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This Grief Thing (REF 2021 Practice Research Submission)

Harradine, David (2020) This Grief Thing (REF 2021 Practice Research Submission). The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London. ISBN 978-1-8383968-0-0

Abstract

This Grief Thing is a participatory arts project that encourages people to talk, think and learn about grief, by creating new public spaces, physical objects, visual materials and mechanisms for interpersonal engagement. Historically articulated and experienced in social, relational ways, grief has been rendered largely absent from public, social settings by shifts in societal attitudes as a consequence of two World Wars, developments in medical technologies and consequent disengagement with death. This has resulted in a lack of developed skills for communicating about grief, with recognised impacts on health and wellbeing. This Grief Thing renders grief visible, through material cultures, through social encounters and by interventions in public space, and develops new partnership and participation models for engaging diverse publics with grief, helping build resilience in individuals, families and communities.

At the heart of the project is a collection of clothing and accessories that incorporate words and phrases about grief, proposing new strategies to think about it and communicate it. These objects are distributed via temporary shops which also function as spaces for meetings and exchange, through which people engage with the subject of grief. A billboard campaign and a free leaflet, distributed through spaces such as libraries, cafes and print distribution channels, make grief even more visible in public spaces. In a context where the social invisibility of grief diminishes opportunities for engagement with it, research and creative projects which offer mechanisms for learning and exchange are increasingly necessary.

In development since 2015, the project appeared in UK towns and cities from 2018–20. During this time, over 3569 participants directly engaged with the project by visiting temporary shops, 351 people participated in structured conversations about grief, over 1400 free leaflets were distributed and over 535,000 people encountered the billboard campaign.

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