Maritime Arts week – Portishead primary schools
Tut’s Wood – Arts and Environment project with Bannerman Road School, Easton, Bristol
I’d been informed by the class teacher that it was possible some of the children may not have been in woods much or at all, or maybe not in the UK and that some may find the new experience unsettling. It seemed appropriate then, to create some familiar reference points to work with so I took the very loose idea of a ‘room’ to work with as both starting and ending point. We began the workshop looking at the rooms they used at school and photographing the details to become more aware of what the walls, floor and ceilings were made of. When we went to the woods we treated it in the same way – looking at the different spaces that existed within this ‘place of trees’ as if they too were rooms, just with different types of surface and sometimes the wallpaper moved!
We wanted all the children to feel included in the project and to have a record of themselves in this environment but I’d understood there may be an issue with taking photographs of some the children because of religious beliefs. The class of 30 + had children of many nationalities, cultures and languages – 16 languages I recall and a small number of children who spoke no English. On the first visit to meet the children in the school it was agreed that they could photograph each others hands – the palm of one hand against a dark background and the front of the other in front of a window, and they could write their name on their hand if they wished. All hands when photographed in this way have a very similar appearance but remained a representation of each individual.
Following on from the room theme I made a cube-shaped frame from willow and string which I took into the school on the first visit and which came with us to the woods and finally returned – transformed – to the classroom where it would stay until the end of term. The cube reminded the pupils of the room theme and to think about their photography task – looking at surfaces, boundaries and the differences between spaces. It was also a portable gallery, housing, on the first visit to the woods, just the images of the hands that they’d taken in school, then in the following 2 visits the photographs they had taken in the woods the previous week were added and the pictures that we couldn’t fit in were stuck into simple photo albums made by some students on the woodland floor!
The cube itself hung from a tree in the centre of the wood containing representations of both the children and their responses to this small but still wild wood of South Gloucestershire. Far from being unsettled by the woodland experience the children seemed to revel and grow in this green environment.
Big Lamp Corner Public Art project ‘Silica’, Weston-super-Mare.
As part of a major programme of regeneration in Weston-super-Mare a large artwork was commissioned for the town’s Big Lamp Corner area just inland from the pier in 2006. During the process of making and installing the tall artwork Silica (locally known as the carrot, turnip or parsnip!), I was commissioned to work with students at the Weston college and a nearby primary school to generate responses from the pupils and students to the artists’ creative process. The outcomes were to be images printed on to banners that would surround the site where the sculptural tower was being constructed – see layout above.
I wrote part of a public art focused module for the students on the Foundation Degree in Fine and Applied Arts and visited the college several times to view their work and a small group of students worked with me on the design of the panels as part of their coursework. There was a single session with the school where pupils used cameras at the Silica construction site and on the beech. At the Silica site I asked pupils to record the wide range of architectural features and surface details that can be found in the buildings in the Big Lamp Corner location – from Victorian gothic to 1970s seaside ‘brutalism’ via art deco elephant motifs, contemporary street furniture and shop signage. On the nearby beach, the children observed natural and man-made forms and structures, drew them in the sand and photographed them. Underlying all these exercises was an exploration of “what makes a space a place”
Public Art South West featured this community project in a case study.
Speedwell schools tree project
A one-day exploration of trees at Ashton Court in Bristol with photography students from Speedwell Technology College working alongside children from Speedwell nursery school – part of a larger Creative Partnerships project about trees, 2004.
A ‘sense of place’ was our theme and I took the group to four wooded locations in Ashton Court that had different qualities to each other. I provided a set of photographic clues I’d made on a recce visit for each place to encourage some ‘hard looking’ and the students then used cameras and words to record their own ideas about what made these places different. The words were written on luggage labels and the photographs taken on Polaroid cameras.
At the end of the session we created an instant gallery in an area of thinned woodland near Ashton Court Mansion where a parallel row of saplings created a natural corridor that was enclosed at one end by a large ash tree. The Polaroids were tied to the young trees and the luggage label words were threaded onto a ‘necklace’ hung on the trunk of the mature ash tree.
One of the 14 year old participants – not always an easy age group to engage – said at the end of the session “I thought this going to be really boring but it was cool”.