Archive | Workshops RSS feed for this section

A Journey with Mary Webb School

16 Jul

Earlier this month, it was my pleasure to lead a project under the Meadow Arts Inspires arts education programme with 14 Year 9 children and teachers at Mary Webb School and Science College in Pontesbury.  The project took place over four days from 2nd July to 5th July 2019 and supports Meadow Arts work towards the Arts Council’s goal 5 for children and young people.

The project explored the theme of Journey using found materials from a rural landscape.  I adopted a spiral as a symbol of a life journey in which a person keeps close to inner beliefs and experience but continuously moves outwards to new and wider horizons.  The work was also built around a quote from Rebecca Solit’s book ” A Field Guide to Getting Lost” after Plato’s “Meno”:

That thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you is usually what you need to find and finding it is a matter of getting lost”

I hoped that the project might help the students develop ways of working so that they could find independent solutions to problems from uncertain situations in which there are many choices.

Aims

High level aims for the project were to:

  • Explore an artist practice using observation and findings from immediate surroundings
  • Experiment, improvise and take artistic risks

The students were also invited to take part in activities towards an Arts Award Discover certificate.

Activities

Day 1: Andrew Howe led the group of students on a walk from the school into the woodland surrounding Pontesford Hill.  Students were encouraged to pay attention to all their senses and to gather objects, photographs, tracings/texture rubbings and other materials for later use in artworks.

In the morning, the students split into 3 groups and spent an hour working with sticks, branches, leaves and other found materials to construct sculptural works based on a spiral.  The students were aware of Andy Goldsworthy’s work using natural materials.

After lunch, students had some time to make observational drawings from the landscape.

On return to the school, leaves and other plant matter were gathered and placed within stacks of watercolour paper for dyeing by boiling for an hour in two batches using iron and alum mordants. 

The resulting papers were later put together into a large spiral and stamped with the Solnit quote for mounting on a wall in the school reception area.

Day 2: The artist demonstrated a method for developing abstract designs based layers of tracings and drawings made directly from found objects and photographs.  The students learnt about the work of Joseph Cornell, Ingid Calame and Mark Bradford.

Students created initial studies from their found materials, using drawing, photo transfers and mixed media techniques.  Some of these studies and the found objects were developed further into 3D assemblages housed within wooden boxes.  The boxes were constructed by the school technician and displayed on a wall in a spiral formation.

Days 3 and 4: Students created work using one or more techniques including:

  • Drawing
  • Painting
  • Photography and digital manipulation of images for photo transfers
  • Printing/stencilling (monoprinting using gelli plates and screenprinting); and
  • Collage

These works were incorporated into A5 size handmade concertina books for display alongside the box assemblages.

The students chose to interpret the theme of journey in different ways.  Some considered the artistic process exploring print technique and designs as a journey, some took a personal view of their own life journey, some took inspiration directly from their observations on the group walk, some worked with maps of the local area.

At the end of the project, all of the students worked in pairs to reflect on their own and their partner’s work.  They each then shared some positive comments to the whole group on what they enjoyed about their partner’s work and why.

Review

The two key aims of the project were met because:

  • After some initial hesitancy, all of the students took the opportunity to experiment with techniques that were new to them. There were good examples of students taking a simple design based on found objects or photos from the walk, and developing this through a series of drawings, prints and or collage to successful work which they could incorporate into a book.
    • This encouraged students to innovate and strive for excellence in their future work
    • This also enabled a personal progression as students became willing to try new techniques which they could see would be valuable in future
  • Most of the group commented in their art logs how they made the realisation that art work could be inspired by what they observe in their immediate surroundings. The walk forged new connections between the students and their surrounding landscape.
    • This provided a means for students to be authentic, making their own personal responses to what they experience around them
  • The dyeing with plants made a big impact with the group and with teachers, as everyone could see how beautiful results could be achieved simply and quickly using found and readily available materials
  • Everyone found that Gelli plate printing was an accessible method to experiment with designs, stencils, textures and paint and achieve effective, expressive results
  • The box assemblages and outdoor collaborative sculptures presented greater challenges for the group, although most people enjoyed these activities and made some successful work
  • The students engaged with the project with enthusiasm, and many expressed how much they enjoyed the experience in their art logs.
  • It was observed that the students worked well together in small groups, sharing ideas, helping each other with difficulties, all of which helped to create a positive and inclusive experience. As these students will all progress towards GCSE level in art, the project will help to build teamwork, belonging and ownership.

