In Spring 2012 I was commissioned to conduct an activity as part of chART: Public Art Marpole. The project, called Marpole: Stories of Home was a cross-cultural, inter-generational activity that used objects as vehicles for storytelling. Before the workshop, participants (children between the ages of 4 & 12 and their parents/guardians) were requested to bring an object that reminded them of ‘Home’, which would then be cast using florist foam and plaster of Paris.
The process remained the same for each workshop with the participants gathering around one large table to cast their objects. While the objects dried, the participants were asked to share stories about the objects and what personal connections they held. These were done verbally as well as in written form on 4” x 7” cards that were specifically designed for the project.
It was interesting to note how different people shared their stories. Some were more comfortable expressing themselves verbally, while others preferred to write their thoughts out. Some even drew on the cards.
The objects themselves allowed people to open up about themselves; acting as a launching pad for different discussions about home. In only one case was the child embarrassed to talk about his object, that his mother had picked out for him, but he chose to write about it instead. In another case, the child was encouraged to speak after she found that another person had a similar object. She used the two as props to start a conversation with each other and shared her story through their conversation. For one family, English was not their first language, however orally engaging the participants was easier as gestures could be used to convey meaning, whereas their cards did not reflect the stories that had be shared orally.
After the workshops, the finished artefacts were housed at the Vancouver Public Library, Marpole Branch where they were displayed for a month. This gave members of the Marpole community the opportunity to see and read the stories and view the artefacts. Several people connected to the objects and in a couple of cases shared their stories with similar objects. Others were curious about some of the objects which either had to be explained because they were unfamiliar or in some case indistinguishable. In the majority of the cases though, the written story supported the artefact.
Overall, this project came with a steep learning curve. It spoke to how people who have lived in Vancouver for even up to 15 years, still refer to the country of their origin as Home, or how people share stories, how simple interventions in an environment (such as having one long table rather than separate ones) bring people together, how a break for food encourages people to converse more freely with each other. Above all what stood out was the value of a shared, creative experience and the evocative power of objects in drawing out a personal narrative.