In this blog entry, Elen Caldecott, a SWW DTP funded PhD student studying Creative Writing at Bath Spa University and Celtic Studies at Aberystwyth University discusses how her forthcoming Fun Palace activity relates to the wider concerns of her research project.
Who owns the words in your mouth? And what are you allowed to do with them?
I use fiction to find truths. My methodology is to write a story, see how people react to the story, then wonder what words I might change to alter their response. Like the thought experiments used in Philosophy, I try to turn my question into a fictional situation and see how it plays out.
I began my PhD with a technical question – is it possible to use the Welsh language as a basis for a new English. Can the languages be hybridised in some way, like Esperanto, to be almost-recognisable to both language communities, but also alien to both? I was interested, as a creative writer, in knowing what my tools (words) were capable of.
As the project developed I realised that when two communities sit side-by-side and are forced to interact, frictions appear very easily. Especially if there is a power imbalance between the two. In that case, the side who feels the most vulnerable might try to guard the things that matter to them – it might be traditions, style of dress, rituals, songs or language.
In Wales’ case the language has become culturally charged, a repository of identity. The special position of the language is recognised even by Welsh people who don’t speak it. The situation is different in other Celtic nations where other cultural markers came to dominate – music, dance, religion and so on. In hybridising Welsh with the more powerful English, was I performing an act of treachery?
My work now seeks to answer this question. Who owns a culture? How is it embodied? Who guards it and protects it? But also, what happens when you let a culture hybridise, evolve and change? Does the nation evolve with the culture or is it destroyed in the process?
I hope that my Fun Palace activity will demonstrate some of these questions, and hint at some answers.
I will be asking people to look at a map which has patterned cloaks on it – embodied culture, as it were. Then, I’m inviting people to draw inspiration from a cloak which is already on the map and design their own, setting it beside its neighbour when it’s finished.
We might see a smooth evolution of seamless designs, where the geography of the map creates no borders.
Or maybe we’ll see some designs naturally die out, unmourned.
Or maybe one design will come to dominate, leaving no room for anything else, stifling the other bodies around it.
I hope that participants will reflect on their own place within their own culture. Are they in some way a hybrid? Do they feel secure or challenged in that identity? What might they be willing to lose and what is essential to who they are?
I’d love for the finished work to feed back into my PhD, and I’ll be gathering comments from participants to see what thoughts the experiment prompts in them.