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Dec 12 17

#ArtAfterTurner

by James

 

This month I’ve begun working on the Art After Turner project for the Hampshire Cultural Trust. The project consists of a commission from the Trust for me to make artwork in response to the Turner and the Sun exhibition, together with students from the Basingstoke College of  Technology (BCOT), and from the Winchester School of Art. Our work will be shown together at an exhibition at the Willis Museum in Basingstoke, from February next year.

I met with most of the students last week at The Willis, so that we could spend some time with the Turner exhibition before it ends, and to meet and introduce ourselves and our work.

 

Some of the BCOT and WSA students at The Willis Museum

There will be five more sessions with the BCOT students, which the Winchester students will join and act as mentors, as well as researching and developing their own work.

In the first session last week, we talked about how Turner used a range of ways to come to know and represent the sun in his work, from direct observation, and knowledge of contemporary developments in scientific theory, to poetry and myth.

Looking at Turner’s Sketchbooks

It is this holistic way of knowing the world, through both art and science, that is at the centre of our work, and the students will take their own artwork in whatever direction they feel is most appropriate to their developing practice as young artists.

I have started revisiting cyanotypes, which I first made for the Making Memories exhibition in the Summer, and other work made on or for the body. I am interested in how a place leaves its imprint on us, as the sun shines down on us, and we are surrounded by sounds, smells and other bodily sensations. The cyanotype process was developed by Sir John Herschel, son of the astronomer William Herschel and a contemporary of Turner.

Whilst looking at different white clothing that I could use to receive these imprints through the cyanotype process, I came across lab-coats online and ordered myself one. The white lab-coat may be a bit of a stereotypical symbol for a scientist, but I am enjoying the idea that through it my work becomes more playful and performative, and connects with my interests in Holistic Science and Goethean Science – where knowledge is gained through relationship, through artful ways of investigating natural phenomenon, rather than a more distanced form of measurement and analysis.

For this piece of work I am focusing on a short cycling route made up of a loop of country lanes that begins and ends where I live in Wiltshire, which I recently made a Bundle and Pages for, and which for the purposes of this work I am calling The Chirton Loop. I am excited by the idea that I can wear my lab-coat as I cycle the lanes, pausing to collect, write, draw and record, allowing the sun to create images on my back in the form of cyanotypes, and for the previously white coat to evolve and develop through my journeys.

I have started playing with maps of the route/area, layering them through multiple exposure photographs with images of my body, and today I made a cyanotype on an old t-shirt of my Dad’s to see what would happen in this weather.

I wasn’t sure how well the Winter sunshine would work (propped up on my bin to catch the low sun), but the image is looking good, with much more contrast than I was expecting, although it’s still wet in this photo.

Tomorrow I’ll be at BCOT, catching up with progress and hearing what research the students themselves have been carrying out. Please do follow all of our progress via the #ArtAfterTurner hashtag on Instagram and other social media.

Oct 2 17

Autumn Body

by James

I’m feeling a bit flat today, so trying to get through it by getting outside and experimenting with taking photos of my body and found objects.

I often combine found objects with doll bodies, items of clothing etc to explore body-environment relationships, and I’d like to do this more directly again, with my own body.

This links with my previous post, starting to explore what a Queer relationship with Nature looks like, and what role my own sexuality plays in my work, either explicitly, or as an ingredient by informing my values and the work’s aesthetic.

 

Sep 29 17

A Queerness of Perception – Men, Together in Nature

by James

My work has always explored my bodily relationship with the material (natural) world. To me everything is ‘Nature’, and my practice is all about experiencing oneself as part of nature, and ultimately experiencing a sense of connection and belonging.

Experiencing a sense of connection and belonging has been life changing for me as a gay/Queer man. If you are a little boy growing up gay, you don’t feel much of a sense of belonging at all, you look for people that mirror yourself back to you in popular culture, and you see nothing.

