remained prevalent amongst the groups, each offering variants on a theme, of the provider, the man’s man, of strength and independence. 

However, it was clear that when challenged many of the participants were aware of how they did not fit the mould, nor many of their peers. The conversations shared over successive weeks brought to the surface a general sense of frustration with their situations – that they no longer knew which role to take – or to which norms they should conform to.

In what way do you think the artistic nature of this project has helped (and will continue to help) the dialogue about masculinity? 

The holistic nature of the workshops in utilising a range of arts methods allowed for participants to approach the themes of the project from different perspectives.

Though the project only allowed for 4 workshops with each group, spacing these over the course of a month allowed participants and facilitators the opportunity to reflect on the points raised in each session – meaning that across the entirety of each programme, the depth of conversations that were had provided powerful insights in to individual and collective experiences of masculinity and life within the northeast.

If you want to listen to any of Rupert’s work for this exhibition then the link to his SoundCloud is here.

Image: Louise Taylor and Pollyanna Turner

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