UNMAPPING: Charting New Paths to Creativity
Costumes, installations, and videos - we're in a distinctly contemporary-arty frame of mind at Sydney Story Factory this term. As part of our ongoing Unmapping program, we’re working with artist Katy Plummer and the Museum of Contemporary Art, giving students from Bankstown Girls High School and Belmore South Public the opportunity to investigate creative processes.
If you're a artist and would like to apply to be part of future programs, please click HERE for the brief, and send your application to firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday July 20th. This is a paid residency, as artists will be reimbursed for the creation and installation of their artwork, as well as for development time, attendance at workshops, and reflection on the program.
What is Unmapping?
At the beginning of each program, students were asked - what does Unmapping mean to you? Some decided it's an invitation to throw out the rules and stat a goal afresh. Others think it's about beginning a journey without knowing the destination. One student proposed that it was about chasing goals you don't know how to achieve. All of these definitions are correct.
The Unmpapping project, generously supported by The Balnaves Foundation, is a collaboration between Sydney Story Factory and the Museum of Contemporary Art. Resident artists work alongside MCA artist educators and Sydney Story Factory storytellers to show students different paths to creative outcomes. Students are encouraged to find the links between different forms of creative exploration and expression, and to question and deconstruct restrictive formulas and habits that we can all fall into when attempting the intimidating act of creating something new.
The project is rolling out over two years (2017-18) and involves groups of students from four primary schools and four high schools taking part in term-long workshop programs. Students embark on a journey through the creative process, tracking the development, installation, and reflection of a professional visual artists’ work and reinterpreting the artists’ practices into their own creative writing.
After the success of Phase 1, where we worked with Ella Condon and her video work that investigated light (you can read more HERE) we were excited at SSF to jump into Phase 2. During Term 4 of 2017 we worked with Granville East Public School and Punchbowl Boys High School. Granville East is a co-ed public school with roughly 350 students (kindergarten to Year 6). We worked with twenty students in grades 5-6 (ages 10-12). The school population is 96% language background other than English. These students possess a range of literacy skill levels, with some only having recently arrived in Australia, their first English language country. GEPS worked with Sydney Story Factory earlier in the year, completing a community newspaper. The school chose their highest performing students to take part in that program, as a way of extending their learning. For Unmapping it was decided that a mixed range of students should be allowed to take part.
Punchbowl Boys High School has worked with Sydney Story Factory throughout 2017. The school population is 98% language background other than English, and again this cohort included students who had only recently completed their schooling at an Intensive English facility. During Term 4, eighteen students in Year 7 (ages 13-14) participated in our Unmapping project, with 100% from language backgrounds other than English.
Our artist for Phase 2 was a young up and comer, called Rachel. Rachel Buch is a recent graduate of the National Art School, completing her studies in 2014 majoring in Ceramics. Since then she had developed projects as artist and curator for spaces such as the Bondi Pavilion, Glebe Markets and Gaffa, all of which focus on experience as a methodology of appreciating art. Other achievements include becoming a finalist for the Alice Prize in 2016 and the Stone Villa Wearable Art Prize in 2017
“For the last year I’ve been working on making textile nests as my main practice. For every nest I come up with its own themes, stories, colours and objects. Nests themselves are about homes and refuge, so each one becomes a personal reflection. I gather and collect everything I want to include in the nest, then surround myself with an overflow of materials. I build the skeleton of the nest out of wires, bulk it up with roving wool and start attaching and weaving objects into it.
Performance, interaction and collaboration has greatly impacted my philosophy as an artist. I find I prefer these methods as means of transferring information. I am particularly interested in engaging children through art. The materials I use are yarn, wool, batting, fabric, ceramics, and found objects. I make artworks with the intention that they will be touched. I often incorporate theatrical elements such as narrative, staging and characterisation as part of my practice.”
SO WHAT DID WE DO?
Rachel’s bright and tactile art quickly grabbed the students’ attention, leading to long periods of engaged questioning of methodology and meaning. Rachel found working with the students a pleasure. “I forgot what it was like to be an early adolescent, coming to terms with ones’ own ideas and thoughts. It was fun to watch in each lesson how the students would grow with the program - discovering gradually that there were no right and wrong answers. And the questions! It was so fun watching how many questions the students had about everything.”
After meeting Rachel and exploring her art, students spent the following weeks visiting the Sydney Story Factory and Museum of Contemporary Art. At the MCA students viewed works by artists such as Mikala Dwyer, Fiona Hall, and Pipilotti Rist, and used them as jumping off points for discussion and their own art making. At Sydney Story Factory students created poetry and narrative using images, artworks, found and heard words, and their own lives as prompts. The creative themes that students explored included Daydreaming and Play, Collecting and Assembling, Making the Everyday Magical, Symbols and Rituals, and Your Australiana.
Students worked on activities that explicitly linked their writing to elements of Rachel’s process and finished artworks. Responding to how Rachel wove in small, colourful mementos of her childhood, such as soft toys, past craft experiments, and even the bright spoons from her favourite ice cream parlour, students collected words and phrases written and overheard from their homes and surroundings, and wove these into new pieces of Collage Poetry.
In response to Rachel’s story of how she conceived an artwork by attempting to make her ideas bigger and stranger, students tried Turning It Up, a writing activity where they took a banal activity and exaggerated different elements, creating an exciting and surreal scenario from their everyday life.
Students responded positively to these workshops, saying “It was awesome fun and creative because it has helped me a lot in my learning and writing”, and “It was fun and encouraged me to have a voice. There is no right or wrong answer”.
HOW DID IT GO?
With a workshop program based around an artist who creates magical costumes and mythical creatures, it went much as you'd expect - fantastically! At the beginning of the workshop program students were asked whether they identified as creative. Only half of each class raised their hand, and less than half again said that they knew any methods for approaching creative challenges. By the end of the program, after examining Rachel’s work, comparing her process to other artists’, and trialling new activities and methods towards thinking and writing creatively, all students agreed that they were creative, and that they could use these methods the next time they were asked to think creatively. This was a fantastic result. By demythologising the act of creativity, and building a new map from inspiration to finished artistic expression, students were able to claim creativity for themselves.
“Working as an artist you forget that your process is not the same as others,” said Rachel. “When it’s not a reflexive action it becomes open to interpretation. There were many moments when a student would come to different conclusions or follow a different train of thought that would surprise me, calling into question just how rigid my own thinking can be sometimes.”
The volunteer tutors who worked alongside the students noticed a shift in thinking, too.
Students were asked in the final workshop to think of other jobs where creative thinking would come in handy. Between the two classes, students identified chefs, police detectives, engineers, scientists, songwriters, architects, video game creators, and teachers, among many others. Students then had the opportunity to try and apply the creative practices they were now familiar with to the wider world.
Matt Roden, the Creative Projects Manager at Sydney Story Factory, conceived of the program, and has facilitated Unmapping in its first two iterations. “It has been fantastic seeing students stimulated by so many creative opportunities. Students bounce back and forth from the visual to the written, playing with concepts in both mediums, and drawing links between the two. By examining creative process, and undertaking activities that are based on the real-world practices of professional artists, students self-identify as creative. They begin to think of how these methods of creative exploration and experimentation may be used in different avenues beyond the classroom and the arts. Introducing students to new concepts in new environments has created strong bonds among the students, as they share their ideas, opinions, and work. Explicitly showing students that they can express aspects of their lives and follow their passions through a variety of creative methods, alongside a professional artist undertaking the same process, has resulted in students feeling a sense of ownership of their creative instincts, and the ability to chart their own creative process.”