Reflective Forms

Mirror, mirror on the wall...

I've been following a bit of an abstracted, reflective theme over the past couple of months!

Here's a link to some Mini Art Club mirror-like fun at Manchester Art Gallery

Read about what we got up to here!

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

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!

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 local children's centre community 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...

To see a video that show what I've been up to working both as Artist-Educator and EYF Learning Curator, click here and scroll down to Tate Liverpool's video!  

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.

London in a day - Yoko Ono, Bauhaus, and the Art Fund Prize 2012! recovering from a random, last-minute art gallery-packed day down in London! The Serpentine Gallery 

First, a long walk from Knightsbridge and through Hyde Park to the Serpentine Gallery to see Yoko Ono's latest show 'To the Light' which opened yesterday. The exhibition features a variety of installations, films, photos and archive material - threaded together by an accompanying sound piece of bird cries and ambiguous heartbeats.

The central piece Amaze 1971 invites viewers to take their shoes off and lose themselves within a disorientating maze of clear perspex, which simultaneously serves the purpose of revealing the participants to the rest of the gallery. The installation seeks to reveal the viewer as the 'viewed', as the participant struggles through the space, unsure of whether they are about to hit a wall as subtle reflections confuse their sense of space. Finally, the lost viewer finds or 're-discovers' themselves once more as their reflection is revealed in a small, cubic water well at the centre of the piece.

Elsewhere, the world distorts as the viewer encounters suggestive objects, such as a ladder leading up to a suspended magnifying glass. The seemingly overlooked soldiers' helmets filled with jigsaw pieces of a blue sky also provide a sad testament - rather heartbreaking on reflection. Perhaps the lost blue skies can be found on the 'Sky TV' in another room where a plasma screen transports us to a flat, one-dimensional, filmed sky. Ono leaves a trail of suggestive notes here, telling us that the ceiling is, in fact, 'the floor' and the floor 'is the ceiling', or is it?

I also practically walked into Yoko Ono as she was being accompanied out of the Serpentine's learning studio towards the new Pavilion - in preparation for her talk, in conversation with Waldemar Januszczak in the warm, dark, cork-filled, sensory pavilion designed by architects Herzog and de Meuron and artist-activist Ai Weiwei!



Then it was on to the Barbican's current Bauhaus: Art as Life exhibition, an in-depth portrayal of the Bauhaus movement and manifesto - the UK's biggest Bauhaus exhibition in over 40 years. At first slightly hesitant to enter a world of rigid architecture, geometry and colour theory I did, however, become quickly immersed. The Bauhaus vision of utopia is hopeful and appealing as creativity, imagination, play, celebration, community and shared identity are emphasised as key ideals in a movement that blossomed and then dissolved in the dawn of the Second World War. The path through the exhibition provided a comprehensive timeline of the Bauhaus movement, but the curated space, did not seem to capture enough of the playful, free spirit of the movement. This was to be found, instead, in the close examination of small archive photographs and photograms, prints, drawings and paintings.


After being properly immersed in the world of Bauhaus, it was a mad dash to the British Museum to the Art Fund Prize 2012 award ceremony! The two prize categories were The Art Fund Prize for Museums and Galleries - Museum of the Year 2012 and, also, The Clore Award for Museum Learning 2012.

And the winners were....

Museum of the Year 2012 - Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery (although I was rooting for and had my fingers crossed for the Hepworth, the team have achieved a tremendous amount over such a short space of time and were favourites to win).

Clore Award for Museum Learning 2012 - joint winners Leicestershire County Council Heritage & Arts Service - Held in the Hand and Touch Tables and also... the Whitworth Art Gallery/ Manchester Museum / Manchester Art Gallery with the Manchester Early Years Partnerships!! The early years initiative began over 5-6 years ago through the Creative Collaboration projects in Sure Start Children's Centres and rippled out to the galleries which provide innovative sessions as part of a core offer for the early years, where 'children lead the way'! It has all come a long way and our Mini Art Club session at Manchester Art Gallery will turn 50 next month - yes, that's the 50th session!

