Building A Bridge of Books

I'm currently immersed in a new project at Tate Liverpool, working hard to bring the world of children's stories and Tate Collection artworks alive! As part of the Liverpool City of Readers initiative, I'm working with artist-educator Denise Wright, filmmaker Jake Ryan and groups of young children and their adults to create narratives and stories, inspired by children's books, artworks, gallery spaces and materials in the studio. For my first session, I installed a story den in the Clore Learning Studio which became our base for story-telling and making. This initiated the beginnings of our adventures to discover a 'strange land' in the galleries as children encountered artworks, installations, puppets, props and provocations to create narratives based on their experiences. Back in the studio, children explored materials which they could use to create costumes or make models and props for their story.

The project will culminate in an exhibition and celebration day in the Clore Learning Centre in November. Check out my guest blog post on the Tate Kids website.

  

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!

Lime Art: the Art Works, Wigan

The Art Works was the second phase of a community arts project working on behalf of Lime Art. I worked with textile / surface designer and educator Hazel Hewitt to engage a group of adults who attend a weekly job club at a college in Wigan. The aim was to create a programme of weekly evening sessions, to provide the opportunity for job club attendees to learn new creative skills, increase their confidence and co-produce a community outdoor artwork.

Our workshops quickly evolved into a creative, drop-in social space for a number of core participants. As opposed to taught sessions, it became clear that participants wanted to try out new techniques such as printing, mark-making, sewing, paper-construction, etc. The project evolved as a safe space to express feelings and personal issues through creative activity, rather than work in a prescriptive manner to create an end product. The approach was participant-led as it emerged that each participant had a particular idea or interest and wanted to develop this individually.

As an example, one participant who was initially reluctant to join, revealed a former interest in photographing local landscapes, building dry stone walls and making charcoal! His enthusiasm and confidence increased as he brought shoe boxes full of photos to sort through, edit and select. We facilitated this process of editing, selecting and curating an exhibition of photos. We also suggested ways to mount, frame and potentially sell the photos, encouraging him to recognise the value and quality of his photographic 'hobby'.

Although aimed at adults only, a couple of dads decided to bring their children along to the sessions. This altered the dynamic of the group as the children were energetic, easily excited and enthusiastic to try out lots of different things. They confidently worked their way through the range of materials in a more exploratory manner. It was perhaps a good thing that there were two artist-facilitators present as it meant that we could take turns to engage/work with the children, whilst the other could give more attention to the adults, who regularly asked for one-to-one assistance.

We felt that we only touched on the surface of what we could offer in terms of developing individualised projects. Unfortunately the programme of sessions didn't seem enough for the group to really become absorbed. Project momentum picked up halfway through and participants couldn't always arrive on time or attend every session. At the end, participants expressed their desire for the sessions to continue as a regular, social, drop-in creative space - a place where they could work, talk and have lots of tea and biscuits! It also became clear that they felt like things were suddenly ending, just as they were building confidence to engage, try new things and take risks.

The programme of activities followed on from another project led by artist Johnny Woodhams during the summer, in which another group worked together to create plans and artworks for an outdoor shelter to be installed within the local community area. This group will be building and installing an outdoor gazebo, which will function as a shelter, alternative gallery/performance and multi-purpose space within a community garden. The structure is due to be installed in spring 2013 and it is hoped that, from this, the groups will come together in order to decide on a programme of creative, community activity.... watch this space!

 

Links:

http://www.limeart.org/

http://www.hazelhewitt.com/

http://www.johnnywoodhams.co.uk/

 

Mini Art Club is 50!

We've just had our 50th Mini Art Club... and what a morning!

As part of the 'We Face Forward' summer programme, we responded to artist Nnenna Okore's work 'Where Heaven Meets the Earth', concentrating on the theme of decay and transformation. Materials to be explored and transformed were a variety of recycled papers, different consistencies and types of clay, as well as natural materials such as hessian, twine, vegetables and spices!

Okore is particularly concerned with re-using and transforming materials, working into them using a variety of techniques to test the limits of each material as it deconstructs, falls apart, decays, fades, changes colour, etc. We attempted to explore this laying out a wet clay and natural dye room with paper and also a dark, shadowy paper room. To complement and extend this further, dancer, percussionist and musician Danny Henry interpreted key words (such as rip, stamp, fold) through a series of beats, rhythms and movement - much to the delight of everyone involved! It was really insightful to work with such a diverse and experimental performer who instinctively understood the ethos of Mini Art Club.

Such a great way to celebrate our 50th session!

