We were born to stand out not to fit in

One term in on the Contemporary Art Space Project

We are now nearly at Spring half term and mostly on schedule!

Working in partnership with Iniva (the Institute of International Visual Arts) we have all the vital elements now in place, Josie Reichert, director of Ort Gallery in Birmingham appointed as curator, and three artists, Rudy Loewe, Nilupa Yasmin and Laurie Ramsell engaged on the project. We are in the first year of two funded academic years.

The artists have been paired with one of the schools taking part in this pilot project. Laurie is working with pupils at Abbeywood First School, Nilupa is working with Arrow Vale RSA Academy, and Rudy is with Holyhead School. Each pairing was decided through interest in social context and/or to provide a new challenge for either the artist or the school. Interestingly each school has chosen an outdoor location for their art space, we hope this will prove to be an exciting challenge and opportunity given that lots of pupils, teachers and visitors will be able to see it.

Beginnings

To begin, in October, all schools selected a group of pupils to be most closely involved in the project who began by taking part in ArtLab inspired workshops. The workshops, run by their artist and an art therapist introduced the pupils to this project, their artist’s work and their creative practice. During these sessions the artist and pupils creatively explored together what meaning the artwork and project might have for them. A central theme to this project is ‘oracy’ so the workshop exercises explored ideas around communication, voices, leadership and social and emotional contexts. The artists took inspiration, ideas and pupils’ artworks from the sessions before going away and evolving them into an original artwork for each school. Artists had two constraints – a six week turnaround time and a relatively limited budget for materials to make.

Artworks 2019/20

Silhouette of Sound, Laurie Ramsell with pupils from Abbeywood First School

Installed at Abbeywood in a central courtyard space, the artwork consists of three sculptures, each piece taking the ephemeral nature of speech and solidifying it in a sculptural self-portrait. During the week of workshops the children explored how humans and animals communicate using a variety of methods including body language and signs. The children were asked to represent themselves using drawing and sculptural techniques.  Recordings of the children’s voices saying their names out loud have been made to generate three sculptures, from two-dimensional soundwaves into three-dimensional models of soundwaves.

Each piece consists of around 70 circular slices of varying diameter, representing the peaks and troughs of each waveform, stacked vertically. Each stack represents a mathematical understanding of an individual. They stand at equal height to the speaker they originate from, and use colours chosen by the learners to represent themselves.

We Start Here, Nilupa Yasmin with pupils from Arrow Vale RSA Academy

The work consists of two parts; a sculpture of digitally woven brushed tweed fabric and a handwoven photographic piece.

Nilupa led the series of workshops around the theme of oracy, using weaving and photography as means of participation and engagement. Students learnt about abstract photography and were asked to take their own abstract images. Abstraction is a method used to disconnect the image from the object and to ask questions around how we see and understand the world. This exercise allowed them to distance themselves from what they know and to make new connections. It also allowed the students to create contemporary art work in a very immediate and playful manner removing barriers of access. Yasmin used the images to create the final handwoven piece as well as the digitally woven prints.

The size, materials and use of locations were carefully considered by students through creative activities and discussion. The location for the outdoor work in a central open green space means Arrow Vale students, teachers and visitors will experience the pieces in everyday school life. The colours were chosen to lift spirits on a bad day and to motivate learners to be creative every day.

In the outdoor work, the three pieces physically envelop a tree speaking to the relationship humans have to nature as well as to each other within the community. As the piece is made up of abstract photographs and further abstracted through the weaving process the final outcome is one of disconnection and disruption as well as familiarity and togetherness. The indoor piece uses traditional weaving techniques but weaves paper strands together, not fabric. It is a much more tactile and fragile art work that remind students of the respect we must take of our surroundings and the ephemeral nature of life.

Depths of our history, Rudy Loewe with pupils from Holyhead School

This artwork takes the form of a banner and reflects the histories of protest in Handsworth, over the last fifty years or so. Protests including those against racism and fascism, deportations, cuts to council services, gang violence and knife crime.
The work was created after the three days of workshops with year eight students at Holyhead School. The students came up with words that they felt represented the community, in languages that people in Handsworth speak. They chose the phrase “We were born to stand out, not to fit in” and the issue of knife violence to feature in the work. Parts of the artwork were painted by Rudy and part of it has been created by the students during the workshops.
“The Depths of Our History” was a phrase that one of the students, Rhea, came up with during the workshops. The banner is intended to celebrate Handsworth’s histories as well as highlight the years of resistance that have happened here. It will be hung outside and visible by looking up. The work creates a sheltered area that we hope will continue to promote discussion and debate in school.

Next steps

Abbeywood First School have their artwork installed and have begun using the work as a stimulus for teaching and learning this Spring term as part of their ‘Articulate’ curriculum. The pupil leaders also chose to have an artist workshop run by Laurie Ramsell which involved all 200 children drawing on a large piece of paper and having to communicate with each other to swap drawing implements so they could collectively create a large piece of art.

We are working closely with the lead teacher in each school to make connections between the project and teacher colleagues, through assemblies, teacher CPD sessions, staff meetings and specific events to invite teaching staff to consider how they might creatively incorporate elements and themes in their tutor time or subject lessons. It is intended that through this engagement we might generate opportunities:

– to inspire a different approach to a lesson or topic
– to inspire further creative work
– to inspire oracy opportunities
– to explore cultural capital

For more information please contact Georgina Chatfield.