From an early age, time in Nature (time experiencing myself AS Nature), was vital. It gave me a sense of right-ness, of acceptance, that wasn’t present elsewhere. I wrote about this in the March 2014 edition of Earthlines Magazine in an article titled The Art of Belonging, whose title referenced Belonging, photographic piece that I created back in around 2010.

Yesterday I watched Gods Own Country with my partner in a little cinema in Bath, and the film has been occupying my thoughts ever since. In the film, a young farmer falls in love with a agricultural labourer from Romania, against a backdrop of a wild open moorland landscape, stone walls, stillborn lambs and mud. Its a beautifully raw film, and it made me think about the experiences of Nature of LGBTQI people which go unseen and unheard, with gay men so often depicted in film and TV as living a solely urban existence.

There seem to be certain kinds of landscapes and natural forms that are thought of as masculine enough to associate with a ‘real man’, and others that are inherently linked to femininity or effeminacy, and so with being gay. I remember when I came out as gay, one friend said “Is that why you have flowers in your room?”. How bizarre is it that appreciating the bright fresh new life of Daffodils in Spring can mark you out as being ‘Queer’?

Of course there are exceptions, the poppy for instance is one flower which in its association with fallen soldiers is very closely associated with the bravery and physical prowess of men (including gay men of course), whilst other plant-based imagery is also seen as acceptable, for instance the fern of the All Blacks in rugby.

Gods Own Country is interesting for me (and this is one of many ways) because it sets non-straight men in a wild, dark, physically challenging natural environment, experiencing their own bodies through interaction with the landscape and each other, with no or at least very little suggestion of homophobia (except perhaps internalised), and whose story is ultimately hopeful.

Other famous gay figures are associated with ‘Nature’, but not often in a way that celebrates their physicality, their strength, their determination in the face of environmental adversity. Oscar Wilde is known for his green carnation, Derek Jarman his garden on the shingle at Dungeness. They too of course are famous for facing their own battles, although largely due to those who sought to demonise them and their work because of their sexuality, and the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS.

In this post I’m thinking out loud. Its not a finished piece, its a beginning. I’m returning to thinking and making work about this subject because its something that quietly weaves throughout my work. I see the potential for sharing the insights of men who, like myself, and through the freedom of a Queerness of perception, offer new ways of seeing and being with the natural world.

Sep 21 17

From Summer into Autumn

by James

Its this time of year that new things start to emerge and develop. The beginning of the new academic year, my son goes back to school and work starts coming in again.

The weather cools, the clouds lower to merge with early mists, and leaves start to turn alongside the ripening rosehips and shrivelling blackberries.

It reminds me of my own experiences of the start of a new year at school or college, a sense of the unknown, and new beginnings.

 

One of the first jobs for me has been to take down the Making Memories exhibition. Although you can never really know what people have thought about an exhibition unless you’re there with them, I’m happy with the feedback we’ve been given, and how it came together to represent all our work and thinking.

Making Memories at Salisbury Arts Centre

A key part of the exhibition for me was the way that it shared my working process, by including individual artwork made before and after the work with the children, as well as documentation of our time together.

Garden Bundle at Making Memories Exhibition

Looking back over the Summer, through the photos on my phone and computer, time spent with my little family dominates, with as much time spent outside as possible, both in the area around our Wiltshire home, and on holiday in West Cornwall.

The photos remind me of the gardens, beaches, fields and pavements that we have wandered together, the exhibitions we’ve visited, and the little treasures I’ve noticed and recorded (see here for an earlier post on Noticing).

Roger Ackling at The Exchange, Penzance

Sarah Ball at Anima Mundi, St Ives

And now, looking forward, I am booking in work which offers opportunities for own my development and inspiration, as well as facilitating the learning and development of others. Just as with Making Memories, I am seeking to make room for my own individual work to bubble up between the participatory elements of my practice.