A couple of feedback comments:

“This week has linked with my everyday life because it is a journey.  I do many journeys a day.  This week has shown me that walks and journeys can teach you something…

“…I have enjoyed learning new processes, including the gelli plate printing, and I got to stamp the spiral with the quote.

I have enjoyed this experience greatly”  Student

 

“Students were encouraged to ponder on problems and develop their own ideas which was great and what we wanted throughout the workshop”

“Thank you again for all your efforts with our students, this was a really valuable experience for them.” Teacher

Advertisements

Fourth World Congress of Psychogeography

14 Sep

The Fourth World Congress of Psychogeography reconvened at the University of Huddersfield for a third time last week.  Having previously only attended the Friday talks, this year I was able to attend both days and enjoyed some great walks.

 

 

On behalf of the self-titled politburo of 4WCOP organisers, Phil Wood introduced the event, referring to a derogatory tweet from an anonymous but high profile psychogeographer, who would not be attending.  Whilst the “politburo” is entirely comprised of white males, the event itself played host to fresh perspectives from a diverse range of participants, some of whom came from Istanbul, Slovenia, Italy, United States and Germany.  Difficult to say if there was equal representation of men and women, but it seemed to be fairly well balanced.

The event format, and many of its principal protagonists and attendees, have become familiar to me, and there is a danger this could just become a cosy get-together.  So I tried to take a more critical view of the proceedings with a few questions in mind:

  • Is psychogeography practice evolving and including new perspectives?
  • To what extent is detournement used?
  • How was the terrain vague addressed? (This being the theme suggested to those proposing talks/walks for this year’s congress)

There was a packed programme of talks and walks which had been oversubscribed (and indeed the joint proposal that Gareth Jones and I had submitted didn’t quite make the cut, much to our frustration!)  This meant that there was a choice of two events to attend throughout the 2 day programme.  Inevitably then I missed some events that I would have liked to have taken part in, such as the talk on retail environments by Andrew Taylor/Katrina Whitehead/Kasia Breska, or the walks/events by Sonia Overall and Elspeth Penfold, Sohal Khan, John RooneyVictoria Karlsson and Ewan Davidson/Michelle Woodall, and Irena Pivka.  The discussion led by Tim Waters  on What is Psychogeography in 2018? would have been good to be part of. I heard very good reports about “The Zone” walk led by Sohal Khan around the Paddock derelict mill area in which he used Tarkovsky’s “Stalker” film to frame the walk.

The first session of talks focused on Identities.

It was refreshing to hear about her work on feminist theory and social justice in the landscape being carried out by Anna Davidson.  Davidson admitted to be in the midst of  research and the short film she presented which combined the rivers/water/steam, mills/women’s role, and sugar/colonialism felt insubstantial.  It will be interesting to see how this work develops as it certainly prompted a more critical view of the landscape.

Lesley Wood is an artist who walked from Leeds to Newcastle retracing maternal connections over three generations.  The art work she produced incorporated these personal experiences and interaction with the environment (such as kinetic traces made by pastels carried in paper tubes whilst walking).  This is an area of my own practice that interests me, and which I find challenging because it is difficult to express the depth and complexity of walking experience in these relatively simple combinations of materials.

Alex Bridger discussed a series of walks in Huddersfield, Holmfirth, Manchester and Batley with participants from the LGBT community to draw in fresh insight into the landscape.  Again, this was interesting but the output seemed only part formed and may develop further as research continues.  Perhaps it should be unsurprising that the landscape is not viewed so differently by other communities, yet there are nuanced differences which merit acknowledgement and sharing.

At lunchtime we drifted into and around Huddersfield’s fabulous Queensgate Market. and learnt about its pioneering hyperbolic paraboloid roof structure.  Over lunch in a cafe, a group of us observed several empty stall spaces, which were like stages awaiting a performance.  Most people skirted reverentially around one them, until someone started a “desire line” straight across, soon to be followed by others.

 

 

 

 

Tony Wade was a highly engaging speaker, and I can see how he could generate a lot of interaction in his community-based projects.  His talk described the 60 mile walk he did around the Wakefield Metropolitan Boundary and the undertaking to paint 20 (triptych) acrylic paintings of views outwards from the boundary from suitable points within each of 20 x 3 mile sections.

