Nature in the City

Here's the final episode of spending time developing 'nature spaces' in darkened cupboard-like rooms listening to recordings of birds twittering away in forests! 

Yesterday evening's Thursday Late: Nature in the City at Manchester Art Gallery was a celebration of all the hard work carried out on the Thomas Horsfall Project with two schools (see previous blog posts) to create an interpretation guide and film for the Art for All: Thomas Horsfall's Gift to Manchester exhibition. It was also the chance for visitors to participate in art activities inspired by nature and also find out more about the exhibition and gallery roof garden!

I was tucked away in a (usually hidden) room right within the main entrance of the gallery. I created an immersive Plant Space, which encouraged people to try out drawing challenges and dispel the myth that 'they couldn't draw'. The specially created environment transformed a rather corporate-looking meeting room into an intimate, comfortable nature-inspired space! I wanted to encourage people to spend time looking and observing details within plants and natural objects under spotlights, while relaxing to a soothing forest soundtrack in a cosy, atmospheric space. 

Thanks to Emma Carroll, Joanne Davies & Meg Parnell for all their support on the projects!

A Study of Nature and Beauty

At last, the children's work is up - as a mini exhibition in their school!

Using Andrew MacCallum's painting Oak Trees in Sherwood Forest (1877), as a starting point for key themes and inspiration, I spent four days working with two reception classes at Norris Bank Primary School. The project was organised by Manchester Art Gallery as part of a wider project responding to the current Art for All: Thomas Horsfall's Gift to Manchester exhibition. 

Working with both classes, we explored lines, shapes, silhouettes and details of plants and leaves and turned these into drawings and paper cuts which were brought together to make the 'forest come alive' in a storage cupboard in the school! We also created some beautiful mixed media artworks to explore colour, light, transparency, textures and mini worlds. 

The project explored a number of contrasts:

bringing the outdoors in vs. extending the classroom outdoors

light & dark

light, air, sky (above) vs. texture, surfaces, ground (below)

man-made vs. natural materials

Artist Patricia Mountford also worked with Year One pupils to explore and classify materials to make sculptures, responding to the artwork The Carline Thistle as part of a study of Surrey Wild Flowers by Elizabeth Redgrave.

I now just have one more space I need to convert into a 'forest' tomorrow for Manchester Art Gallery's Thursday Lates, Nature in the City

Spotlight on Nature

Here's a taster of work produced this week and last with 2 reception classes at Norris Bank Primary School, Heaton Norris - in preparation for a school art exhibition next week with Manchester Art Gallery. I've been working to create an indoor 'forest' hidden in a school store cupboard and will install an outdoor installation of children's work. Let's hope the sun stays out!

I've had lots of fun and the children have been absolutely ace to work with, as usual. 


...more to come soon... [:^D

Another Dimension

I've just had a fun afternoon in the new Clore Art Studio at Manchester Art Gallery. How time flies! Our installation has been taken down and the space has been re-developed by artist Sarah Bridgland. Sarah exhibited two beautiful artworks in the First Cut exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery in 2012. She has since developed ideas to create a space where people can engage and interact with her process and practice. The work also makes connections to influences within the new neighbouring Sculptural Forms exhibition.

As part of the new installation, plinths of modulated heights are arranged in a grid formation. In the centre of the grid, a table with compartments of different coloured, paper shapes can be taken out by visitors and endlessly placed and composed upon the plinths.

Studio Saturdays invites different artists such as myself to pop in and create an intervention which relates to our own interests and practice. My intervention (pictured above) is mirrored shapes and cameras and I'm particularly interested in how this can alter the way people arrange their compositions and also document them, as the mirror opens up a new world of reflections, symmetry and oppositions. The mirror also provides further opportunities for the imagination as younger visitors place it in their composition as a portal to a mirror-image world. In this world, things may seem alike, although appearances can be deceptive! 

Studio Sketchbook

I've been guest-blogging elsewhere too! Click here for my post on Manchester Art Gallery's Studio Sketchbook blog. 

A Space for Curiosity and Free Play

After a long period of planning, research, studio time, workshops, material sourcing, installation, documentation, delivery and reflection (phew!), I am uploading my experience of working on the new Clore Art Studio at Manchester Art Gallery. Working in collaboration with fellow artists (and partners in crime) Sarah Marsh, Katy McCall and Family Learning Manager Alex Thorp, we created and produced the Clore Art Studio, a playful, interactive space which took initial inspiration from Grayson Perry's current exhibition The Vanity of Small Differences. For more information about the exhibition click here. The process behind Grayson Perry's work can also be viewed in his Channel 4 documentary In the Best Possible Taste (still available online on 4OD). 

