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!




Just So Festival 2012: Away with the Fairies, The Tent of Surprise

After a long and lovely weekend working at the Just So festival at Rode Hall Parkland Cheshire, I've finally found some time to load up a few pictures.

Hidden in enchanted woodland, 'Away with the Fairies', my Tent of Surprise revealed a paper forest (literally!) growing inside the tent. With baskets filled with surprises to rummage through, families were able to explore objects through all the senses. Torches revealed paper-cut shadows and bugs (both imaginary and real!), pots of perfumes or potions conjured up responses, emotions and memories, children listened out for noises and the feely basket was full of surprises - including a real frog that had accidentally landed in there and gone to sleep! Perhaps it was the fairy queen who had been out casting spells...



'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.


Pre-Raphaelite Experiment Project videos - currently being exhibited at Manchester Art Gallery

Just a quickie... To see the video for the Pre-Raphaelite Experiment project, worked on with Crumpsall Sure Start Children's Centre and Manasamitra, click here:

It's currently being exhibited in Gallery 6, First Floor of Manchester Art Gallery, along with other project work!


Also, please click on this link to see this lovely video of work carried out in the Far, Far Away story world / exhibition space during the summer:


The Pre-Raphaelite Experiment - Beginnings of a Visual Arts & Dance Project, Manchester Art Gallery

Playing with Paper

Playing with Paper

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been working alongside dancer Shrikant Subramaniam from the Yorkshire-based artist-led organisation Manasamitra, to develop and deliver a project at Manchester Art Gallery. Combining my passion for exploring, manipulating and playing with paper and Shrikant's exploration of dance, we aim to work with a group of young children (0-2 years) and their parents and carers, to develop and perform a visual story in response to a selected Pre-Raphaelite painting.

Currently showing at Manchester Art Gallery, The Pre-Raphaelite Experiment is an evolving exhibition project space, which aims to re-interpret key Pre-Raphaelite paintings from the gallery's permanent collection, through the eyes of Manchester residents. It seeks to question whether paintings such as William Holman Hunt's 'The Hireling Shepherd' (1851), James Collinson's 'Anwering the Emigrant's Letter' (1850),  John Everett Millais' 'Autumn Leaves' (1856) and Dante Gabriel Rosseti's 'Bower Meadow' (1850-72) are still relevant to today's audiences. It also attempts to focus on the radical spirit of the Pre-Raphaelite paintings and examine their concerns in relation to modern society, depicting landscapes and remaining true to nature. To visit the gallery page click here:

During our first meeting with the group of parents and children at Crumpsall Children's Centre, we introduced different visual art and movement activities. We also introduced the gallery and the Pre-Raphaelite paintings we would see through photographs and a short game. The following week the group visited the gallery for the first time and we were able to get a sense of their interests as they looked at different artworks. We were also able to gauge the young children's initial responses to the gallery spaces and artworks.

It was clear that Holman Hunt's 'The Hireling Shepherd' was a painting that the group found easiest to engage with, particularly as it is full of details and symbolism and was the most colourful and bright in the gallery space. The painting itself shows a young shepherd, perhaps hired help, who has abandoned his flock of sheep as he seems to flirt with a young maiden in a meadow. Perhaps he tells a superstitious tale, whilst holding a Death's-head moth close to the maiden. On one hand the young woman seems passive, on the other sceptical or suspicious. Meanwhile a lamb sits on her lap munching an apple, whilst the rest of the flock wander off into a corn field.

When stepping up close to the painting, we can see that Hunt wanted to idealise the English rural setting as the attention to details in nature are astonishing. Grass, plants, trees and flowers are painstakingly painted and the different animals (sheep, lambs, birds, insects) are as much part of the English countryside, as they are part of Hunt's symbolic criticism of the English church at that time. The scene itself seems rather chaotic and ambiguous as the sheep appear windswept and neglected and the relationship between the shepherd and the dishevelled maiden is unclear. What will the visiting group make of the story in the painting and how will this be interpreted by children of such a young age?

Interactive Laboratory - Family Learning

Situated in the Clore Interactive Gallery at Manchester Art Gallery, myself and other artists have developed and run a number of creative weekend workshops, over the past year or so. The aim of the Interactive Laboratory was to stimulate family learning, through engaging with key artworks, themes and promoting creative activity on the gallery floor. Many families come to Manchester Art Gallery specifically because of the Clore Interactive Gallery, which is great for hands-on fun. As some of the exhibits in this space had been taken out to be re-developed, this provided room for hands-on experimentation elsewhere. 



The 'Midas Touch' Project, St Helens 2009 - 2010

The 'Midas Touch' was a pilot project developed to run for four weeks in St. Helens, Merseyside throughout March 2010. It was inspired by the ReMida project, a creative recycling centre linked to the Reggio Emilia approach in northern Italy. Funded by the Find Your Talent programme, the Midas Touch project was initially piloted as a 'Tent of Objects' at the St. Helens festival by artist Claire Weetman. Along with Project Leader, Nick Owen, Claire went on to manage the second phase of the project which we developed as the Midas Touch and involved the collaboration between an Early Years Practitioner, Laura Grindley and a Collaborative Artist (myself).

