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We spoke to ‘Making Frames’ artists Jonny Randle and Josh Cannon about their campus-based Lancaster Arts project.
1) What or who inspired ‘Making Frames’?
Jonny: ‘Making Frames’ sits within a broader programme of artistic work that has been created with Lancaster Arts since the beginning of lockdown, entitled ‘Breathing Space’. The programme has provided an opportunity for local artists to observe and reflect on the experiences and challenges of the coronavirus crisis, ask questions, and offer a range of creative responses to these times. Josh and I were invited to form a creative partnership and create a series of short films that respond to the experiences of the student community who remained on campus during the lockdown. The hope is that these films engage with the incoming students for 20/21 and offer a point of connection with the previous year’s campus community.
2) What are its aims?
Josh: It’s mainly a question led project; we have all sorts of questions about the experience of lockdown, the activities students have been up to during the quarantine, and there’s also wider questions to consider about how we can make art at times like this. The project is looking to provide space for us to think and reflect and make a creative response to our current situation. It’s given us (as artists) a chance to think about our practice, and how it might change as a result of lockdown. We’re hoping it’s given students a chance to reflect and express themselves too!
3) Did you struggle to find motivation whilst working on ‘Making Frames’? Or, did this project give your lockdown experience a sense of purpose?
Jonny: Reassuringly, Making Frames was one of the first projects that I began having had all other freelance work cut unexpectedly short in March. I’d been feeling a bit at sea with a lot of uncertainty as to whether there would be any filmmaking or community arts work for the foreseeable future, which was tough. The project’s given me confidence that you can still collaborate creatively under quite tight restrictions, even though the goalposts have shifted massively in terms of how I would normally approach making a series of films.
4) How has lockdown influenced your creative processes? Do you think there are any permanent changes?
Josh: Undoubtedly lockdown has had a huge influence on creative processes. I usually work in theatre, and the theatres have been closed for months now. We have had to move to an entirely digital model, which has been interesting, and difficult at times. It has not all been bad though, it has given us an opportunity to experiment, and consider entirely new ways to approach artistic projects. As for permanent changes? I’m not sure an entirely digital model will work forever (I really miss actually seeing and working with real humans – it would be nice to actually meet Jonny at some point!) but I’ve learned a lot about incorporating video into work, and I imagine that will stick around for a while.
5) Creatively, do you feel restricted by lockdown or has it provided you with a new perspective, allowing different ideas to emerge?
Jonny: Lockdown’s imposed certain restrictions, such as the necessity of working remotely via digital communication platforms, as opposed to meeting and having conversations face-to-face. I miss having those physical interactions with everyone involved in a project. Josh and I still haven’t met in person, although I sometimes forget that! It’s also meant that we had to meet students virtually and then gather and generate film material entirely remotely, without ever taking a camera onto campus. In that sense, we’ve had to think about how to create a series of films with those parameters in mind, which has steered us down a road of exploring techniques and styles that we may not have used otherwise, such as playing with animation, stock footage, Zoom recordings, and text.
6) What has been an unexpected discovery for you during lockdown?
Josh: I think the biggest surprise for me was people’s optimism. It is a really difficult time for everybody right now, for a whole host of different reasons, but the students we are working with have remained really positive on the whole. In fact, all of the students we spoke to have been creating their own artwork in lockdown which is great to see. There have been some really important messages that come through about taking advantage of the lockdown for exploration and experimentation. It really cheered me up!
7) Have you learned anything new about the Lancaster community whilst working on ‘Making Frames?
Jonny: I think that working on Making Frames has reaffirmed to me that everyone’s experiences and responses to the pandemic have been so widely different and that includes the students who we spoke to. There have been experiences of isolation, confusion, boredom, anxiety, and depression but also of creativity, joyful freedom, reconnection with friends and nature, and a re-commitment to things that make us feel alive. I’m sure none of that is unique to Lancaster, though.
8) How do you hope this project will inspire other people?
Josh: This is a difficult question for me to answer, as I’m hoping the work will speak to different people in different ways – and that may or may not be ‘inspiring’. I do hope that this work resonates with other students though; I think we are really hoping that it will be useful for the new incoming students to see in order to show that even a lockdown can’t stop our creativity, and hopefully, it speaks to people not just about the experience of lockdown, but also what we can achieve when we work together.
9) Are you both working on any new projects to end a rather unique 2020?
Jonny: I’ve just begun delivering some live filmmaking and animation sessions with Ludus Dance for The Cove in Heysham, which is a specialist inpatient unit for young people with a variety of mental health issues. I’m also hoping that I’ll be able to resume a project centered around laughter and wellbeing with the Dukes Theatre, in which I work with a team of other artists and people living with dementia. I’ve really missed doing workshops and being in a room with people, so hopefully, that becomes a possibility again soon!
Josh: Alongside this project, I have also been commissioned to make an online performance for the New Adelphi Theatre in Salford with my theatre company Popbox. The piece is a reimagining of Dracula, where the audience has to flick between 3 channels and choose how they experience the material. Fresh Blood premiered at Arrival Festival (4th Sep) but we are hoping to get a digital tour up and running soon. I’ve also been working on a live Zoom detective game, where the audience has to scour the internet for clues – a bit like an online escape room.
The work of Jonny Randle and Josh Cannon can be appreciated across campus from September!