Students Debate Controversial Issues In Fifth Annual Youth Parliament

From Mark Bennister – Reader in Politics

Organised by Canterbury Christ Church University’s Outreach Team, students from across the county took part in the University’s annual Canterbury Youth Parliament debate which also welcomed guest speaker Canterbury MP Rosie Duffield

The one-day event attracted more than 120 pupils, ranging Year 9 to Year 12, who debated some of the most controversial topics of the day, from the war on plastic to Artificial Intelligence.

Its aim is to encourage youth participation in current affairs and politics and to raise confidence in public speaking for students.

The debate which involved eight schools, challenged the right age to vote, regulation concerning social media, and pupils also put forward topics they would like to discuss in the future, which included LGBTQ, stereotypes in society, mental health awareness, homelessness, the EU referendum and immigration.

Storm Herring, 14, from Astor College said: “For our project of the day we learnt about waste in school and talked about how much one person made in an academic year. It was around 22k of waste and then we expanded it from nurseries through to college – from age two to 18.

“Everyone made valid points which could be used as potential solutions. There was positive reinforcement from Rosie Duffield and lecturers within the University.”

It took place in the Powell Building on the Canterbury Campus on Friday, May 11. Canterbury schools who attended the event included The Canterbury Academy, Spires Academy, St Anselm’s Catholic School, The Archbishop’s School, alongside Brockhill Park School in Hythe, Astor College in Dover, The Malling School in West Malling and Hartsdown Academy in Margate.

Rosie Duffield spoke about the importance of politics among young people and was delighted to attend the event.

“It was fantastic to see so many engaged young people with a view to make a difference. During my Q&A session it was evident that young people care about a big variety of issues, ranging from public transport in the county, to global warming.

“Canterbury Youth Parliament gives young people the chance to participate in debates and explore practical solutions to their concerns. I really enjoyed hearing the student’s creative ideas to tackle the war on plastic. I’m excited to share these ideas with my Labour colleagues in Westminster”

Other speakers included Dr Amelia Hadfield, Director for the Centre of European Studies at Christ Church and Dr Mark Bennister, Reader in Politics at the University.

Speaking about the event, Amelia said: “From the role of citizens in an ever-changing political climate, to the war on plastic, from body issues to the job market, the students engaged brilliantly and bravely on subjects of genuine interest to them.

“It was a pleasure to have Canterbury MP Rosie Duffield at the event to give students both an insight into the day to day realities of an MP, as well as inspiring them to work actively for causes that they were passionate about.”

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Abjection, boobs, and a whole lot of glitter: My week with the Tate Exchange

From Katarina Hill – Intern for Politics and International Relations.

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There I am, 6.45am on a Tuesday, standing in the middle of Canterbury in the pouring rain. No, this is not the start of a new millennial craze, but rather the first day of my internship. I am waiting to be picked up and taken to Dover, to help transport a number of items to the Tate Modern for the upcoming Tate Exchange exhibition. Fast forward an hour, and I am sitting in the back of a minibus surrounded by mannequins, a life-size dress-up doll, and numerous boob bags (beanbags with nipples – yes, I am serious). These are just some of the artworks by the young people at Astor College, Dover in association with artist, Kelly Green.

We arrive at the Tate Modern around 10am and with only two trips in the lift, we have managed to transport everything to level 5 – our exhibition space. Our young artists, whom I have yet to meet, are not arriving for another two days, so I am now trusted not to damage their hard work (no pressure). A couple of hours later, following instructions by our lead artist, Kelly Green, we have successfully set up the collection of works entitled ‘What Are You Looking At’. The pieces deal with the concept of ‘otherness’, and forms of social abjection related to class and gender; and invite the viewer to interact with the artwork rather than just look at it.

