“YES, I’ve found another rock!” “I like that one; I like its shape and colour.”
Watching the children sift through the finds as they were dug from the trench was fascinating; their curiosity for the objects (mostly rocks) that were dug up was something that I can completely relate to, given my curious fascination with inanimate objects and the ‘stuff’ of landscape. This fascination compels me to make objects, or ‘things’, in an attempt to understand them. Often small and able to fit into the palm of a hand, these things that I make are made, ordered and staged on shelves or tables. The workshops that I constructed for Weatheralls Primary School, as part of the Pathways Project, capitalised on and dealt primarily with these intrigues.
I initially got involved with the project through a contact at Wysing Arts Centre in Bourne, Cambridgeshire. Although I had previously devised and run many workshops for children, these Pathways Project workshops allowed me to spend a week with primary school children and their teachers, to develop an artwork based on the starting point of an archaeological dig. I was immediately excited by the possibilities of working with the school to rearticulate/reimagine the landscape around them.
Reflection on the dig
Throughout the dig, I kept thinking about how the children could relate to the objects that they had uncovered; these things that a moment before were lying underfoot below a sheet of grass and layers of earth. I came to the conclusion that practical making and tactile engagement with materials would be central: clay, salt crystal growing, drawings and plaster casting. The objects and drawings that the children created during my time spent at Weatheralls, allowed them to begin to unlock and think about the histories of the objects that they had found, as well as think of possible futures. The fragments (mostly of rock) became tangible objects; objects that the children could pick up and hold in their hands. These objects became relatable to our bodies and their scale became defined in relation to us: they were small and accessible, unlike the huge layers of earth underfoot.
When installing the exhibition at Prickwillow Museum, I had the opportunity to look back at a selection of the children’s drawings in detail. It was fascinating to see what the children thought the future might hold for Soham: a giant castle, or even a huge grocery store perhaps? They were scanned, to create a visual record, and then encased in plaster. They are small time capsules that are to be cracked open in 20 years’ time.
The role of the artist
The title of the culminating exhibition is ‘Sensing Landscape: Artists and Children Working Together’. I think it’s pertinent here, as the final paragraph, to offer my reflection on artists and their role in society. Art, in my opinion, offers a freedom to play: to play with materials, ideas and reality; to challenge the everyday. Most importantly, it offers a space for freedom; a freedom to articulate ideas visually, to think through image or object making, without the pressure of having to formulate thoughts through words.
Of course, words and language are important, vital even, but this ‘art making’ can become a catalyst for dialogue: artworks as facilitators of discussions. Artists, in my opinion, offer an alternative vision or reinterpretation to the everyday routine or environment. We, or at least I, see things and interpret things of the everyday differently.
We challenge, critique and most of all, question.
These are important things for children to do as well, even if not all of them will turn out to be professional artists.
Kyle Kirkpatrick is an artist and Artist Educator. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was first published in NAEE’s 2017 journal, Environmental Education (Vol. 114). To read more articles like this, you can join the Association and receive three journals a year.