Our brief was not to develop a direct interpretation or response to Grayson Perry's tapestries. Nor was it about creating a learning experience that attempted to 'educate others' and explain the concepts, processes and ideas behind Grayson Perry's work. It was more significant for us to respond as individual artists, distilling visual or aesthetic elements of Perry's work which related to our own practice and interests.

In addition, the intention was to create a space that would provide opportunities for free play, open-ended interaction, conversation and inter-generational activity, whilst at the same time making connections to Grayson Perry's exhibition in the neighbouring gallery . 

To develop this space, Sarah and I initially tested out our creative ideas and activities on a class of 5-6 year olds from St Augustine's Primary School, Monsall, Manchester. Workshops took place over one week, allowing us to develop themes, processes and a wish list of materials, resources and structures. Sarah was interested in 'lines' and I focused on the interplay of objects, colour and sorting. These themes were all pulled out as conceptual strands from Grayson Perry's tapestries, during our initial planning meetings.

As the week of research progressed, we began to understand the ways children could totally pull apart, deconstruct and re-figure a theme or idea! With this in mind, we needed to create a space that could provide endless opportunities for interaction with a number of robust, appealing objects and materials within an equally engaging, unbreakable installation framework. At this point, Katy came on board to lend her wisdom to the positioning and installation of tables, storage, furniture and objects. 

The end result was a deconstructed version of Perry's world of furniture and colourful, domestic objects in a vibrant, quirky installation. In his work, Perry suggests that different household objects and interiors are indicators of a particular class taste and identity, but what happens when children are placed into such a space? At what age does a child begin to demonstrate a sense of taste and a preference for one item over another?  And why? Would children even place such meanings and values over a particular object or would their response be completely 'innocent' and untainted in relation to adult-oriented notions of class taste and identity? 

In the Clore, a storage unit fashioned out of reclaimed deep, blue crates displayed an arrangement of enticing, colourful, domestic, pound shop items, textiles and ribbons laid out ready for play. White, deconstructed furniture provided a framework for play and interaction within the space. Opposite, a drawing table was laden with silverware and looping lines of words, which encouraged people to look at and choose objects to draw in a continuous line. Meanwhile, key words were positioned around the space, prompting action: wrap, stack, sort, shadows, line, patterns, twist, weave, hide, same, different, etc. Meanwhile, on the side walls, photographs of children from St Augustines were displayed, facing old TV monitors with films of children playing within the studio space.

To follow-up on the installation of the space, we were invited to facilitate artist-led interventions within the studio during the weekends, while a team of volunteers were trained to maintain and run the space throughout the week. The studio became a lively, popular place for visitors of all ages and many observations were kept of the variety of weird and wonderful interactions and happenings witnessed over the four months! All in all, it was a rather, wacky, ambitious and fun project to be involved with, once the inital stress of rushed installation deadlines was out of the way!! 

For more information, see Manchester Art Gallery's Studio Sketchbook blog. Click here for a write-up by Alex Thorp and also click here for my Top 10 observations working in the Clore!

Art for All: the Thomas Horsfall Project

'..probably one of the best ways of increasing our happiness would be to train us to notice some of the great quantity of  beauty on which the eyes of all of us rest...' 

'A Study of Beauty', Thomas Horsfall, 1883


Thomas Horsfall (1844-1932) was a philanthropist and art lover who collected over 1700 artworks and objects which he displayed in his Manchester Art Museum which opened in 1877. His aim was to bring beauty, through nature and art, to those who were less fortunate and had few opportunities to experience it in their daily lives. He was also a pioneer of art gallery education as he ambitiously programmed a variety of public classes, performances and events within the museum. Horsfall also established one of the first art loan schemes to schools. He was therefore certainly a pioneer, given that he did this well over 100 years ago!

Horsfall's museum in Ancoats eventually closed down and became part of Manchester Art Gallery's collection in 1953. Parts of the Horsfall collection can now be seen in an exhibition Art For All: Thomas Horsfall's Gift to Manchester, which was co-curated with children from St Augustine's CE Primary School, Harpurhey, close to the original museum site. This exhibition also features artworks and a film made by the children and artist Pat Mountford, filmmaker Jess Wild and sound producer Dan Beesley from Wild Bees Production. For more information about the exhibition click here. Also click here for the curator's blog.

