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Published: 04/04/17

I first came across the artist Bryan McCormack in 2009 whilst working as the Literary Director of the Orange Tree Theatre in London. He sent me a play out of the blue and, to this day, it is still one of the most fearless, compelling and visceral plays I have ever read. After staging it in London we stayed in touch and, the week before I began my post at Sheffield Hallam, Bryan sent me information about his latest project: Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow.

Bryan has spent most of the last year travelling to refugee sites across Europe - camps and squats both official and unofficial. Whilst at these locations he asks people there to draw three simple drawings: their past life (Yesterday), their present life (Today), and to imagine their future (Tomorrow). The drawings have been gathered together and will be used as "visual blocks" for the centrepiece of an installation promoted by the Fondazione Giorgio Cini and is one of the collateral events at the Biennale di Venezia – 57th International Art Exhibition.

Bryan has always talked to me about how working with these drawings is giving a voice and a dignity to people who have had this taken away. By bringing these drawings to life they are helping to create a traceability of the experience of these displaced people. It is for this reason that another essential component to Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow. are the regular posts of the refugees' work on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Bryan saw how the majority of people in the sites he visited owned smart phones and by sharing, commenting or liking these drawings people are acknowledging the experience of the artists and, even in a small way, are helping to give people a voice.

The moment he showed me the drawings and explained the project I thought it was essential for students here at Sheffield Hallam to get involved. Every Level 5 student on the BA Performance for Stage and Screen must study Applied Theatre - a subject which explores how theatre techniques can affect social change. Bryan came over to Sheffield from Paris to deliver a masterclass with these students in the second week of the module and we both led the group in a workshop which used Augusto Boal's Image Theatre techniques to create living sculptures out of some of the drawings. 

This got the students to place a concentrated, embodied focus on the experience of the refugee artists but also to locate their lives in the context of the refugee crisis. The whole group then 'sculpted' each other into tableau inspired by the drawings to debate how they could take action to respond to the crisis themselves.  Both Bryan and I felt at this point that performance must be a crucial part of the whole project.

The journalist Antonette Collins recently filmed the students working with Bryan and myself over an extended period utilising the techniques to respond to the drawings and these videos will be displayed on multiple screens as part of Bryan's installation in Venice. The year group is also travelling to Venice to create an interactive, debate-driven performance on 23 May at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini - and the aim is for this to be the first of many performances that can lead audiences to both place meditative focus on the experience of the refugees that Bryan has worked with as well as consider how they, as an audience, can take action. We aim, in the future, to perform in cities affected by the crisis, as well as in refugee camps and sites across Europe.

The performance work we have created so far has involved a great deal of silence and focus on the drawings themselves. I believe it vital for people to offer dignity through attention to the direct experience of the artists - I salute Bryan for placing the focus on this rather than himself as an artist. He is creating traceability and chronicling this humanitarian disaster. Traceability is credibility.


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Wikipedia : Yesterday/Today/Tomorrow

The author:

"I believe it vital for people to offer dignity through attention to the direct experience of the artists"