Walking Bundle – Chirton, Wilts. August 2017

Next month I start work with the Hampshire Cultural Trust, responding to the ‘Turner and the Sun’ exhibition as it tours to Basingstoke, and the Willis Museum. I will be working with local secondary schools, taking Turner’s work as a starting point, to explore how art can enable us to notice, observe, record and learn about the world around us.

Turner and the Sun at Winchester Discovery Centre

I’ve been doing a little research on Turner and his relationship with/knowledge of astronomy, mythology etc, and it’s giving me a new insight into the thinking behind and groundbreaking nature of his work. We are hoping that the project can include time working with the young people at Basing House too, and I’m excited to be visiting next month to have an explore and see what possibilities the site offers us.

I’m keen to include the work of contemporary artists who have spent time making work about/with the sun/sunlight, so if you have any thoughts please do add them in a comment below.

One of the key elements of my Summer was bike riding, after we (myself and my partner Jonathan who has been busy developing his own arts practice – see here) bought our son a new bike for his birthday in July, and I bought myself one too. We have been exploring the lanes and villages around our home in the Vale of Pewsey, Wiltshire, and it has provided me with a new way of exploring and noticing. I’ve made lots of work through walking in the past, and I’m starting to wonder how my bike riding will inform my work.

Again, any thoughts about artists using a bike as a vantage point/position from which to make work, I’d love to hear about them.

I’ve also become an Associate Artist of Chapel Arts Studios, an Andover based visual arts organisation, and am looking forward to seeing what opportunities for mutual support, collaboration and dialogue this network brings. I’m heading there tonight to meet some of the other Artists and have a play together.

In terms of other projects, I’m pleased to be playing a part in the Celebrating Age initiative, working with Older People in the Amesbury area, with an initial loose focus of sharing memories of favourite places. I’ve worked with older people with dementia before, and older people with other mental health issues or learning disabilities, and of course spent time working in partnership with Louise Rennie on the Living Memory Wiltshire project, but it still feels comparatively new to me, and again I’m open to learning a lot from my time with them.

You can find out more about Celebrating Age here, and I’ll be back with updates on my own work with them later in the year.

 

Jul 19 17

Children are Wild

by James

 

painting clay onto fingers

As we come to the end of the Making Memories project, space opens up to make sense of what has happened, and to reflect on the purpose of the project from my own point of view.

I was talking about the project with someone from Nursery World magazine the other day, with a head full of cold and from the position of being still very much within the rich, interconnected web of the project sessions. It was hard be able to stop and look back, and draw out clear threads in terms of the benefits for specific children and staff members, whilst still in the midst of our work together.

I know that previous projects that I have carried out with First Steps Nursery have resulted in certain children showing the benefit of child-led, multi-sensory approaches to learning, through their social and emotional development. They are happy and engaged, are encouraged to take risks and follow their own individual pathways, supported and encouraged by adults, connecting and learning with their peers.

grave rubbing

Now with the final session of Making Memories over, I and Leigh Chalmers from First Steps are starting to bring the material for the exhibition at Salisbury Arts Centre together. I have a little more distance from it, and can start making sense of where we have been, how far we have come, and why.

I was in the bath a couple of days ago, a little window of space between work and parenting, when the phrase ‘Children are Wild’ came to me. I’m sure many of us have heard the Picasso quote about children and their artful ways of knowing the world:

‘Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up…’

a group of children exploring garden themed materials

But I am interested in why this is the case, and what this has to do with outdoor learning; learning about and from the ‘real world’ of plants and animals, of touch, taste and smell. Perhaps the title of this blog should really be ‘Children Are Born Wild’, children are indeed born innately creative, with the necessary capacities to explore and learn from the world with their bodies and their imaginations, but they also have not yet been taught to perceive themselves as separate. Their bodies are interconnected with their environment, and their brains develop in response to these embodied explorations.

“In childhood, the boundary is quivering because children are liminal. The door is ajar; it opens easily on its hinges. The world creeps in through the portal of our senses…Both children and animals are off the leash – untamed disobediant compadres in sardonic… mischief.