As a second phase to the project, I was asked to work alongside 3 other artists to each explore a formal element within art: line & shape, form & composition (space, perspective), texture & pattern, tone (light) & colour (hue, value, intensity). This exploration would occur with two school groups from two contrasting areas around the city. This process of investigation and work produced will then be turned into a gallery interpretation guide for visitors and also a film.  

I was asked to select an artwork from the exhibition which I felt most exemplified my assigned formal elements: tone and colour and this was to be the starting point of a series of workshops working with Goostrey Community Primary, Cheshire and Manchester Communication Academy, Harpurhey. After a few days reflection and decision-making, I chose Andrew MacCallum's Oak Trees in Sherwood Forest, 1877, which I think is screaming with examples of tone and colour through my interest of light and shadow!

As my practice is concerned with creating immersive environments, I wanted to focus on bringing the world of the artwork to life in some way. I also wanted to use different lighting and sound to create a natural environment that would encourage the children to 'zoom in' and feel confident to explore details of colour, tone, light and shadow within nature. I also wanted to engage the groups with different drawing and mark-making techniques to free themselves from the fear of not being "good at drawing", which can often be the case.  

I turned up at both schools with a wheelie bag filled with plants, lamps, art materials and a recording of bird sounds and set up an atmospheric 'art studio' to encourage a simple study of nature through observational drawings - something I have to admit, I haven't done for a long time myself! I also then paved the way for a path into abstraction as we began to hunt for shadows cast by the natural forms and explored layering techniques with different materials ,such as tracing paper and acetate.  

The process provoked much discussion about freedom vs. control, and how certain challenges encouraged the groups to really look and observe the details, without the pressure of having to do something 'perfectly'. Teachers also commented on the way the specially created environment encouraged a heightened level of concentration and focus for both groups (year 6 and year 9). 

Watch this space for news on the guide and film that is to be produced and can be accessed when visiting the exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery! 

Our Exhibition, Tate Liverpool

Working as Early Years and Families Learning Curator at Tate Liverpool alongside my job-share Katy McCall, I have been involved in developing an Early Years partnership project with two children's centre / nursery groups in Liverpool. After a year of the project, we hosted an exhibition which showcased the different ways we have so far worked with young children, their adults and artists at Tate Liverpool. Our research question is 'how do we make visible children's learning at Tate Liverpool'?

The exhibition took place in the Art Dock studio and was open to the public for a week in June. It featured artworks made by the children, insightful quotes, documentation of the project and interactive, playful exhibits that visitors could engage with. The event was opened as a celebration day for all the children, staff and parents who participated in the project. 

Here's a glimpse of the exhibition during a quiet interval after the crowd of children and parents had left...

For more information, about the Families learning programme at Tate Liverpool, click here.

Mini Art Club at 60

Mini Art Club at Manchester Art Gallery is still going strong at 60! Well, it's probably a lot more than 60 as we actually run the same session twice every second Friday of the month. The session has certainly evolved and progressed since I first started running the session in June 2008 ... that's five years ago!

Here are a selection of pictures taken from Mini Art Club over the past few months. Sessions responded to Cyprien Gaillard's video The Smithsons, Kelley Walker's Dreams Without Frontiers exhibition, Paul Nash's Nocturnal Landscape and Marion Adnan's The Living Tree. We incorporated themes such as 'cityscapes', grids, musical dimensions and surrealist landscapes and dream spaces. 

Many thanks to everyone who helped support and run each large-scale installation and session.

Click here for the latest on Manchester Art Gallery Family workshops.

The Early Years Foundation Stage, Theory and Practice - Out Now!

An essential guide to understanding the current EYFS in England.

After carrying out work on the ground-breaking Midas Touch project in St Helens, Merseyside in 2010, I was invited to co-author a chapter on young children's creative development within the English Early Years Foundation Stage. The Early Years Foundation Stage: Theory and Practice, Second Editionedited by Ioanna Palaiologou (Sage, 2013) has now been published and is available to buy online and in good book stores!

Chapter 22: Creative Development, focuses on developing creative practice in Early Years settings and provides an insight into what is needed to develop creativity within young children. It suggests that creativity should extend to all areas of learning (not just art and design). It also uses the Midas Touch project as a case study for collaborative practice between Early Years practitioners and artists, considering Reggio Emilia's ReMida approach in Italy as an inspiration to the project.

The book is fully recommended as 'an ideal resource for students and practitioners undertaking any Early Years or Early Childhood studies course'. It is also, I feel, essential reading for anyone working with young children in informal learning and cultural institutions.