DIALOGUE WITH PLACES
Dialogue with places 2010 - 2012
Bringing together all of the EYFS programme projects, a dialogue with places was a reflective film and exhibition at the Royal Exchange Theatre demonstrating the diversity of methods and outputs from the following projects – red balloon, the wheel, making of the structure and voices of children.
As part of a larger programme of work with Manchester City Council Children’s Services to deliver a collaborative EYFS programme to facilitate children’s creative learning in the many children’s centres across the city. This involved artist being based in the Centres to work on developing arts based project works alongside teachers, carers, children and their families.
When the Royal Exchange was opened in 1874 it’s central space was known as ‘the largest room in the world’. Due to improved telecommunications the function of the building declined and in 1975 it was converted for use as a theatre. By suspending a steel framed auditorium and using the open spaces around as a foyer and public gallery, the gigantic spaceship like structure was created. Children from Martenscroft Nursery and Children’s Centre and Benchill Sure Start Children’s Centre we visited the theatre and physically engaged with its structure at a micro scale and its hugeness at a macro scale. A large red helium balloon with a camera attached communicated the theatre from above back to the children which allowed their imaginations to envision what it might feel like being so high up. An important part of this project was the children’s story making which they expanded far beyond the ‘largest room in the world’.
Research indicates that children’s understanding and knowledge come together when the process of learning is contextualised and the outcome is a creative project that tells the story of their learning journey. On a trip to Manchester’s Big Wheel (located at that time near to The Triangle) children from Martenscroft Nursery and Children’s Centre discussed and retold their journey stories as they travelled by bus to Piccadilly Gardens and on foot through the city past numerous construction sites. They were equipped with cameras to document their observations which helped to compile footage for the further dialogue back at their nursery.
making of the structure
Sacred Heart Children’s Centre had been inserted into the old hall of a disused 1960s primary school, it appeared completely out of scale to the size of early years children. We were commissioned to develop and construct an intervention more appropriate to the size and age of the children who were to play there. An integral part of the dialogue was an exploration of the space and an evolving of ideas through free hand drawing and model making. The children played with our 1:50 scaled model with scaled models of people of all age groups. From this the children were not only able to observe our construction of the structure but were able to play and explore the materials we used creatively for them selves.
voices of children
Developing ways in which children can experience and explore the built environment, we visited the city centre to encourage them to discuss the city, ask questions and share ideas on their views of the city. Together, we visited museums, galleries and places within their local environment. We were commissioned to make a film about listening to children discussing their own environments and the visits to other environments, this was part of the ‘every child a talker programme’.
We built a moveable structure in the Newton Heath Sure Start Children’s Centre in response to there being few accessible windows in the portacabin. Our structure created opportunities to look outwards and inwards that offered children chances to discuss location, activities through play and creative practice from within. After building the structure with us it stayed located in the space for many years.
Along with children from the Angels Play Centre, Gorton Market and a local charity shop were visited. We explored opportunities to have dialogues with market traders, journey story telling, trying on clothes and the purchasing of an artefact with which to develop a story. In response to a story about a bear hunt the children from Benchill Sure Start Children’s Centre created bridge-like structures from their understanding and re-enacting their memory of the story.
City Art gallery was also visited with children from Benchill Sure Start Children’s Centre to explore and experience a city centre public building. We used our bodies to mimic, measure and test out the movement of the lifts and bridges, look into and through reflective and transparent materials, and understand the structure of the building.
puddle and the lake
Involving children from Brookdale Park Play Centre and Newton Heath Sure Start Children’s Centre we explored ‘what’s on your doorstep’ with the aim to enable the children to creatively and unconventionally investigate their local environs. Parents participated in the workshops as creative collaborators developing a deeper sense of civic pride and extended citizenship. Nostalgic discussions took place with grandparents regarding a lake that had existed in the early Victorian planning of the park which we responded to by playing in and discussing the naturally formed puddles as places to splash. The children responded well to the creative play approach using drawing to observe and imagine, cooking food using campfires and building full size shelters.
Staff development opportunities also emerged out of the studies facilitating Children’s Centre staff, landscape maintenance teams and families to work together to take greater ownership and thus creating a sustainable future for the park.
Envisaged as a collaborative experiment to which those attending will make a contribution it was intended that the experiences that collaborators took away would encourage them to engage with buildings differently in the future. Artists and teachers took part in various workshops with the cathedral organist, a cellist and students from the performing arts degree at UCLAN to physically experience breadth of the soundscape through their bodies in the cathedral spaces, surface and structure.
city as gymnasium
In response to the exhibition titled ‘city as gymnasium’ at Cube Gallery Manchester, we worked with year 11 students from Parrswood High School and Cedar Mount Academy to playfully explore and use the city as a creative playground. The students proposed using everyday street furniture items to express their physical responses the city which then developed into design studies for re-purposing parts of the newly explored inner city spaces within the relocated context of the gallery.
imagine their shadows
With children from Rusholme Sure Start Children’s Centre we collaborated with the Horse and Bamboo Theatre, Centre for the Urban Built Environment (CUBE) and Places Matter! Using ground-breaking methodologies for the Manchester Museum, we allowed the children to explore the structure and interior spaces of the Victorian buildings in which the exhibits are displayed. The children noticed how dark the spaces were and how similar the skeletons they were looking at were to the exposed structure. Inspired by their observations we projected the shadows of animals and skeletons onto the structural frame, walls and ceilings of the gallery.
living in the wall
The overly structured external space at the Claughton Children’s Centre, Wirral was viewed by staff as not really child friendly and lacked any ‘sense of place’. We worked with the children, their families and staff in response to a brief story created about the missing tick tock of the teacher’s watch inspired by the ‘Grammar of Fantasy’ by Gianni Rodari. Part of the project took us to see the Nek Chand exhibition at the Tea Factory in Liverpool which used the concept of found objects in secret gardens. After hiding precious objects in the unused Children’s Centre garden fences we created our own secret garden creatures that then were able to inhabit the fence. The fence became a new living wall incorporating bird boxes, interactive artefacts, creatures, mirrors and plants. An exhibition of the project in the RIBA Archi-truck travelled from the neighbouring school’s playground to The Story Gallery, Lancaster and The Lantern House in Ulverston.
a strong sense of me
With Norris Green Primary School, Stockport we collaborated with the children, their families and staff at Stockport market exploring the historical mappings of the inside and outside market spaces. The children had dialogues with the market traders and undertook observation drawings. We revisited the classes and enabled the children to create gigantic scale cognitive painted maps and models of their market place visit. We also exhibited the maps and models at CUBE gallery.