Animals… are important to children in a further sense: they are guides to thought. They lead children to leaps of imagination. Wondering what a wasp is thinking or what a tree might feel is part of the mind’s development, practicising the quick spring of empathy.’

Jay Griffiths – Kith

masked girls

So how can we enable children to maintain an awareness of themselves as integral parts of a system upon which they depend? And how can we keep supporting them to do this artfully? And I guess, why should we, what is the benefit?

hanging basket on head

A recent discussion at a School Without Walls event explored the Walls that needed to be removed within formal education and why. Children who went to school at The Egg Theatre, and who learned from time out in the city of Bath, were learning beyond their school’s walls. Other children collaborated between classes, and their teachers explored ways of connecting beyond the walls of those individual classes.

In the work that has taken place during the Making Memories project, we have effectively been staving off the building of internal walls. Walls that act as a barrier to the perception of oneself as a part of the world, a barrier to reaching out and feeling what mud feels like, berries taste like. We have been highlighting the magic that happens when a group of children are supported to creatively explore and make sense of a complex natural and historic environment such as The Secret Garden.

“‘The mind does not function without a body. We are all embodied – feeling and physicality are not separate’ (Welton in Doddington and Hilton 2007) ‘…all lived experience, what some have called our life world, concretely real and initially pre-theoretical, but from the beginning, because we are socially embedded from babyhood, our experiences and understandings are socially constructed.'”

Researching Children Researching the World – 5x5x5=creativity

berries and lines

The fact that a project like this is responsive to the needs and interests of the children is key to its success. We aren’t setting out to provide the children with a set way to see their world, and set facts to learn about it, we are enabling them to make use of their own innate capacities, their own ideas, interests and imaginations.

constructing with leaves and earth

A child’s body and unique set of qualities and abilities meets a garden of sights and tastes and living breathing plants and creatures, and the two begin a dance with each other. The child reaches out to touch and to notice, and the garden responds with light and colour, the whir of a robin’s wings and the sound of wind through leaves. We are encouraging the children to pay attention to the world, and to ‘listen’ to it through their bodies.

splashing with water and leaves

‘…there is an interspecies awareness that from our very beginnings is opening us up to a wider world. This wider sense of connection with all the powers of the world is a primary matrix for all of our subsequent development. Our personal world is not simply connected to the human community. We are creatures of the wider earth community and the very universe itself. We would characterise this as our original birthright or innocence where the powers of the universe stand poised to join us on this wonderful journey that we call the gift of life.’

Edmund O’Sullivan and Marilyn Taylor – Learning Towards an Ecological Consciousness

tent under the tree

As adults we are listeners too, taking a step back, watching and listening so that we can better understand the needs of the children. We are enablers, we are match-makers, helping the children to find out how their them-ness meets the garden’s it-ness, and what new forms, experiences and learning can emerge as a result.

‘Listening lets the outer world be re-created within you. Listening means being willing to let one’s borders be porous.’

Jay Griffiths – Kith

boy pointing in the garden

So Art, if used in the right way, as a process of noticing, of listening and responding to the world, and dancing with it through our senses and our innate creative capacities, maintains the permeability of our inner walls, which otherwise lock us into a social world which denies our interconnected nature, and prevents a sense of kinship and belonging.

“If aesthetic engagement offers us a remedy for our sealed-off, self-seeking purposiveness, it will do so by reconnecting, integrating, enabling wholeness and the recognition of oneness. Further, we must be involved in active process with the art and with the natural beauty… Engagement in aesthetic process, as creative artist or ‘appreciator’ of art (and ‘art’ means poetry, music, drama, dance and ‘natural history’ as well as painting and sculpture) enables us to recover our lost sense of unity with the living world, our integration with the rest of life on the planet.”
Noel Charlton – Understanding Gregory Bateson: Mind, Beauty and the Sacred Earth