The project took place in a former clothes boutique located in St. Helens town centre over the course of 4 weeks. The team worked closely with local businesses and organisations to source recycled and reusable materials. Support was also provided by National Museums Liverpool to ensure the venue was well-equipped and fit for use as a community workshop space. The Midas Touch team worked together to make the space their own and created a storage area for materials which were cleaned and made safe for use.

The aim was to use such recycled, 'ordinary' materials and objects in a way that was open-ended and participant-led. As opposed to the practice of 'junk modelling', the intention was to introduce materials and objects as tools of play, work and learning. The Midas Touch programme intended to uncover the extraordinary in the ordinary - to provoke a sense of curiosity, awe and wonder in the everyday lives of its participants.

In total, seven groups attended once a week for four weeks. Groups came from various children's/ community centres and primary schools across St. Helens. As part of a collaborative team, Laura, the Early Years Professional and I developed themes based on identified materials which we linked to learning goals within the Early Years Foundation Stage. Week 1 concentrated on 'Plastics', which involved introducing a number of objects and items made out of this material. The following week, the same materials were laid out, alongside new materials: 'Wood & Metal'. This continued so that in Week 3, we introduced 'Natural Materials' and finally in Week 4, 'Black and White' Materials.

Participants engaged with these materials in ways which were sometimes predictable and other times completely unexpected and wildly imaginative. From simply tipping, sorting, collecting and arranging to using real tools, creating musical instruments and using objects in different spaces as complex props for role-play and fantasy scenarios, the children took the adults on a learning journey and provided a valuable insight into their world of play.

Comments from adults were as follows:

"I loved the approach. I believe it's how children should learn in an ideal world - exploring their own ideas. We are there to scaffold that learning." (Reception Teacher)

"Why do we spend lots of money on expensive resources and things like dressing-up clothes when children have such vivid imaginations and are so creative? Practitioners and parents/carers need to see this project to see the importance of developing their children's skills in this way... Everyday materials + freedom = LEARNING." (Learning Development Officer)

"There was so much talking going on. Excellent way to promote language development... Great imagination." (Teacher)

What I noticed..

"The confidence - how it has grown... and the LANGUAGE." (Teacher)

"Given us lots of food for thought. We'll look to set up similar activities at the centre." (Community Group Leader)

What I would change..

"The group should be longer than 4 weeks." (Parent)

"To develop / continue at school, so more children can enjoy the experience." (Teaching Assistant)




Chester Performs, Roam the Rows Festival: Postcards from the Edge

This project aimed to encourage participants and festival visitors of all ages to explore, document and record Chester in different ways. It provided the opportunity to try out new ways of defining place - making images, drawings and developing narratives which were then turned into a series of postcard images.

I worked with two groups, a mixed class of Y3 & 4 pupils at Tushingham with Grindley Primary School in Shropshire, and also a youth group based at Save the Family in North Wales. Interestingly, my project plan was submitted before I knew who I was going to work with as the idea was for different groups to choose the project they most liked the sound of. This is different to how I would normally work as I believe it is useful to plan a project in collaboration with a particular group of participants.

I was hoping to work with a group who were based near Chester as I had been given the brief of responding to the city centre and its surroundings. I hadn't expected to work with groups who were positioned in more isolated, rural areas and this, perhaps, changed the dynamic of the project, particularly as my aims had been to work with participants to explore their city and its people, buildings, sights, sounds, textures, stories, etc. The emphasis of the project was to document with cameras, drawings, mark-making, charcoal rubbings, sound recorders to capture words and sounds. However, time to explore surroundings was limited, and cameras were also in short supply. Despite this, I feel that participants from both groups responded well to the task and captured some interesting snapshots of their surroundings, in order to

Time was spent with both groups, photographing the outdoor areas surrounding each group base and themes were co-developed as focal points for pointing and shooting. We were incredibly fortunate to be able to organise transport for the youth group from Save the Family to visit Chester one morning. It was here that I met a rather excited group of people, ready to hit the streets.

Their first task was to find some people to interview and photograph. Then to collect images which related to a particular theme such as 'close-up', 'people', 'in the crowd', 'words and signs', 'window displays', 'buildings', etc. You can see a sample of these images taken (see above). Unfortunately, the multitude of great shots taken couldn't be uploaded onto this blog!

The pupils from Tushingham-with-Grindley primary school spent time documenting their outdoor areas, taking photos and tracing textures on different surfaces using graphite and o represent where they lived to their exchange partners in France. Initially, they worked on their own and then, as larger pieces of lining paper were placed on their tables, they began to explore different ways of designing images with a partner or in a slightly larger group. They began to create their own imaginary maps of their town (or ideal town). The images were later photographed and the children also wanted to be photographed holding their work outside.

The final part of the second day was spent creating models of a particular building or place which could be put together to create a model town out of recycled cardboard boxes. The imagination really did get to work here, as the children created a zoo and a shark-infested football player's swimming pool (out of a Kleenex tissue box), a toxic waste disposal centre, 'Harry's Hotel' and a carefully considered bungalow, to name but a few!

Finally all the work was captured on camera and selected to create postcard images which somehow recorded these different responses and explorations. The postcards were pegged to washing lines along the rows on Watergate Street and lining paper, blank postcards and different drawing tools were provided for visitors to add their own ideas, drawings, messages to the ever-evolving installation.