YSI/Corridor8 residency day 2: John Jamieson day trip to The Hepworth Wakefield

For the second of my ten residency days, I joined a group of pupils from the John Jamieson School for young folk with learning difficulties on their day trip to The Hepworth Wakefield. As part of Yorkshire Sculpture International's engagement programme, they've been participating in regular workshops with artist Beth Hughes who has been exploring with them the sensory elements of sculptural materials and installation art.

What stuck me most about the day was how enthused the young people were; their energy and openness was boundless and joyful. There were nine children aged, I think, between 10 and 13, and four teachers/carers. In the morning, Beth led a tour of the exhibitions (including Magdalene Odundo’s The Journey of Things and pieces by Barbara Hepworth) with drawing activities to get us thinking about materials and tactility in sculpture. After a pleasant lunch outside in the sun, Beth led a very fun workshop using clay. All of the activities centred around vessels.

     -What do you mean by vessels?
     -Things that are open and can contain.

We were also joined by Sam, an MA in arts management student researching evaluations in arts engagement events, and a bit later by Meghan, YSI's engagement curator.

There were clipboards up for grabs, so I figured I’d see if I could blend observing and participating – active observation – to experiment with being present in my own experience while witnessing the younger participants’ experiences.

Beth designed a really lovely and – judging by the enthusiasm and comments – effective way of getting everyone to work through some fairly complex ideas. The four stages of the tour were framed by these commands:

1. Draw a vessel that is hollow
2. Draw a vessel that looks like a body
3. Draw a vessel that has an exciting texture
4. Draw a vessel that reminds you of yourself

Here are my sheets:

In addition to these I made pages of notes in my residency diary, I suppose documenting all kinds of things including who people are, things they said, what people drew, and what everybody made. An observation I made that I will likely weed out of my drafts as I move towards the final piece, but that I want to keep in for now as I suspect there's something in it, is there were also two Leeds City College students on a placement day. In contrast to the John Jamieson crew, they seemed unenthusiastic. Some of us would show an interest in them, for example, I asked what the purpose or aim of their placement was and how it fitted into their studies, and one answered that he was just doing it for his CV, that he had to build this kind of thing, and seemed put out about that. Who does this push for doing CV-building activities really serve?

There was a bit of chat over lunch (away from the school group) about education being about grades rather than experience and learning. There was so much great activity going on with hands-on learning and the pupils almost necessitating the adults’ presentness in the room, so it was disappointing to see what seemed to be apathy, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s part of a bigger picture. Student apathy had been bothering me before I left academia, but I am aware it may be appearance only and there’s more to the malaise than meets the eye. They could have been uninterested, or their lack of engagement with anyone but each other could be a sign or symptom that mainstream and standardised education systems are not fit for purpose, but rather are concerned with metrics and leagues tables, not people learning things and thinking for themselves. It led me to wonder if non-‘neurotypical’ people do not face the same pressures – but different ones – because they’re not recognised as possessing ability. I wondered this because that day I saw so much potential, ability and examples of intuitive material literacy and self-determined problem-solving in that group, and I think the powers that be continue to get a lot wrong in maintaining power structures and inequality.

     -Why is clay an interesting material?
     -Because you can mould it!

Beth explained that some clay needs to be dried in an oven, but the clay we used air-dries. She talked through different options for the making process:

     -Use the clay around your bodies; use your hands to mould it round something.
     -Keep working to eventually form a vessel.
     -Use different things to make different structures.
     -Use the rollers to flatten or as a surface to shape.
     -Roll up your sleeves!

     -Mine doesn't have sleeves! (rolls up arms)

kneading bread
standing up
pressing hands
pushing down using whole body weight, driving in the knuckles
slapping, beating
picking up
teasing, teasing out
vessel drawings on the wall for inspiration
tapping on the table
rolling the clay, rolling things on the clay
buttons, bits and pieces, shapes
perfecting, restarting to get it right

Power Rangers and Avengers
giraffes seen at Yorkshire Sculpture Park; obsessed ever since
candle holders
basket with flowers
liking how it feels, the cold, the dampness, the softness
delicate bows
teachers saying they need to get clay in school
kids engaged and focused
making an elephant
making a giraffe
a bed for the giraffe; melding vessels with interests

'an excellent elephant' – high praise from teacher

diligent work
     -It's getting harder. [the clay]
lining up sculptures on the window ledge/bench
displaying and talking through the work
but must wash hands first! - logistics
messy trousers
personal space
     -I just like touching people.
dusty arms
signs of hard work

a named giraffe – Bailey Benji Angus
discussing the shapes of giraffes

     -How did you like working with clay?
     -Weird - squishy.

     -Talk about what you've made.
     -A cup.
squishing the dough ... clay ... pushing up walls ... textures ... rolling wheels and sticks

     -Made something crazy.
     -A flower? A candle?
     -Yes, a candle and holder.
clay easy to work with

     -Something cute and girly.
pushing full weight ... smoothed sides ... engraved name on it

     -A jungle and elephant.
combined vessel with animal

     -A flower, a bowl, a log, a face.
so many things made with one material

     -It will harden.
it's between states

     -A bed and giraffe.

similar things ... working together and helping each other – teamwork

making decisions – everyone decided for themselves what to make

Beth pulled everything through, reminding the group of what they'd done – often asking them to remind everyone, which they did very well – and looked towards the next week when a sculpture would be installed in their school and they'll make their own sculptures around it.

fantastic humans
what a day


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