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/

 

We Face Forward - 'Rags to Riches' @Manchester Art Gallery, Part 1

Phew... I'm on a roll! Here's a selection of images taken in the 'Rags to Riches' summer family workshops at Manchester Art Gallery as part of the We Face Forward festival across Manchester.

Inspired by Nnenna Okore's artwork 'When the Heavens Meet the Earth', we have been challenging ourselves to transform waste materials into wondrous works of art. Okore uses a range of natural materials which she deconstructs, decays, dyes, reforms, etc. She works with natural materials such as paper, clay, burlap and natural dyes.

Over the past couple of weeks in the gallery, we have been focusing on line and form, producing drawings and experimenting with newspaper in the gallery in front of the artwork. Downstairs we've been working with a range of waste materials to create colliograph prints. We also had a lot of fun exploring different ways to shape clay using key words as prompts... what fun!

Links:

http://www.nnennaokore.com/

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

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

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

http://www.manchestergalleries.org/

Mini Art Club: in the heart of the city

This month's 'We Face Forward' Mini Art Club session responded to the artist Piniang's semi-abstract collaged paintings 'Flood in the Suburb 1 and 2' and 'Power Cut in the Suburb'. Piniang (real name Ibrahima Niang) is a multi-media artist who works with a fusion of materials. HIs paintings depict the architecture of Dakar and somehow capture the chaos of an overcrowded city after a flood or power cut. Here, Piniang is concerned with population growth and urban development out of control.

Families visited the exhibition virtually in the dark, accompanied by the frenetic beat of the drum played by Danny Henry. We then headed down to the studio to mark-make and explore various recycled materials, focusing on the colour palette in Piniang's work. We later constructed (and knocked down) a fragile cardboard city, and danced to the beat of a chaotic city, led by the amazingly versatile Danny.

What a fast, colourful, frenzied and fun morning!

Links:

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

http://www.wefaceforward.org/artists/piniang

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

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

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xR8-EWcRo08

Playing with Paper: The Hepworth Wakefield

Here are some lovely pictures taken from weekend 2 of my paper workshop at the Hepworth this weekend, working alongside sculptor Liz Pontin:

Artigami! Enjoy!

Links:

http://lizpontin.com/

http://www.hepworthwakefield.org/

We Face Forward: Magic Materials - 'Mini Junk Palace'

It's been a long and colourful week working on our Junk Palace project at Manchester Art Gallery!

Drawing inspiration from We Face Forward artist Pascale Marthine Tayou's 'Poupées Pascales' - 16 unique dolls hidden all around the art gallery for this summer's 'We Face Forward'- we created two exciting studio spaces for participants to explore the world of found objects and materials in novel and interesting ways. I worked alongside visual artist Sarah Marsh and fashion designer Mary Ononokpono of Mononoko fashion to develop the concept for the workshop. We came up with some excellent ways of fashioning plastic bags, newspaper, old electronic parts and west african fabrics into chunky accessories, jewellery and other such wonderful forms!

I also tailored the session to create today's Mini Art Club - Mini Junk Palace for little ones aged 0-5 years, to explore a beautiful, colourful, tactile environment. A big thanks to artist & filmmaker Jess Wild for supporting today's session along with volunteers Liz and Sabeena. Also thank you to Jali Nyonkoling Kuyateh for playing the Kora and lending us one of his CDs to fill the Junk Palace with beautiful music!

Links:

http://www.pascalemarthinetayou.com/

http://www.wefaceforward.org/artists/pascale-marthine-tayou

http://www.evelynarts.co.uk/

http://www.msafropolitan.com/2011/08/msafropolitan-boutique-interview-series-mary-onokpono-of-mononoko.html

http://www.manchesterfashion.com/c/19/223/mononoko-conscience-culture-couture

 

 

Mini Art Club April - 'Shadow Land' (Inspired by Roger Ballen)

After 2 weeks of 'Colour Pop' workshops (see previous post), colourful prints were stripped off the studio walls and replaced with clean layers of black & white paper for Mini Art Club - how different it looked!

Families followed a trail up to Roger Ballen's beautifully rich black & white square-formatted photographs in the current 'Shadow Land' exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery. Despite the slightly dark, adult-themed nature of Roger Ballen's work, families with young children responded well to his photographs - making simple connections with textures, lines and imagery in photos in certain areas of the exhibition. Children particularly loved feeling feathers, twigs, drawing with wire and finding animals hidden in the photographs as well as in toy form on the gallery floor.

Downstairs, two studios were set up to recreate the rich aesthetic of Roger Ballen's photos as children were invited to explore textures of key materials and, also, shadow and light on a large scale.

