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What objects tell the story of homelessness? Julz Watt and Mat Amp spent a day with the founders of the Museum of Homelessness ahead of their State of the Nation event at the Tate Modern.
A few weeks ago a couple of us?from the Ground Up project went ?to interview Jess and Matt Turtle,?the co-founders of the Museum of Homelessness (MoH). It’s a project that has a very special place in our hearts because our former colleague Jimmy Carlson had a strong influence on the MoH team. Jimmy, who died recently, talked a lot about the project and what it meant to him.
Jimmy had covered the museum’s first exhibition for the Pavement last year. He was due to write about its next one too: a two-day State of the Nation installation on 8 and 9 April at the Tate Modern. We picked up where he left off and spent a day with Jess and Matt to find out what this event was all about.
The interview turned into a day ?of exploration that took us from meetings with those who had objects to donate and a tour of the space at the Tate, to a private viewing of artist David Tovey’s new work, ‘A Soldier’s Story’, which will be part of the State of the Nation event. David is himself formerly homeless and an avid supporter of the museum.
Our day started with Jess and Matt showing us a few of the 6,000 or so objects that the Museum has in storage. A woman, who wants to remain anonymous ‘because it’s about the objects', told us the story behind her guitar, an instrument that has had many “homes” and many tales to tell, like sitting round a campfire, keeping the mood up in a squat or witnessing refugees in the Calais jungle trying to hold life together as they flee from wars.
It made us think of all the caring hands that have held it over the years, all the tunes that have brought some light in difficult times. We were taken by the power a simple object has, through its history, to convey meaning about the world we live in. By bringing together objects like this guitar, the Museum of Homelessness team aim to spread a deeper understanding of what it is to be homeless in the 21st century, especially to those who have no lived experience of it.
Not all of the objects make you feel hopeful. We also heard the story of an ASBO issued to a rough sleeper. It banned him from being in an area of central London even though he needed to use services in the area. He had previously been charged with begging and police thought he had re-offended but, he says, they had no evidence. Many of us who’ve been homeless know what it’s like to be hassled by the police on a regular basis, to be treated like we’re less than the rest of humanity, like our needs and wants aren’t as important as keeping the public “safe” from us.
This is part of what Matt and Jess, the founders of the Museum, are looking to achieve. Using every day objects like the guitar and ASBO they want to make people think about what being homeless really means. They will also be working with Cardboard Citizens theatre group, using formerly homeless actors to bring stories of homelessness to life. There will be music from the Choir with no Name, a fashion show of outfits made from rubbish found
on the streets of London and a major debate on homelessness with guest speakers including politicians, campaigners and journalists.
As Matt explained: “We want a national collection for homelessness to have a social purpose. It will be?a resource that changes people’s minds to make better policy happen and busts myths and stereotypes. Secondly, there has to be something about that collection that supports people to make change in their lives if they want to maybe work through trauma or learn new skills and share them with other people.”
And this is a two-way process. If you’re in London, you should come along, not just to learn from others but to share what you know. It’s a real opportunity for homeless people to be heard. By the end of our day we were really inspired. We’ll also be there throughout the exhibition weekend to help out and to be a part of changing people’s attitudes to homelessness.
Our final stop of the day was a private viewing of art by David Tovey who, just four years ago, was saved from an overdose by a stranger. Now he’s an increasingly established artist with a number of private shows under his belt. For this exhibition he’s making work inspired by the one in 10 rough sleepers who have been soldiers, using real uniforms as part of the installation to help start conversations.
He explained what makes this museum special. “Not only do I have the privilege to showcase my work in the Tate, it’s a subject I’m really passionate about and I believe that we can change the world.”
This is the sort of enthusiasm that Matt and Jess and the objects they have collected seem to inspire in people. Jimmy knew that, David knows it too and after an incredible day spent with these two pioneers, so do we.
State of the Nation is free and homeless people are especially welcome.? Find out more: http://museumofhomelessness.org