To read more about the shortlists:

To hear/read about the winner of the Art Fund Prize 2012:



'Catalyst' Teachers' CPD day at the Chinese Arts Centre, Manchester

Working with artist and textile designer Hazel Hewitt, we developed and delivered a teacher's 'toolbox' training event as part of the 'Catalyst' teacher training programme for the Prince's Foundation for Children and the Arts. The training day took place at the Chinese Arts Centre, Manchester and was specifically aimed at encouraging Key Stage 2 teachers to try out different Visual Arts and Drama activities in the classroom. It also aimed to demonstrate ways in which teachers could work with contemporary art in galleries and visit spaces like the Chinese Arts Centre, as an additional site of learning.

For the first part of our session, Hazel and I asked the teachers to spend time in the current Chen Man contemporary photography exhibition. We initiated various activities to get teachers looking at the artwork and engaging with it, such as word games, drawing games, etc. We also demonstrated ways the teachers could use the work of Chen Man as the starting point for discussion and generating ideas, before carrying out practical work.

Hazel and I both initially found Chen Man's work quite challenging to respond to. However, as we and also the teachers realised, the more time we spent looking at her photographs, the more intriguing and multi-layered they revealed themselves to be. Contrasting themes began to emerge as we spent more time viewing the work from different perspectives and discussing this with different people. By the end of this part of the session, the teachers felt more prepared to begin the practical activities, in which we challenged them to create paper costumes for each other, and also asked them to explore a variety of layering techniques.

The main focus of the workshop had been to allow teachers the opportunity to explore different materials and processes and, also, think about how they could incorporate some of these techniques or ideas, either in their own practice or in the classroom. This was complemented by a drama workshop delivered by Sarah Clough from Griffin Theatre Arts in the afternoon.

We asked the teachers to play a surrealist story game with each other as a way of interpreting Chen Man's work (below). They had to think about who was in each artwork, the landscape and the mood or personality of the model in the photo, passing their paper on to somebody else each time. Please also scroll down to read their feedback in relation to the workshop.

'Consequence' Game Responses to Chen Man's work:

"Jade - Scottish Highlands - Peaceful and Confident"

"A teenage girl called Clementine - In the Mountains in a faraway land - Happy, Free"

"Jewel, the Ice Princess - Ice Palace of  Snow Queen - Powerful"

"Mi ice - Iceland, Mountains, ice, water, quiet, deserted - Bitter and in need of revenge"

"Sparkle - Beneath the surface of a frozen lake - Lost and yearning! Soulful"

"Hena: Western Girl - Stepping through a round window of a traditional house in the mountains - Determined, powerful, controlling, ready to take over"

 "A psychic, omnipotent goddess - Mini sci-fi world - Feeling? Empowered"


Teacher's comments and feedback about the workshop:

"Inspirational, challenging, thought-provoking"

I liked...

"The traffic light system for generating ideas and conversation related to art"

"The northern twist"

"Good to have got to do different activities. Very calming."

I learnt...

"More about digital art"

"Reminded to 'see' rather than just 'look'"

"I learned and gained more understanding of layering"

I was surprised that...

"I both liked and disliked the images - but the exercises made me look again"

"I was surprised that the Chinese Arts Centre had so much contemporary art"

"My picture became so sentimental"

'I could see so much in Chen Man's work' 

"How calming it was"

I would change / do differently..

"Incorporate art through projection / OHP etc."

"Rely less on language. Use more visual skills."

"I will take more risks"

I most enjoyed...

"Calm - loved doing creative activities and being in an art space"

"Creating a piece in response to the gallery"

"Exploring the images in the gallery"

"I enjoyed the hands-on activities"

"I enjoyed the visual impact of the exhibition"

"Making art"


N.B. Keep an eye out for video clip uploads soon!