“I Am Alfred” An Exercise in Mapping, and Designing Suitable Scenarios


At Design for Governance the search for what art can do is ongoing. We dive into challenges that show themselves as matters that concern us all. And then we wonder what would happen when art is used to determine the character of the issue, and of ways forward. It is not just us being artists depicting troubling and inspiring issues we come across. How can the process of making these depictions help all those involved in engaging in challenges?
A project called ‘I Am Alfred’ includes using a real life story, told by different people involved to develop representations of what happened and happens. With these representations scenarios are designed for engaging in the issues at hand. A crucial term in the arts stands central to the approach: ‘abstract’. How do we turn real life, intricate, daily life practice into an abstract image that inspires action?


What can art do when engaging in challenges? One valuable artful asset that can be used is the ability in art to develop abstract representations. “But we do not want wishy washy abstract stuff!” some might say. What we think is that we always change real world things into simplified, and therefore to some extent abstract notion. That is necessary in order to work with what we encounter. Then -we think- it is useful to be good at the act of abstracting. That is the main theme of what follows.


‘Depicting’ is an inevitable activity in engaging in a challenge. We all depict, portray, describe, illustrate, simplify so that we can be of value. We at Design for Governance go so far to consider the resulting picture of a state of affairs as an abstract representation of what we encounter. ‘Abstract’ is the notion  we focus on in workshops aimed at effectively using ‘the art in depiction’ while engaging in challenges that appear as matters that concern us all.
That is not a straightforward affair. It requires learning by doing. So lets try it out!

Six video clips, with the longest a bit more than eight minutes, show the plight of Alfred. He became homeless at age twelve, when his parents died in a car accident. He was taken in by a criminal gang, squatting in a neighbourhood otherwise inhabited by a rather bohemian community of artists and what have you. Being given food and shelter Alfred becomes engaged in the gang’s business. Then the gang is evicted. Alfred stays in the neighbourhood, trying to make a living by doing chores for residents. Some community members support Alfred. Others have grave doubts about Alfred’s intentions, given his criminal past.

It is a story within a complex web of actors, interests, perspectives, views, actions. One way of dealing with the complexity is to introduce two sets of actors, the good ones and the bad ones. Interestingly Alfred seems to be in the gray area in between that binary system. There is also the binary distinction between community member who support Alfred and those who want to ban him. The latter see the former as bad, and vice versa.
Ridding ourselves from binary constraints, we can draw an intricate map of intersections and the pathways connecting them.
That is what this is all about, both in the workshops on offer, and in the exercise we propose you to do.

Using the six clips a map can be drawn depicting where the different players come from, how that determines their perspective and how they relate to one and other. The brief is to draw a map and use it to design a scenario that takes personal and social circumstances into a set of matters that concern us all.
How can we make Alfred’s, Rob’s, the shopkeeper’s and all the other input into material we can all work with?

There is Alfred’s desire to simply eat, drink and find shelter. A homeless girl tells us about others, with the similar needs. There is the personal need of community members to feel safe in their neighbourhood.
And there is the urge to do more than that. Street people support each other. Community members connect to rid the neighbourhood of the unwanted.
Added to that some say that we need to go further than our personal and social needs. Support Alfred as doing so serves a common purpose. Interest collide. Controversies hit the streets. What if your mission is to develop the challenges people
encounter into ‘matters that concern us all’?
Not just a map of players and their issues, but a map that helps drawing in a scenario that inspires to dive into what needs to be done to create a public atmosphere?