Reader in Illustration, Camberwell College of Arts, UAL
In this paper I reflect on the possibilities of collective world- and sense-making, when illustrators work with non-professional contributors or participants. I propose that through carefully crafted participatory project structures illustration has the capacity to gather up individuals in an expression of community.
Practically speaking, non-professional participants can take on numerous roles in the process of image-making: they can contribute by narrating personal ideas or stories, comment on an existing framework or vision, or take part in the image making process itself.
Often these types of participatory projects are measured against urbanist Sherry Arnstein’s ‘Ladder of Citizen Participation’ (1969) which ranges from ‘manipulation’ (lowest rung), via ‘consultation’ and ‘partnership’ to ‘citizen control’ (highest rung), the most desirable state of affairs. The problem of using Arnstein’s ‘ladder’ as the main evaluative criteria for participatory projects is that professional knowledge and skill are frequently dismissed. In contrast I propose that harnessing individual expertise (that of the illustrator or any other contributor) will create an assemblage of distinct strengths that amplify and support each other.
In this paper I reflect on these possibilities through my project ‘Cracks in the Pavement’ that sets out to map commonalities and differences in participants’ perception, knowledge and experience of local neighbourhoods during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The particular challenge on this occasion is to work with participants with no face-to-face contact while emphasizing collectivity, connectedness and a shared embodied and material presence in a particular place. Working with a physical pack of materials that is passed from one to the next (with appropriate quarantine periods) this project aims to blend singular expression in response to and in conversation with collective concerns, where individual contributions can play a part in building a joint world.
Luise Vormittag is an illustrator, designer, researcher, writer and educator based in London,UK. She is Reader in Illustration at Camberwell College of Arts, UAL and is studying towards a practice-based PhD at London College of Communication, UAL.
Her ongoing PhD research initially arose from problems she encountered in her practice as a commercial illustrator working with members of a local community on a commission for a large property developer. She is now articulating a theoretically grounded understanding of what is at stake when illustrators work in a participatory way. The main question she is pursuing is: How does illustration bring to light the concerns and challenges of (a) community? This question offers a number of possible emphasis: How does illustration draw out a specific set of concerns and challenges from a community? How does it represent these to the community itself as well as external publics? And how can illustration help us think through notions of community and conditions of sociability in general?