Children are born wild, and we can learn much from accompanying them on their artful explorations of the world (see here for an earlier post on Children as Artful Leaders). By learning from them we can see what we’ve lost, how creative play through artful means can enable us glimpses of our own connectedness, and in return we can support them to maintain their own relationships with bees and trees, mud and the wind. By doing so we show them that they belong, we teach them that all they need is within them, that they are unique, that they are imaginative, that they are explorers, and that the natural world is there to inspire and to teach them.

magnifying glass with mask

This is why the outdoors provides so many of our positive childhood memories, and the primary reason why we chose for this project to be centred around the subject of place and childhood memory. Its not just a ‘nice’ thing to do, its a vital thing, for the health of our children (physically and mentally) and the future of our planet.

‘To sum up: children have been exiled from their kith, their square mile…Naturally kindled in green, they need nature, woodlands, mountains, rivers and seas both physically and emotionally, no matter how small a patch; children’s spirits can survive on very little, but not on nothing. ‘

Jay Griffiths – Kith

MM Poster photo


The Making Memories Exhibition at Salisbury Arts Centre runs from 5th August to 16th September 2017 (Closed Mondays), and includes artwork that I have made in response to my time with the children.

An article reflecting on the project’s themes and outcomes will appear in the August 2017 edition of Nursery World Magazine

Please also search for #MakeMemoryWilts on Twitter and Facebook for further images and information

May 22 17

Making Memories: Exploring the Garden

by James

Explorer BoxesToday was my first session of the Making Memories project, and I worked with two groups of children from First Steps Nursery at The Secret Garden in Salisbury.

The preschool children used the Explorer Boxes that I had made for them, plus magnifying glasses and binoculars, and were fascinated by the insects and other small creatures that they could find.

Included in their boxes were transparent plastic containers, string, paper, small fibre pots, and mark making materials. One boy was really taken by the role of being an explorer and chased imaginary foxes and rats through the bushes, or spied on other children from behind trees with his binoculars.

Woodlice in boxes

Girl in the plants

Wrapping with string

Another boy loved the string, and used it to wrap and tie around branches and upright wooden stakes, before creating some grass from it on the lid of his box, for the horse that he drew there. Several of the pre-school children also took the opportunity to personalise their explorer boxes with drawings.

Drawing on the Explorer Box

Drawing a horse

The younger children, who were around two years old, were a little more wary but soon started to warm up. I offered them clay, compost, pine cones, charcoal and chalk, and paper – plus anything else that they found and wanted to gather.

Clay and Cone

Clay, compost and a brush

Drawing on brown paper

Today was a beginning for all of us, a chance to meet each other and to start to get to know the garden, its spaces, its inhabitants and the possibilities that it offers for play. On Wednesday I’ll be working with the staff team and some of the parents back at the Nursery, sharing the hows and whys of the project and bringing the outside inside, to give them a chance to have a play too.

boy on path

A group of children and resources in The Secret Garden

Please search for #MakeMemoryWilts on Twitter and Facebook for more updates, and got to www.crowdfunder.co.uk/making-memories-1 to help us raise the funds that we need to expand the project.

May 16 17

Walking Bundles: Doll Bodies at the Embodied Cartographies Exhibition

by James

Salisbury Plain Doll Bundle
I am showing 4 of my Walking Bundles which have been built around the bodies of dolls, at the Embodied Cartographies exhibition, at the Walcot Chapel in Bath later this month, as part of Fringe Art Bath. Alongside the Bundles themselves will a photographic print of each of them, on-site and in-progress.

‘Embodied Cartographies’ is about walking – as praxis, mark-making, performance, choreography and the philosophy of perambulating. It comprises an exhibition, walks, workshops, performances, presentations, talks, a book launch and a symposium (held in collaboration with Bath Spa University). The works included engage with, document, inscribe, mark, perceive and understand the walking act with an in-depth engagement into how walking can inform a sense of cartography as ‘embodied.’