N.B. Lo-fi mini vid clips hopefully coming up soon!

Links:

http://www.nnennaokore.com/

http://www.wefaceforward.org/venues/manchester-art-gallery

http://www.wefaceforward.org/artists/nnenna-okore

http://www.facebook.com/ManchesterArtGallery#

http://www.mancky.co.uk/?p=3896

 

 

'What is Home?' Installation at the Avents Factory

Here are some lovely pictures taken of an installation space produced with young people from Crewe YMCA at the Avents Factory, Axis Centre, MMU Crewe last Saturday. Our installation responded to the question 'What is Home?' and took plenty of hard work to fill a large drama studio space at the Axis Centre.

The project aimed to invite people to participate in a workshop led by Crewe YMCA, asking participants to think about different aspects of 'home' and what it means to them.

Groups of up to 20 participants entered the workshop space and after the last workshop, we had just under two hours to turn the space into an installation complete with a film of the day by Mark Haig. The installation featured a 'shadow wall' entrance into our space, a comfy living room area complete with sound recordings, smells and people's memories, a 'dream couch' area filled with origami, a candle-lit washing line with life tips and advice, a large painting of people's ideas about where they see their future home, and a life-size shelter in which people had answered the question 'what is home?'

Despite the long days and sleepless nights thinking about what I needed to do and waking up early to write lists, I really enjoyed working on the project. I think we really managed to pull the installation together through good ideas and team work, even though we had very little time to get things done!

Here's a big, homely thank you to the young people, Chad Healey and Rachel Miller at Crewe YMCA for all their great ideas and hard work. Thanks also to Mark Haig for creating the film and making and manning a Punch & Judy set last minute! Also thanks to the technicians for helping us sort out the space and finally many thanks to Paul Hine for inviting me to be part of his Avents Factory.

Links:

http://www.theaventsfactory.org/index.html

http://www.creweymca.com/

http://www.axisartscentre.org.uk/home/

http://www.myspace.com/video/mark/mark-haig-applied-visual-artists-showreel/17902148

Paper Worlds & Colourful, Musical Meadows - The Pre-Raphaelite Experiment

How do we engage very young children with collections of art in art galleries?

This was the question I have been attempting to answer, working on the Pre-Raphaelite experiment project with Ruth Edson and Manasamitra at Manchester Art Gallery.

Working with a very lively group of 0-2 year olds and their parents and carers, it was evident that the children were very keen to explore movement, space, sound and materials in the art gallery. This presented a challenge when visiting the Pre-Raphaelite Experiment gallery to see the four exhibited paintings, in particular, our selected painting 'The Hireling Shepherd' by William Holman-Hunt. We aimed to work with the children to develop a child-led story inspired by the painting, although it was clear that the children were keen to explore the rest of the spaces, running through the long walkways of the gallery, rather than spending a lot of time in front of the painting.

Dancer Shrikant worked on interpreting key elements from the painting into gestures and movement, dancing to music and drum rhythms. This was often introduced in the studio in a group circle before beginning a short journey upstairs up to the exhibition space to visit the painting each session. Here I would offer different paper props to bring a sensory element to movement, as the children could rip, scrunch, throw, blow and even smell scented paper as a way of bringing the painting to life as they moved.

Then the group would come back down to the studio to further explore my carefully created paper environment, incorporated with music and movement. This also included exploring shape and shadows through the inclusion of a thin, cloth projection screen and overhead projector.

Of course, we had to include wet materials and paint too, and this was a great way of combining mark-making with movement and music. It also provided inspiration for our performance of 'Dancing Through the Meadow' as the children began to associate colours and textures with landscapes and journeys, dipping our feet into the 'water' or 'pond', following 'train tracks' across the meadow, feeling the soft wool of the 'sheep' and looking for 'birds','fish' and 'flowers'.

It was really important to work with teacher Jenny who was able to identify what elements of the session would work, when making plans for the following week. The children needed to engage with songs and nursery rhymes that were familiar to them. This helped when Shrikant was encouraging the children to dance and move, as they were much more responsive to familiar music. It was useful to meet at the end of each session as a way of reflecting on children's activity and interests, which would then feed into the next session.

The 'Hireling Shepherd' provided the starting point and then the backdrop to creating a multi-sensory world of beats, smells, colour, paper textures, music, movement and giant mark-making meadows. A visit to the painting in the gallery each week reinforced the focus of activity, whilst the studio downstairs provided a safe space for creative exploration of different materials and art forms.

Coming soon: the 'Dancing Through the Meadow' project video!