Blog: Mark Titchner

The Turner Prize-nominated artist on the poignant answers he received when he asked young people exactly what they want

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Eighteen months ago, I was interviewed by 10 young people from Burnley, Hull and Wigan, where I pitched my idea about creating a project that involved making their thoughts and opinions visible in public spaces, based on a simple question: what I want more than anything else.

They selected my proposal and that was the beginning to working on Networked Narrative, a partnership with FACT (Foundation of Art and Technology) Lancashire County Council, Inspiring Healthy Lifestyles and Hull Culture & Leisure Library Service.

As an artist, I work with a wide range of materials and techniques, including sculpture, video, music and sound, performance, murals and large-scale print. Although the style of my artwork can be varied virtually everything I do is based on the use of words and language. Sometimes this can be very obvious – for instance, in my billboard-based works. In other works the language aspect can be hidden but it is still at the centre of what I do as an artist.

What I Want More Than Anything else is made up of artworks, varying in size and form. Each represents the voices of local people aged 13-25 from of one of the three northern towns. It’s been a huge challenge and responsibility to create work based on their individual hopes and aspirations.

Burnley, Wigan and Hull are three very different locations. To secure spaces for them to be exhibited depended on venues liking the project and taking a risk in saying yes, you can place an artwork here. The challenge was all the more heightened because research has shown that arts engagement among young people in these areas is particularly low.

Through a series of workshops in each town, I asked groups of young peopleywhat they wanted most and their responses varied from the deeply personal to everyday desires and global concerns.

Mina Lawton, aged 15 from Hull, said: “I want to have my Dad back” and “Also not to worry about anything”. Mina’s dad passed away when she was younger and her words are deeply touching in their simplicity and honesty.

On seeing my design, she said: “Oh my goodness, I love it! I feel very pleased and I think my dad would be proud of it too. The design feels personal and special, as it is more like something I would have picked or made myself. Teal is my favourite colour and the pattern is pretty and works brilliantly – it is just so me.”

Bethan Griffiths, aged 17 from Wigan, wanted “world peace, universal healthcare, no oppression, no prejudice, no poverty”. Her rationale was compelling to me. “I picked this message because I found it hard to pin down one specific materialistic want in my life or a particular want for the future.

“The question was very subjective, which was why I enjoyed the project so much. I pretty much have everything I need in my life and I feel quite happy in myself at the moment. I don’t know what I want my future to look like, so I used the question to focus on some bigger issues in the world, such as lack of healthcare, war and how people around the world are suffering.

“Most people may think it’s quite a mature response to an abstract question, but it also shows that young people don’t always just want things for themselves.”

Imogen Smith, aged 18 from Burnley, said: “I want to know unknown things about space, time, conspiracies and world secrets.”

She told me: “I have always been fascinated with the unknown elements of the world and universe. It both excites and terrifies me that there are things this extreme that I will never know. If I could have anything, I would want to know the answers to all my unanswerable questions.”

Isobel Duckworth, also 18 and from Burnley, said: “I want to make them better again.” She poignantly explained: “My response was originally ‘I want to make him better again’, which is about my brother. Years ago he was in a car accident and, although he is OK, he has many difficulties and I want it to be easier for him. I changed the word to ‘them’ so it could be more widespread.”

The words of Isobel Duckworth, 18, from Burnley

Using the groups’ handwritten versions of these responses, I’ve created a series of artworks, including large scale banners, murals, videos, soundworks, flags and bookmarks that are placed back into the young participants’ towns and cities.

These unique voices become a visible point of discussion, comparison or agreement for the public, with the young people’s disparate and forceful voices at the centre.

The use of the words “I want” was important to me. “I want” is the inversion of what is implicit in advertising – that is “You want” or “You need”. It’s also an inversion of that most famous assertion of individual control, The Ten Commandments’ “Thou shalt”.

Handwriting can be used as a way to signify the idea of a pure or unfiltered voice. The project operates on several levels: one as expressions of the group’s responses to a question they were given; and another, which is more critical, that looks at how the idea of an authentic voice is employed in a more general cultural sense, be it politically or socially.

It’s been a privilege working with a dedicated group of young people who decided to spend their Saturdays coming to my workshops.
I hope I’ve created a series of artworks that are truthful to the young people’s thoughts and inner desires.

Networked Narrative, which uses art and technology to inspire young people, has been made possible with the support of public funding from the National Lottery through Arts Council England’s strategic touring fund. What I Want More Than Anything Else by Mark Titchner launches on Saturday 15 July at Burnley Library, with artworks exhibited at Burnley Library, Burnley College, Burnley Market Hall and Burnley Youth Theatre until 31 January 2018. For more information see Photo of Mark Titchner: Simon Webb

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