Other talks considered the post-industrial landscape.  Martin Eccles described projects in former lead mining sites at Small Clough and walking the river underground to create soundscapes.  Perhaps, harder to see where the detournement is in this, but his work creates fascinating immersive experiences of environments that are otherwise difficult to access.

It was disappointing that David Sable and Kerry Hadley-Pryce were not able to attend due to sickness and as this was notified at short notice, 4WCOP were not able to bring in any reserve talks.  They were able to present David’s film about a mining community near Doncaster.  This powerful film was based on Sables’ own experience of the mine closures of the 1980s and those of communities involved.  As this is an area I had researched in regard to making a film for the Cinderloo project, I felt the film could have gone further, and at times it veered towards sentimentality.  There followed a good discussion about how we can acknowledge mining heritage without taking a rose-tinted nostalgic approach.  Ursula Troche had visited closed mines in Germany and Belgium where as much of the original infrastructure was left intact and or put to new use, unlike the UK where, very often industrial land is swept clean, taking all sense of history away from the communities that identified with the place.  In his notes, David referred to how the now rural land had reverted to agriculture and private ownership, inaccessible to local community, and how all that children could learn in schools about former employment was to visit the nearby (restored) stately home and learn about working in service.

I enjoyed the talk by Roger Boyle about taking various slices through his home town of Aberystwyth mapping, amongst other things, coal holes and Royal Mail postboxes.

The last talk of the day featured Nasli Tumerdem and Sevgi Turkkan, both recently completing or completed PhD degrees in Istanbul.  Their work involved walking in northern Istanbul with over 250 students.  This was an impressive logistical exercise in itself.  The talk was interesting in presenting how Istanbul is one of the most rapid developing cities in the world with the result that large areas of land are being subsumed into huge infrastructure projects (a third airport, highway and river channel parallel to the Bosphorus).  This top down development was disrupting communities – they referred to the type of development taking place as ad hoc urbanism.

In their architectural practice Tumerdem and Turkkan referred to an inherent vagueness in architecture that fits with using psychogeography to explore terrain:

  • absence of dominant discourse
  • discursive and contingent
  • process of “unlearning” to be encouraged
  • provoked vagueness
  • learning by doing

20180907_173631

So onto the walking, which, through the day, followed a progression out of Huddersfield up the Colne Valley to Marsden.

I started with Ursula Troche and Simon Bradley’s “Platform Seven” which began at the amazing brick tunnel ventilation shafts in Huddersfield, and ended underneath the railway viaduct where we found ourselves joining the pair singing and dancing to Underneath the Arches, an anti-austerity song.  The walk was a playful reinterpreting, subverting, deconstruction of what can be observed.  For example detourning “Trespassers will be prosecuted” to “Passers be cute”.  Some of the little scenarios performed by Ursula and Simon were madcap and obtuse, but always referring back to serious messages about peace, love and anti-war.

 

 

 

 

Phil Wood then lead a hauntology walk in Paddock Brow which was both informative, thought-provoking and highly atmospheric.  In the drizzle we explored 50 year old ivy-tangled woodlands where hundreds of mill workers used to live and learnt about a Jamaican club known for attracting famous reggae artists, world renowned Huddersfield-made sound systems and domino championships.  We reflected on the lost utopian dreams of a young Harold Wilson who went to school along the road we walked on many years ago.  And saw where some of the Luddites went on trial.

 

 

 

We reached the Milnsbridge Red and Green Socialist Club for lunch, for an excellent pint and sandwich, and we were treated to a talk by David Smith about the Huddersfield MP Victor Grayson who mysteriously disappeared in the 1930s.  We were invited to look for evidence of his living in the area in the 40s/50s.  I didn’t find any.

 

 

By the time we reached Slaithwaite Civic Hall by bus it was proper siling it down.  Vicky Ola and Anzir Boodoo invited everyone to make shadow installations using what we did/didn’t like about urban landscape.  I joined a walk led by photographer Kevin Linnane which included all kinds of activities to disrupt or enhance the normal experience of walking e.g frottage, water graffiti, blowing bubbles as way of sending words out into the air, divining, drawing etc.  I had a good discussion with Kevin afterwards, and he told me how is work is influenced by ritual and cycles.  He has a belief that”ritualistic, performative roles lie within spaces and materials, as an ethereal heartbeat sustaining the status quo”.