Fay Stevens, Curator

The exhibition will run from 26th May to 11th June and a range of events will be running alongside, including:

  • Opening Night:- Friday 26th May
  • Opening Performance – Kenji Lim, Saturday 27th May 12pm onwards
  • Performance – Robert Luzar (Kingsmead Square and Walcot Chapel) Sunday 28th May
  • Symposium and Performances in collaboration with Bath Spa University, Wednesday 31st May
  • Book Launch and Readings of ‘Walking, Stumbling, Landing, Falling’ by Alyson Hallett and Phil Smith Friday 2nd June 7-9pm, Sponsored by Triarchy Press
  • Performative Walks with Richard White
  • Workshops by Linn O-Carroll, Florence Devereux and Rhys Trimble
  • Film Screening, in collaboration with Pop Up Docs
  • Performances by: Greig Burgoyne, Chelsea Coon, Kenji Lim, Peta Lloyd, Robert Luzar, Camilla Nelson, Tom Morris, Rhys Trimble,
  • Closing Performance – Kenji Lim, Saturday 10th June

 

Artists exhibiting, performing or facilitating events include:

James Aldridge, Bill Aitchison, Helen Billinghurst, Kate Brundrett, Greig Burgoyne, Chelsea Coon, Florence Devereux, Aldobranti Fosco-Fornio, Lydia Halcrow, Alyson Hallett, Kenji Lim, Peta Lloyd, Robert Luzar, Julia Mallaby, Nicolette Mcguire, Nancy E. Miller, Camilla Nelson, Linn O’Carroll, Elizabeth Philps, Kel Portman, Bill Psarras, Mirjana Pjevac, Tom Morris, Sara Rees, Petra Regent, Beth Emily Richards, Eleanor Robinson-Carter, Phil Smith, Mita Solanky, Fay Stevens, Rhys Trimble, Valentine Verhaeghe, Lucy Ward, Laura Wild, Richard White

 

For further information, please see the Embodied Cartographies Facebook page and blog.

May 1 17

Making Memories: Art and Outdoor Learning in the Early Years

by James

Snail on boy's handMaking Memories is the name of a new project that I will be working on this Spring and Summer with First Steps Nursery and The Secret Garden, Salisbury . I have run other projects with First Steps in previous years, see here for some photos from a ‘Big Draw’ project in early 2016.

Previous projects have demonstrated our shared belief that arts activities which place young children’s needs and interests at the centre, and which link with the local outdoor environment, benefit not only the children’s learning, but also their physical and emotional wellbeing. Other projects have taken place at the Nursery, this time we want to take children out to work at and respond to this local community Garden.

plant labels

Together with a contribution raised by the Nursery, we have launched a Crowdfunding appeal to enable this art and outdoor learning project to take place. If you are able to contribute to the appeal, please do so by following this link (from Tuesday 2nd May when appeal goes live) – www.crowdfunder.co.uk/making-memories-1

If you aren’t able to support us financially, please do share the link on social media, using the project hashtag #MakeMemoryWilts. All support and publicity really is very much appreciated.

Toddler drawing

Making Memories will connect with research that I have been carrying out into place and childhood memory in my individual arts practice, and a general theme of Memory amongst the major Salisbury arts organisations this year.

The children, staff and I will be visiting and spending time at The Secret Garden Salisbury, beginning with the planting a Mulberry tree to mark the Nursery’s 25th year. I will then pay return visits to the Garden with pre-school children, and alone, and run subsequent sessions at the Nursery with the toddlers and babies. I will also run a cpd session with staff and involve parents and other family members in project sessions.

Exploring resources outdoors

The project will offer hands-on, multi-sensory opportunities for the children to investigate the Garden, and the Nursery’s own outdoor spaces, and we will connect with The Secret Garden’s Bee City initiative (#BeeCitySalisbury) by exploring where bees live in the garden and the role that they play within its ecology.

As well as the primary focus of facilitating the children’s explorations, I will develop my own artwork in response. An integral part of this project, and one that sets it apart from many others, is this exploration of the relationship between the artist and children’s artwork and learning, the research that an artist carries out before a project, and the impact that the children’s ideas and ways of making/exploring have on the artist’s practice afterwards.