Links:

http://www.manchestergalleries.org/whats-on/exhibitions/index.php?itemID=87

http://www.rogerballen.com/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Uee_mcxvrw

 

'Imagine' Weekend - Surrealist Chance Compositions

It's that time of the month again and I've had a great weekend working at Manchester Art Gallery with artist and film-maker Jessica Wild on our joint venture - interpreting surrealist artwork through sound, composition and montages!

Taking Max Ernst's 'Petrified City' and other surrealist artworks in the permanent collection as the starting point, we invited families to embrace random collage-making and chance... on vinyl. Families were invited to create their own collage compositions on records which would, in turn, interfere with the way the stylus moved around the groove. Families could play the records to discover how their colourful collages created unique 'chance' sound compositions.

Families were also invited to create weird and wonderful photo-montages using the record covers to cut 'n' paste . Check out some of the cool and crazy artwork (above).

The message here is embrace the random and let your imagination wander, whilst developing a unique soundtrack for the artworks in the Modern & Contemporary gallery!

Vid clip uploads coming soon....

 

'Imagine' Weekend - Playing with Cameras

Here's a selection of ace photos taken by people who took part in my 'Imagine' session at Manchester Art Gallery this weekend - playing with cameras, mirrors, angles, etc. Each month the session aims to encourage families to experiment with a chosen theme or 'material of the month' in a gallery space. In this case, the starting point was in the atrium - a light, airy space filled with views inside and out, tiles, shapes, patterns and plenty of things for a camera lens to focus on. Those who took part were set on a mission to capture some inventive shots!

Can you guess what's in the picture? Can you also guess the age of the photographer of each photo?

BTW, a great big THANK YOU to Rob Blundell, Emily Songhurst and Grace Sutcliffe for all your help and bright ideas!

Manchester Art Gallery Facebook:

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150833900339128.511567.68496394127&type=1

http://www.facebook.com/ManchesterArtGallery?sk=wall

 

 

 

 

 

'Light Trails' - Mini Art Club, Manchester Art Gallery

Mini Art Club is a monthly session for children aged 0-5 and their parents / carers at Manchester Art Gallery. It runs as 2 sessions from 10.15am - 11.15am and 11.30am - 12.30pm every 2nd Friday of the month. The aim of the club is to encourage young children and their adults to creatively explore and respond to artworks, spaces and materials both in the gallery and in the learning studio. Mini Art Club has really grown as a project space for working creatively with young children and their adults, mainly through:

good team work, careful planning, time and space to set things up, making observations, documenting sessions, reflection, evaluation, paying attention to details and maintaining a desire to keep things fun, child-led, family-friendly and innovative (phew!)

We've also tried to develop new ways to engage with artworks and gallery spaces, so that families/carers with young children can feel comfortable visiting the gallery. The aim is not to simply make and take something home, it's all about having the time and space to play, explore, encounter, discover, engage the senses, get messy, have fun and develop new expressive vocabulary.

Looking through my photos, I realised I have been developing and delivering Mini Art Club since 2008. This month it'll be our 43rd club! I was going to wait until the 50th club to blog about it but I'm a little impatient so I thought I'd make a start now!

Please click on the link (below) to see the wonderful Mini Art Club film created by filmmaker and fabulous Mini Art Club Assistant, Jessica Wild (Wild Bees Production). Jess filmed our recent 'Light Trails' Mini Art Club session and created this wonderful video clip. Also here are some stills from the session:

In this session we asked families to explore the light and dark spaces of the Craft & Design Gallery, using torches and coloured acetate to find objects, shadows and different light features on the top floor of the Art Gallery. We then invited everyone to explore a specially created light laboratory in Studio 1, where there were a number of materials to explore (touch, crawl into, shine torches through, hide behind, etc). In Studio 2, we also played music in a fairly dark, empty space with a small blue-light projection screen, which provided the opportunity for families to interact with each other, move around, dance with torches, listen, look and just enjoy spending time together relaxing:

Please click here for the Mini Art Club film: http://vimeo.com/30916255

For Mini Art Club 'Light Trails' stills, please see the pictures below!

Related links:

http://www.grassrootscreative.co.uk/clients/cce/miniart.swf

http://www.creativitycultureeducation.org/our-programmes/story-catching/mini-art-club,448,AR.html

http://vimeo.com/17795478

http://vimeo.com/wildbeesproduction

http://www.flickr.com/photos/manchester_city_galleries/sets/72157628036606333/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/manchester_city_galleries/collections/72157606686346575/

http://www.kidsinmuseums.org.uk/

http://www.earlyarts.co.uk/ http://culturebaby.co.uk/