 

 

I loved the Colne Valley Sculpture Trail, which had entertainment value whilst seriously questioning the value of art objects/found objects. It was originally set up about 5 years ago and made national news.  It immediately caused all participants to look critically at encounters and their potential as artistic creations and possible meanings.  The walk was brilliantly led by Graeme Murrell who kept up a convincing commentary to go along with the labels for each work, and accompanying trail leaflet and AS Level exam questions.

 

 

 

The scenery was beautiful as we headed up into the hills and then back down to the canal for the approach into Marsden, where we finished in the Rivershead Brewery Tap.  I couldn’t stay long as I returned to Holmfirth, where I was staying with friends, and so I also missed the final walk of the day.

 

 

 

Psychogeography evolving? – certainly there was evidence of practices treading old ground, but there were also some new advances that are to be welcomed, such as the inclusion of feminist and queer perspectives.  There were several artists using sound, performance or film/theatre to augment or respond to walking practices.  Hopefully,  the international input will continue to grow.

Detournement?  All of these speakers discussed responses to psychogeographical walks which mostly resulted in art works that aimed to provoke, challenge established viewpoints or provide new insight into the landscape.  Their intentions were not necessarily to tackle the Spectacle head on, rather they offered alternative views and encouraged a multiplicity of response in our everyday experience.

There were a few references to terrain vague and by its nature, it is a term open to interpretation and application to many different contexts.  It was fascinating to hear the architects from Istanbul talk about how they encourage an indistinct vague approach in their architectural practice.  Otherwise I didn’t leave with the impression that the terrain vague had been addressed particularly.  Maybe it was in the talks I didn’t attend.

Apparently, there was no quorum to formally close the congress, so I expect it will reconvene for a fourth time… probably around September 2019 I’d guess.  Predictable?… maybe; entertaining?… definitely.

Your Perfect High Street

15 Sep

As part of last weekend’s Heritage Open Day events, I was delighted to be invited to run a workshop at the Unitarian Church on Shrewsbury’s High Street.  According to the inscription on its frontage,  the Unitarian Church was built in 1662 and was where Charles Darwin came to worship.  And I had a beautiful old room with stained glass windows above the street to work in.

IMG_0583

The suggested theme was designing a perfect High Street.  Arguably, Shrewsbury already has one, and so in preparation for the event I began to explore by taking a series of photos of details along the street.  Details that may go unnoticed unless you really slow down and look.

Participants helped create a collage of my photos as a grid during the workshop, and then people added their own thoughts, ideas and memories on sticky notes within the grid:

 

 

 

IMG_0613

My preparations also included a pen drawing of the elevations of both sides of the street, which became quite addictive.  I completed it in about three days, although certainly can’t vouch for its accuracy of detail.  It was interesting to see the differences in scale of the buildings and see them without the dominating colours and branding of the retailers. The Unitarian Church, which can seem quite an impressively large facade from street level, actually appears to be one of the smallest buildings along the whole street.

 

The workshop was aimed primarily at families with children aged 8 and over, but many adults dropped in and got involved too.  There were around 35 participants over the course of 3 hours.  Besides the photo collage, the activities began with thinking about the kind of activities that might take place in the High Street and which are more important.

IMG_0632

 

I made a few initial suggestions, and quickly realised just how many different activities already go on in our High Street.  Participants then added their own ideas, moved activities between “important” and “not important” and voted with red dots for the ideas they agreed with.  I deliberately missed out quite a few activities like shopping and gambling to see if there was any reaction, and surprisingly only one person added “ice cream shop”… and this was in the “not important” zone.  Someone else added “independent businesses” as important.  Hear hear!

The activities ranked in the highest zone of importance/votes were (approximately):

  • Homes for living,
  • green space,
  • learning,
  • seating,
  • street art,
  • a litter free environment,
  • having a strong community,
  • independent businesses,
  • walking/strolling/wandering,
  • healthcare,
  • theatre/street performance,
  • exercising democratic rights local political issues and public debates.

I think we can guess at the kind of social-demographic I was dealing with.  Other suggestions I really liked included:

  • Temporary closure of streets to create play/community areas,
  • interacting and co-operating,
  • installations and performance platform for local artists (obviously).

Most of the workshop activity revolved around building a scale model of a High Street using card boxes and hand drawn frontages.  Participants could use my pen drawings and a montage of architectural design considerations as inspiration.  There were some really lovely buildings.

IMG_0638

IMG_0580

Finally, as an activity to take away, I produced a sheet of some of the architectural details to go and find somewhere in the High Street.  You can download a copy and have a go yourself by clicking this link:  Look Closely

look closely