James making

Artwork made by the children, staff, parents and myself, and documentation following our journey through the project, will be shared at an exhibition at Salisbury Art Centre this Summer, with the exact dates to be confirmed. The exhibition will show also offer an opportunity for exhibition visitors to contribute their own childhood memories through a co-constructed artwork.

To follow project progress please come back here soon, or see posts by project partners on Facebook and Twitter by searching for #MakeMemoryWilts.

Apr 28 17

Deer, Camera Trap and Walking Diary

by James

Roe Buck Walking Away

 

I placed my camera trap on a tree next to a deer path in Savernake Forest on Tuesday, and then returned to check on and collect it this morning. There is always such a sense of anticipation when returning to it, I feel so excited about what the animals might have left for me, and real disappointment if I’ve left it pointing too high to catch anything, or the batteries have run out. But this time was successful. I wanted to capture images of deer, especially the Fallow Deer, and ended up getting photos of several individual animals, of three species. Fallow, Roe and Muntjac.

Before I checked the camera, I stopped and sat on a nearby fallen tree, and listened. I wanted to pay attention to the whole Forest rather than just focus on a few images. Here are some of the words that I wrote in my Walking Dairy, and a few of the images as they are now. (see here for artwork starting to experiment with images of badgers, during my residency at Hawkwood College)

Roe Doe

‘My camera trap is over to my right, half-hidden, camouflaged. A woodpecker is tapping loudly in the same direction, but higher. A tap, then a pause, a few more explorative taps, almost like its asking a question.

Flies glide in smooth, slow, hovering flight paths around each other, more like a dance than anything else. Slow, formal, Tudor?

And a pigeon. Woo, Woo, Woo. Deep and regular.

I was going to write about my anticipation – the camera and what it holds, the glimpses of last night or yesterday – of the animals who really are a part of here, not just visiting, like me, but integral pieces of this mossy, rich, living, breathing whole.

Now that I sit here, the Forest speaks so loudly and clearly, the camera trap fades – a flicker in my consciousness amongst all the other sensations that I’m being given. Birds hold court here, high up in the branches, sending out song through the air to meet and fill the Forest.’

Fallow Buck

Young Fallow Buck

Apr 26 17

Exploring Collections: School Without Walls

by James

Museum shelvesI began working with St Saviours Infant School in Larkhall, Bath in January of this year. I’ve worked at the same school several times over the years through 5x5x5=creativity and feel quite at home there by now.

This time I am working with two classes of Year 1 children, within which there are several focus children who we are paying particularly attention to, in terms of their experience of the project and its evaluation. We are working in partnership with The Museum of Bath at Work, and the children chose to call our project Exploring Collections.

Arriving at the museum

This project is one of several happening through School Without Walls in and around the Bath area, and the SWW projects are part of a National initiative funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation’s Teacher Development Fund. This National project is exploring how art can become embedded across the primary curriculum, and more specifically focusing on teacher cpd.

I began my work at St Saviours by introducing the children to collecting as a way of making art, and of sharing your interests with others. We looked at the work of artists such as Mark Dion, Peter Blake and myself, who gather together different elements and curate or construct with them, to make artwork. The teachers and I then led the children in an exploration of the school grounds, collecting objects and materials that each child was interested in, before creating some kind of container to house them.

Exploring and collecting

Collecting Tray

The children made use of a range of recycled containers, adapting them and adding labels/text as they thought necessary.

Bag of finds

Display case

A week later we all visited the Museum together. For those of you who haven’t been before, the Museum is rich in sensory experiences. It houses redundant local businesses such as a drinks factory and metal workshop, rehoused within the Museum. Objects are present in large quantities, complete with the smell of oil and dust. There are huge stacks of bottles, sets of tools, and an old office that looks as if the person that works there has just popped out.