Wednesday, I am back at the Tate Modern for the opening of the exhibition which CCCU and the Astor College kids are partaking in, along with the organisations People United and Valleys Kids. The boob bags now form our feminist reading corner, in which we engage in some ‘classy’ workshops throughout the day. The workshops on social class relations revealed me to be much more posh than I generally care to admit, placing me at the top of the class line among the other workshop participants. It also raised some interesting questions on class: can you be in a class transitional phase? Is shopping at Primark a working class trait, or merely a cost-effective option for all classes? In all honesty, I have no clue. Growing up and living in Denmark for 19 years, the concept of belonging to a social class was something that rarely concerned me. I am certain that all countries enforce social class division to an extent, but in Denmark it is not a label used to define oneself the same it is in the UK. Since moving to the UK, I am suddenly very aware of just how middle class I really am, and how ‘middle class’ seems to be a four letter word. The workshop struck up quite a fun debate on what it means to be a ‘chav’. Everyone has different connotations to the word, and for most it is probably a derogatory term for someone with an intense passion for tracksuit bottoms. For Kelly Green however, it is something to be proud of, and she is on the road to reclaiming the term ‘chav’ through playwriting and tattoos galore. When I was not discussing class relations and ‘chavs’ whilst surrounded by boobs, I had a chance to engage with the people from the Welsh charity Valleys Kids. Their pop-up youth club with table tennis, a pool table, fancy dress, and music was popular among many of the visitors. Although, we were faced with some harsh realities when the young people of Rhydfelin (the people behind the pop-up youth club), told us the story of how their own youth club had been shut down and left them with nowhere to go. A live performance accompanied by a short film hit the audience right in the heart, but came to a happy close when everyone was invited to join the dance party and parade around the exhibition. In a quieter corner of an old fashioned Welsh living room made entirely out of cardboard, the lovely people from Valleys Kids taught me how to crochet! I can tell you that it is a very addictive activity, and returning to the final workshop after finally mastering the needle-yarn tension was not easy.

On the Thursday, our young artists from Astor College arrived and their pieces were ready to be explored by everyone. We were quickly making our mark on London at our makeup station, a piece on how gender identities can be constructed and broken down through use of makeup. Chloe and Stephanie where giving glittery makeovers to anyone that felt their inner unicorn needed to make an appearance; and as often is the case with glitter, it was everywhere in no time. People United had set up an interactive task for people to sit opposite a complete stranger, and look at them in silence for 20 seconds. Then you write down 5 things about this person: what they like or dislike, if they have pets, etc. Either I am very easy to read or the woman opposite me was psychic, because everything she guessed was correct. They were all very nice things, so I was rather pleased to be honest. Friday’s events were quite similar to Thursday’s, except there was even more glitter and I had the chance to chat to our visitors about their thoughts on ‘What Are You Looking At’ and their opinions and beliefs regarding class and abjection. The question of what middle class people would think of the art, came with varied responses. Some were convinced the middle class would enjoy the art, while others were adamant that they would not. Through these chats I learned that people’s perceptions of class can vary quite a lot, but that their perception of the term ‘chavs’ are all very similar. I was informed that sexism is a non-issue, and simply a natural occurrence as a result of human nature and reproductive needs. Most of the visitors I spoke to were however very concerned with gender related issues, especially within the lower classes.

Saturday was my last day working with the Tate Modern as my ‘office’. I engaged in some more chats with exhibition visitors, this time with a discussion on gender stereotypes in relation to parenthood. The boob bags proved a hit with the toddler demographic (for obvious reasons?), and the little ones even decided to have a ‘read’ in the Zines we had made and printed for the reading corner. I finally had a chance to get to know the young people from Astor College a bit better, and we ended up in a longer conversation about school dress codes at which there was a lot of eye rolling (on my part), at how girls for some reason are not allowed to express themselves without supposedly being distracting. My week concluded with a personal triumph as I mastered a new crochet pattern, and a bittersweet goodbye to all the wonderful people I had met during my time at the Tate Modern. The Astor Kids were very excited about a trip to Nando’s, and I said bye-bye to my ‘London office’ and pondered what I had seen and learned over the week on my way back to Canterbury.

What Are You Looking at?: The Production of Otherness (30 May – 3 June @ Tate Exchange)

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Dr David Bates, Director of Politics and International Relations, has been working with the Artist Kelly Green, Dr Licia Cianetti of Royal Holloway, University of London, and young people from Astor College for the Arts, Dover on a project exploring social class, marginalisation and exploitation.

The project is part of a wider exchange entitled ‘Other’, which sets out to play creatively with the production of otherness and explore how art can be used to connect people.

