Exploring Languages in Urban Spaces
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Resources to explore the City in Translation

London Workshop: preparation

I had the opportunity to explore the potential of City in Translation as a workshop during the Multilingual Creativity Lab organised at the Free Word Centre in London on 30 November 2015.

In this post, I'd like to share the background story of how the workshop came to be -or the process if you prefer. In upcoming posts, I will reflect on the workshop experience and will share some practical information on how to organise a City in Translation workshop for a variety of audiences. 

Ready to hit the road! (that's me in my Amsterdam home, holding my DIY maps which I tell you more about later in this post)

Ready to hit the road! (that's me in my Amsterdam home, holding my DIY maps which I tell you more about later in this post)

If you have been following my work throughout the past years, you probably already know that City in Translation is a way of being, breathing, living and creating for me; it is a manifestation of how I see and interact with the world. I look at everything through translation. Speaking, reading, writing, dreaming... in and out of five - sometimes even more - languages, can be a challenge sometimes, but it is also fun, so much fun. Hence, City in Translation begins as a personal exploration of urban spaces through languages and dives into my own creative expressions of it. However, next to the artistic approach, City in Translation also offers a wide range of possibilities for sharing and collaborations. This is why my participation to the Multilingual Creativity Lab has been a really good opportunity to explore what shape these possibilities could take. 

When I was asked if I would like to participate to the Multilingual Creativity Lab, I of course jumped with both feet in. While I know the people behind this fantastic and necessary initiative, the name itself was enough to trigger my interest - "multilingual", check; "creativity", check; "lab", check, check and check; and I was also very excited to be able to explore what possibilities City in Translation could really offer to people working in cultural organisations and in education.

Because of the support I had already received from Copenhagen University and the Culture@Work programme, I knew there was an interest at the academic level. I also know of the creative potential of the project, being the first beneficiary of it.

Exmouth Market in 1968 (photo via  British History Online )

Exmouth Market in 1968 (photo via British History Online)

When I started thinking about the format of the workshop, I knew for sure that we needed to be outside of the event venue. The project is about exploring urban spaces and about interacting with your immediate environment through languages and translation. It is of course always possible to find different languages in closed spaces too - such as shops, restaurants, libraries, etc., and the purpose of City in Translation is to look at our environment from every possible angle. But even then, you still need to enter these spaces from outside, no matter where you are, and the starting point of any City in Translation exploration is always the street. 

The Multilingual Creativity Lab took place at the Free Word Centre on Farringdon road in Clerkenwell. The area is very rich in languages, especially Exmouth Market just a couple minutes walking distance from Free Word. Because I would only have one hour to run this workshop, I decided to keep the exploration space as close as possible to the venue.  

Triggering people's curiosity about languages in urban spaces isn't the most difficult part, especially in an event such as this Lab. However, inviting them to become creative and to express how they feel, what they see, how they translate the languages they encounter, all inside one hour is another story (close to impossible I must say, but more on that in my next post).

Because of the very short time frame, I thought I would need to offer some sort of guidance to help people navigate through the exploration. So I decided to prepare a map of the area we were going to visit and add a few hints on it. I first wanted to print it from Google Maps, but then I thought I would make a whole new creative adventure out of this. So I started to draw the map myself.  

DIY map in the making

DIY map in the making

This whole exercise has been a learning process in itself because drawing a map necessitates a few steps which helped me thinking about the format, the content and the possible creative outputs such a workshop could bring. 

I started with some field research: I went to Exmouth Market on a previous visit to London in order to explore it from a City in Translation lens. I took some pictures - posted a few on the project's Instagram account, that I later used in my sketch to add some hints. I followed up with some online research about the area itself, especially its history, and I used the most relevant facts on the map. Then I continued into the whole DIY part: hand-drawing a map, collaging some paper and photos, colouring... all have made me realise this process could also be included into a workshop. In this particular case, I didn't have enough time, so I had to do it myself and give a ready-made map to the participants. But I was rather thrilled by the prospect and I couldn't have discovered it without going through this preparation process. 

Labels in French, inside a shop on Exmouth Market

Labels in French, inside a shop on Exmouth Market

One of the key components of the whole project is to have fun. I wouldn't look at languages everywhere around me every single day of my life if I didn't have fun. This is a feeling I wanted all participants to understand and hopefully share as well. So I decided to add a fun component to the whole exercise and turn it into a performance. I have selected a specific City in Translation outfit for the occasion: a red hat and red shoes. (Because I love red, no connection whatsoever to the world of translation itself.) 

All right, my socks too had red stripes.

All right, my socks too had red stripes.

And so I was ready to take on a group of people to Exmouth Market and try to get them to feel how I see the world and how they could experience translation in this way tooThe programme was going very well, with inspiring talks from organisations and people working with multilingualism in creative ways, my workshop was planned for the afternoon, and of course, it started to rain...

In my next posts, I will write in more detail about how the workshop went and share some best practices that I have acquired.