Can a line be art?

Would you rather eat a worm or be bitten by a spider? Is it always wrong to tell a lie? What if you didn’t have to go to school? Last week I ran a Philosophy for Children  (#P4C) lesson at Gallions Primary in Tower Hamlets, a primary school in a run down area of Tower Hamlets. To get there you take the DLR train to the end of the line, within sniffing distance of Beckton’s sewage treatment works and along litter-strewn estates.

Inside, the school the atmosphere is calm and the children are focused.  I attended a training for artists there a few months ago and learned how the school hosts a resident gardener, artist, musicians, poets, and a chef (with an MA in food ethnology) as well as investing in children from nursery age upwards with weekly philosophy lessons. Behaviour has turned around,  playground bullying has declined and children’s attainment is improving which is a major achievement anywhere, moreso here in this difficult area of East London. Deputy, Lisa Naylor, who is passionate about P4C explained to me that these developments have taken years to achieve. In exchange for the training, artists are invited to bring in a piece of their art which is a stimulus for a philosophical enquiry and which is donated to the school.

For starters Year 4 Calypso class chewed over warm up questions, swapping places if they preferred school dinners to Macdonalds or thought swimming was better than football. For first course I offered them a ‘playful ponder': “You have a super power for 24 hours. You can choose to be invisible, have super strength, be able to fly, build anything of your choice or to make people happy when you touch them”. The children jump onto a circle I’ve prepared, to make their choice, then justify it to the whole class. Calypso are patient, impressively listening to each other reasoning and articulating their choices. They have the opportunity to swap places and explain how their thinking was swayed. Then onto mains. I presented the children with my artwork, Colourfield, and asked the children to draw how it made them feel. Their answers varied from ‘confused’ and ‘happy’ to ‘inspired’ and a profound ‘it makes me feel like anything is possible’.

can a line be art

The thrust of these enquiries is that they are child-led so the children debate a question they have formulated themselves and chosen to discuss. I invited them to ask the artwork a question and then had the tricky task of categorising them, for example “What are you made of?” questions, “What are you about?”, some more random queries and then this gem… “Can just a line be a piece of art?” The children and teachers voted for this as their discussion point. Arguments were eloquent and I was blown away by the children’s patience and clarity. It’s evident these 8 and 9 year olds are well-versed in debating and to the possibility of disagreement and a range of valid opinions. Inspiring indeed.

So can a line be art? Calypso think so, by a vote of 16 to 8, but they’re open to suggestions.

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The rule of three

I have just read a fascinating article suggesting that things that come in threes are ‘inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things’. And so it is with pleasure that I present this triptych of felt artwork on the theme of Celebrating EC1. These pieces were created by primary and secondary students from three Islington schools and will be exhibited later this year alongside work from 2 other schools so watch out for the perfect fifth later this year.

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Keeping Red, Yellow and Blue green

Apologies for the break in blogging. Here are some images from a wonderful recycling themed day working with Year 2 pupils at a Hanwell School. Thanks to Gail from @eastsidelondon for her brilliant organisation.

More posts to follow but possibly in jumbled date order!

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Celebrating EC1

The Barbican at sunset, a cow’s head, a cello, a church, shoppers at Spitalfields and a nurse’s uniform, all recreated in handmade felt. These highly individual works are part of a Celebrating EC1 banner project I am working on with several Islington schools. It’ s been a delight to work with talented 9, 10 and 11 year olds at Prior Weston Primary who produced these striking pieces in only two after school sessions.

 

Please contact me for more information and if you would like me to run a feltmaking project for your school or community group felterskelter@blueyonder.co.uk

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Drawing from nature… and a feline surprise

Teaching other teachers can be daunting but last week’s training session at Kew Gardens was a gentle and affirming experience. I team taught the session with my colleague Stuart Simler and we began with two warm up exercises to focus and encourage observation: blind drawings and desperate drawings in the dry tropics of the Princess of Wales Conservatory. Then onto some sgraffito, using black card and oil pastels which are applied thickly before scratching in details such as cactii spines and ridges with a sharp skewer. Finally, Stuart guided the group into the rainforest where they focused on outlines, tearing shapes and creating patterned layers in a range of papers to recreate the spiralling foliage of the wet tropics. During the plenary, feedback from our group was really positive and teachers reflected on aspects they’d enjoyed: the relaxed warm up sessions and using materials in a new way.

As the light faded at the end of the day this spectacular, handsome beast appeared by the Palm House – it turned out he was at Kew for a fashion shoot. Apparently he had died of natural causes at the Zoo

lion in the garden

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Happy new creative year

Happy New Year dear readers! Apparently cleaning a corner of your house, going on a local adventure or spending time with children can all stimulate creativity. Or perhaps send the kids on their own little adventure and forget about tidying up!  This new year I wish you many creative and messy moments. Sometimes juggling elements of life can be quite hectic and here are some rather belated posts.

First to feature is Artsdepot, the undiscovered South Bank Centre of the North (well North Finchley). Last Autumn I was invited there to create some artwork with two Barnet Schools, inspired by an English National Opera rendition of Laika the Space Dog. Laika never survived the confines of her space shuttle but I worked with the children to reimagine a happier ending. They developed simple sketches and pastel drawings suggesting pitted lunar surfaces, aliens and strange plants, referencing desert plants and rocky landscapes we had spent time researching. I guided the children into transforming their drawings into experimental 3D pieces, felting around wire, plastic discs, bubble wrap and glass beads.

There are only a couple more days to catch the tail end of Creative Routes 2013 featuring a felted installation I’ve titled ‘Laika Escapes’.  Many thanks to fellow artist educator Stuart Simler for these photos.



I’m also pleased to mention a project I ran in November on behalf of Eastside Educational Trust with St John of Jerusalem School in Hackney. 120 children each designed a face to represent diverse communities around the world and we felted these onto a woolly globe. Some fabulous volunteers supported me in this demanding feat to create artwork for the school’s International Week in a single day.

2013-11-20 15.56.59

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Creative routes

Here’s a sneak preview of some work I’m creating with Year 3 children from Barnet schools as part of artsdepot’s annual Creative Routes project. The work is based on the theme of Outer Space and is inspired by an opera for schools devised by the English National Opera about Laika, the first dog in space. We’re re-imagining the tragic ending by designing a planetary space where Laika has escaped to.

Laika space dog  Laika space dog Felted shibori  Laika space dog

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