Museum of Bath at Work

Old bottles in boxes

I first visited the Museum with Ed, our Headteacher, and Catherine, our project Mentor last Autumn, and we had discussed what we felt the children might most be interested in or inspired by. We felt that collections can give us a connection to people’s life stories, their cultures of origin, and can connect your own home patch (in this case Bath/Larkhall) with other places that you have lived or visited. As well as exploring where we felt the project could go, we wanted to give the children the freedom to show us what they were most excited by, this time through the photos, drawings and conversations that came out of our visit.Man at the Museum

Drawing a velosopeed

Back at school, children were asked what they’d like to use to reflect on their experiences of the Museum, and ended up constructing with lego, making large scale drawings or continuing with constructing from recycled materials.

Drawing a machine

Lego Mine

Some children were taken by the quality of light shining through coloured bottles, others by the shapes of the bottles or the mining/quarrying machinery.

Throughout the project we have discussed with the children what they have most enjoyed, and asked them for any ideas as to what we could do next. We have also met after each session as a team (myself, the teachers and where possible, Catherine our mentor), to explore what we feel has been significant and how best to respond to the children’s ideas.

The Secret of Love

At The Museum of Bath at Work there is a machinery workshop that can be activated by pressing a button. a whole room of large, metal machinery gradually comes to life, one section at a time, with accompanying rhythmic clanking and banging. Many of the children found this exciting, and in response I shared with them examples of artwork that moves and makes sounds, including Flying Books Under Black Rain by Rebecca Horn, Marble Machine by Wintergarten and the Strandbeast sculpures made by Theo Jansen. This led to the children working in groups to design and make their own machine or vehicle inspired artwork (other museum favourites were an old car, a velosopeed and a penny farthing) .

Model of a car

We then further built on this, by taking our work outside on the next session, and giving the children a chance to build interconnecting sculptures with the PlayPod large-scale recycled resources. Construction in groups meant that the children had to work together, which some found easier than others. Ideas connected and co-existed and role-play followed.

Building outside

Outdoor Construction

The children had said that they wanted to make work individually or in small groups, and then see how they could join them together to make one big machine, building or city, and we gave them opportunities in this session to do just that. Smaller groups joined and negotiated ways of connecting their sculptures. One of the classes also used drawing to record what they had made together.

Joining sculptures together

Drawing her sculpture

Throughout the project (we have two more sessions with each class left), there has been this dual thread of personal collections, and larger structures that connect, move or make noises. Children have brought their own collections in from home, and local older people (staff who worked at the school previously or the children’s grandparents) have joined us to share the story of their own collections, including Shakespeare related items, holey stones and glass paperweights.

Holey Stones

Holding a paperweight

The teachers have chosen books and stories that explore the relationship between children and older people, collecting and journeys to different places. The children have also made portraits of what they think they will look like when they are 70, and the collections they may have gathered during their lifetime.

Crown collection

The aim is that in between my visits the themes of the project continue to inform the nature and content of the teaching, and that the teachers involved keep me in the loop so that we can plan later sessions together, based on how things have evolved. In practice its not always that easy, often lessons have been planned in advance and staff absences have impacted on the teacher’s workloads, but the children are always at the heart of our work together, and have certainly been inspired by the project and made it their own.

Green collection

And what next? It depends on where the children and teachers take the work before my final sessions with them in June, but we hope to enable the children to explore the links between their personal collections and the wider community more directly. We have talked about going out into Larkhall and recording buildings of significance to them, exploring the roles that they play in their lives as well as how they connect  geographically with school, as we explored the geographical relationship between the school and the Museum on our walk there and in later map-making sessions.

Mapping our walk

Map detail

The children are still interested in working in a way that sees them each making separate parts of a wider whole, so it may be that each child will choose to create a building that reflects their place in the local community. Whether it’s their home, their Dad’s shop or where they go to ballet, it could also act as a physical container for their stories and collections, which when brought as a group would create their own multi-layered representation of where they live and learn.