What is Sparkplug?
Sparkplug is a festival of LGBTQ+ delights designed to bring together the most marginalised groups under the LGBTQ+.
For Sparkplug 1.0 we used large scale installation and jam packed week of exciting programming to kickstart the growth of a new, more inclusive, more supportive LGBTQ+ community here in Gothenburg.
Sparkplug 2.0 is in the pipeline, so hold tight Helsinki, you’re in our sights…
Why do we need Sparkplug?
Our community is fractured and acceptance of LGBTQ+ people has been incredibly uneven.
We need a community so we can support each other and build a better path forward together, but to do this we need to harmonise. Harmonising doesn’t mean becoming the same, it means finding a way to all sing our own tune whilst resonating with others. It means that together we can create something more than just the sum of our parts.
As the starting point for a new harmonisation, Sparkplug 1.0 used two key types of tools to get this music flowing: relational ones and spatial ones. Where the spatial is all about sensory experiences like colour, form, texture and lighting, the relational is all about connecting with people in different ways.
This is part of a methodology we’ve developed called Community Cultivation. To give you a quick crash course, we’re using Community Cultivation’s spatial and relational tools to bring together new groups of people from different marginalised groups under the LGBTQ+ umbrella and get them to interact with each other. We use this methodology to guide different kinds of interactions with the ultimate goal of fostering new relationships and, in turn, lay the foundations for a more intersectionality diverse LGBTQ+ community.
We had two tasks with the spatial:
- To create an environment which encouraged play and upset the rules.
OUR SPACE OUR RULES
Walking into the gallery, you were immediately confronted with a pulsating, mouthwatering interruption to the sleek yeet bland navy, beige and black Scandinavian world outside. Just as we as a community break with normative life we made our space to break with normative aesthetics.
Sparkplug 1.0’s captivating sensory experience set the stage to move away from the cis-het norms that dominate our social world. At the same time though, being in such an alien space also had us feeling a little alien. If this was going to be the springboard for a new community, for a new home, we first needed to claim this space for ourselves.
Throughout the festival, workshops continually added to the space. We hung up our work, painted directly on the walls and furniture, created freestanding sculptures and left our traces as we pleased. Through our work and our play we claimed ownership over this space together. This built a special connection between us and the space – in turn this allowed the space to become a medium through which we could connect to those we hadn’t directly worked with.
THE SPACE THAT HUGGED
While the first space was a place to get wet and wild, we also needed somewhere to collect ourselves, connect with ourselves and savour a slice of cooling calm.
At the back of the project space lay a shrouded entrance. Through this entrance came an outstretched peace offering: a hand holding a plant-cutting. In Gothenburg this plant is known as the ‘lesbisk nässla’ or ‘lesbian nettle’. The origin of the name is said to come from how easy it is to take cuttings from it. As the folklore goes, once one lesbian gets one, it spreads like wildfire through their circle. Textile artist Esse McChesney based their work for the Project Space on this ol’ queer Gothenburg tale, taking the ‘lesbian nettle’ as a symbol for our community’s sharing and caring: queer love, if you will!
Plunging into this entrance took you to the source of our space’s otherness – the portal. The Portal Room was designed to expand the space’s versatility.
The Portal Rooms’ cool throbbing lights, encapsulating fabrics and dampened sound created a stark contrast to the bustling vibrant room lying just beyond the entrance.
Throughout the week we used this space for reflection, and to take those quieter moments where we needed to get vulnerable with each other. With its completely different feeling to the Project Space, the portal room opened up a whole new set of possibilities for the kinds of relational work we could do with each other.
Sparkplug 1.0 was a space between spaces. It was a space between the world of ablist, racist, ageist, sexist, classist, cis-het bullshit outside and the queer utopia lying somewhere out of reach, beyond the portal. Sparkplug 1.0 sought to upset these overpowering systems; and even if we couldn’t override them completely, our two space’s gave us room to at least start that process.
- To create a space which could host all of our relational work.
This is where the Swiss Army Space comes in: we needed a space to host everything from drag workshops to mural painting, embroidery to vogue, film screenings to karaoke, social space to open space. Furniture we built to make this happen included folding benches and tables that turned into room dividers.
Our furniture also needed to work as tools in our unscripted relation work. The flowing organic shape of our benches were made to be the heart of the room, where people naturally would collect. It became a place where people could meet in smaller groups, whilst also facilitating the mixing of these groups to make broader conversations. With the help of all our structured relational work, this became a space where relative strangers came together to share intimate experiences of being LGBTQ+ in Gothenburg.
Once we had claimed ownership over the space together, the stage was set to build new relationships in our fractured community. Together, the workshopping and the spatial work paved the way for the crucial next step: getting into the nitty-gritty. We put on a buffet of different events from high energy – think a room full of hyped up queers and trans people chanting ‘gay power’ over and over again, an activity which deffinately did not upset the neighbours… thanks Speech Karaoke – down to careful contemplation.
This all fostered a lot of discussions – joyful ones, confronting ones, caring ones, difficult ones – and a lot of listening – listening to dreams, to frustration, to demands, to consolations, to play.
We had spontaneous discussions, structured discussions and prompted discussions. To spark these conversations, and to guide them, we used a variety of starting points from following scripts and our Together Tools (tools you can only use in collaboration with others) to film screenings and panel & round-table discussions.
These discussions helped us understand the different struggles, challenges and joys that we face across our incredibly varied community here in Gothenburg.
Whether it was preaching impassioned speeches or sissying our swaying hips, embroidering rainy umbrellas or jumbling together non-binary characters, painting walls or painting faces, we did a lot of making together! Check out the gallery tab to get a taste of the action.
Our workshops were designed by and for people who belong to our 5 priority LGBTQ+ groups – racialised people, working class/precarious people, people with dsaibilities, elders and binary & nonbinary trans people. You can read more about our approach to accessibility and inclusion here.
Throughout the festival, we drew on the strengths of local talent and our international partners from The Queer Agenda to put on a deliciously varied spread of workshops to tantalise people of different tastes – we wanted to make sure there was at least 1 thing that got people’s juices flowing!
We built a space that broke with the norms outside its walls. Then we helped our community claim it for their own. In doing so, those that took part built a special relationship with both the space and each other. This made people feel at home and created fertile ground for new relations to sprout.
During this time we also made room for ‘open space’ – giving the chance for those in the community to turn up and do what they wanted with the space. From impromptu lip sync competitions to drawing to runway presentation on the street outside we used the space how we wanted to.
So, did it work?
Since Sparkplug 1.0 we’ve seen the seeds we planted burst out of the ground. First they were just small shoots, but with our continued nurturing and fertilising with the help of all our fabulous collaborators we’ve seen these plants grow into sturdy young saplings. Read more about our artistic endevours, and the social spaces our siblings at This is the Queer Space to find out more!
Where there is plenty of work still to go, we are well on our way to the sustainable, inclusive and diverse LGBTQ+ community we dream of. Onwards and upwards Gothenburg!