The project initially debuted at Sidney Cooper Gallery, and moved on to Tate Modern from 30th  May-3rd June.

What Are You Looking At? Builds on the work developed in the University’s Activism Research Network, and gives young people and participants the opportunity to explore the production and reproduction of abjection, which crosses between class, sexuality, ethnicity, body image and ideology. It also explores how contemporary capitalism could be argued to have cast aside those (sometimes whole communities) that it does not regard as productively useful.

The work in this project sets out to destabilise and unsettle oppressive ideologies through the creation of autonomous spaces for political expression and debate.

It builds on the show Fairground which was at the Sidney Cooper Gallery and the Tate Modern last year. The Tate Modern component (working in partnership with the University of Kent, People United (Kent), Valleys Kids (Rhondda Valley), Astor College for the Arts) attracted over 4,500 members of the public.

Dr Bates said:

“We are delighted to make a contribution to the Tate Exchange programme again this year. We will be addressing the thorny issue of social class. We will explore how class intersects with gender. How commodified ideas of body image serve to subordinate.  The work explores how exploited groups come also to be ‘abjectified’ – transformed into a curious ’other’. Class really does still count; but class relations can be subverted. The subversion starts here!’ 

The Artist Kelly Green stated:

‘The artists from Astor College have worked incredibly hard to create their thought-provoking and challenging pieces commenting on gender and class. I couldn’t be prouder of them and our team.’

For pictures,  see: https://canterburypolitics.wordpress.com/2018/02/19/what-we-looked-at-pictures-from-the-exhibition-at-sydney-cooper-gallery/

More information: http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/tate-exchange/workshop/other

 

What We Looked At – CCCU and Astor College, Dover Exhibition in the Sidney Cooper Gallery

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“Kindness”,“the ability to change” and “my beard” are written in large chalk lettering; a man has glitter make-up lovingly applied to his face; on the other side of the room a pair of pink, nippled bean bags invite you to “get comfy and consider how you view breasts”. Over the weekend of the 9th and 10th of February, the “What Are You Looking At?” exhibition at the Sidney Cooper Gallery in Canterbury invited members of the public to love themselves, build perfection, dress up and distort their body image through play as work by young artists from Astor College for the Arts, Dover, presented a fascinating exploration of exploitation, marginalisation and social class.

The exhibition officially launched phase 2 of Canterbury Christ Church University’s contribution to the Tate Exchange project with a provocative and thoroughly enjoyable weekend of live art. The theme for this year’s Tate Exchange is “production” and the project has developed around the themes of otherness and abjection. The young artists, FE students from Astor College, have put together a show with six pieces which confronted visitors to the gallery with questions of how we view ourselves and how others view us. Autonomous spaces were created to explore if make-up culture is an oppressive ideology. One young artist created a provocative piece where visitors are invited to make themselves comfortable on large beanbags shaped like breasts and debate the commodification of women’s bodies. A particularly arresting piece confronted visitors with a life-size image of themselves and challenged them to ‘spot one fault and many positives’, which were then literally chalked up on the surrounding walls.

The show was a great success, bringing in a range of visitors including members of the public, academics and students from the Canterbury Universities, and even a visit from the Rhondda valley in Wales. The response from the public was positive and helped in the development of the pieces. The project has been developed by Christ Church Director of Politics and International Relations Dr David Bates; Live Artist Kelly Green; Dr Licia Cianetti, Royal Holloway, and the young people of Astor College, Dover, led by June Bates. The project develops work from Canterbury Christ Church University’s Activism ResearchNetwork.

The show will move up to the Tate Modern in London in May and will be joined by contributions from partner groups People United (Kent), University of Kent and Valleys Kids (Rhondda Valley). Building on last year’s show Fairground, which attracted over 4,500 visitors at the Tate Modern, the work produced for the Sidney Cooper will continue to evolve with more hard work from the young people at Astor and creative assistance from Kelly and June.

Reflecting on the success of the weekend live artist Kelly said: ‘I had a fantastic weekend at the Sidney Cooper Gallery for our exhibition “What Are You Looking At?”. The artists from Astor College have worked incredibly hard to create their thought-provoking and challenging pieces commenting on gender and class. I couldn’t be prouder of them and our team.’