Examples of Previous ProjectsKester (2013) argues that anything that is accessible is under the suspicion of being a commodity. These projects are not banal just because they are accessible. They initiate dialogue and challenge stereotypical processes of art making. Community cohesion through encountering the 'wow' effect, and the shared feeling of contributing to something extraordinary, was the primary objective of these projects. Furthermore, Csikszentmihalyi (2014) asserts that self-esteem becomes stronger after a 'flow' event. This may suggest the possibility of a contribution to the development of interpersonal confidence within the affected communities following their participatory 'flow' experience.
Organising an a/r/tographic project requires preparation in all three fields of art, teaching and research. What did the a/r/tographer learn from previous experiences that could contribute to this research?
Rudi, the Dino & Tigger (2001)
RAISING ENTHUSIASM FOR COLLECTING MATERIAL: It was easier to enthuse school children to collect reusable items for a school project 15 years ago, when creating awareness of household recycling was in a pioneering stage. Back then, it took only a few days for a school community to gather enough newspapers for making a life-size, papier-mache dinosaur. Nowadays, it appears that more extensive self-reliance of a facilitator in resourcing material may need to be recognised and supported by the agencies of a project.
PLANNING: Creative projects that are based on group flow, are often unpredictable, chaotic with a feeling around them that "they just happen". When I facilitated the making of Rudi, a life-size papier-mache dinosaur by a Waldorf School community at the Green Living Fair, Castle Espie Nature Reserve in Northern Ireland in 2001, with an intention of raising funding for woodcarving equipment for the school, I only knew how to make paprier-mache bowl, but not a life-size dinosaur. Also, at the start, there was no fundraising strategy. However, during the making, the process crystalized. The children painted the visitors' names with gold on the beast for a £1 each. The project raised £1000 for art & craft equipment for the school.
AFTERCARE: There were no plans in place for Rudi's maintenance. Later in the year, the birds pecked holes on it littering the environment. An emergency group had to be formed to take the dinosaur down.
Saber Tooth Tigger was a follow up of Rudi. It was a special request by a class that much enjoyed participating in the creation of Rudi.
Hannibal, the Elephant (2004)
OPEN MINDEDNESS: Projects in seemingly unsuitable circumstances can become platforms of social cohesion. Originally, I designed Hannibal, a participatory snow sculpture project, for promoting an intensive summer craft course in Austria. However, despite its underlying promotional goals, the participants (with various personal interest in the success of the course) experienced excitement and shared ownership not dissimilar to other participatory projects. The memorable social process had enriched the cultural history of the craft school's neighbourhood for many years, and might have inspired their further sculptural collaborations.
Totem Pole of Mid-Hut (2006)
DEALING WITH IDENTITY ISSUES: Shared intellectual ownership and accountability may offer a growing sense of belonging (McMillan & Chavis, 1986), especially, when the chosen subject is permiated by ritualistic qualities, such as the Totem Pole of Mid-Hut (2006). CREATING A 'COMMON VISION': It is the foundation of a shared intellectual ownership of the work. When the Totem Pole of Mid-Hut was carved with a group of boys, each carving their own part on the pole independently of the others, they never referred to the totem pole as their work, and consequently, the boys only showed their own contribution to their visitors. Learning from this, when it came painting the pole, the boys were asked to paint somebody's else carving. The artwork immediately became 'our totem pole'.
PRACTICAL SOLUTIONS FOR CARVING WITH GROUPS: Carving a tree trunk laid on the ground offers safe workstations. Due to the weight of the wood, no further clamping is required other than some stabilising wedge support. From a health and safety point of view, it is suitable for a group of participants to work at the same time on a shared project.
Big Phil and Little Phil (2006)
FLEXIBILITY AND RESOURCEFULNESS: When this sculpture was created over a decade ago, it was already increasingly harder to enthuse children to collect material than 5 years before. Despite the difficulties, 450 tin cans were collected that the children used for building the life-size giraffe over a week. The project involved most of the children and many staff voluntarily contributing their time for stringing together the tin cans. Due to a lack of understanding of the weight bearing properties of copper pipes, on the fourth morning the giraffe legs started to buckle. An emergency solution was needed. A redundant gym-horse became scaffolding. When the children arrived, they were surprised to find a baby giraffe being born to Philip. The name changed to the non-gender specific name of Phil afterwards. The element of surprise was a great addition to the project. Big Phil and Little Phil was sold on eBay after its creation and subsequent exhibition at Groombridge Enchanted Forest. The sculpture raised £660 to support a Waldorf School in Sierra Leone after the civil war.
Icy, the Ice Dragon (2007)
SURPRISE, DETERMINATION AND COURAGE: Icy, the Ice Dragon 'laid' ice eggs as a surprise after its making. The eggs appeared in front of the sculpture overnight. Icy offers some insights into planning socially engaged artworks in many ways. A project that is not within the facilitator's own familiar environment is always more testing on preparation. The dragon was carved out of 1 tonne of ice during an art festival at a neighbouring school. It was challenging at multiple levels:
-Acquiring one tonne of ice with scheduled transport and finding the financial resources for it
-The facilitator had never carved ice before
-The participating children had emotional behaviour difficulties
-They were using big sharp chisels and mallets on slippery ice in public
-Freezing balloons in various freezers, organising the 'ice eggs' collection and transport required negotiation with many people
-At one stage, the project involved lighting a fire around the ice dragon that caused further unknown certainties
Yet, the project was an exceptional success. The children's behaviour was not only impeccable during the event, but behaviour-related incidence remained minimal for an additional week at school, where before, behaviour issues were daily.
MERGING: to initiate a shared ownership of the work. Banoffi is the outcome of a social woodcarving process at Philpots Manor School. Inspired by a discussion on genetic cloning, each participant created a small woodcarving of a cloned animal of their own imagination. After reviewing their ideas and using at least one aspect from every individual carving, a montage plan was created for Banoffi, that the participants, taking turn over a few weeks, carved and painted on the recycled top of a large dinner table. Through this process of 'creative selection', this project enabled EBD students to discover a way of expressing their sense of uniqueness (Koydemir et al., 2014) and contribute accordingly to a school-community woodcarving project. Banoffi grew gradually, through one by one encounters, eventually becoming an artwork by the whole school community.
As a follow up, further playful wood engraving group activities were included during weekly woodcarving sessions, for example, the participants passed the V-shape chisel round in a circle silently, each contributing a line to a spontaneously forming carved image.
MEANINGFUL THEME: It should be paramount that the theme is exciting to most of the participants and motivates them to create the shared artwork. At Muntham School, an EBD all-boys boarding school in Horsham, Superheroes (2015) was created. The boys studied superheroes as part of their literature curriculum the previous year, and they considered them as role models. The healthy and gigantic tree was cut down due to a previous H&S concern with the possibility of ingestion of the poisonous berries of the tree. The tree's removal caused some emotional turbulence and as a consolation, the management of the school decided to get the remaining tree trunk carved. There was a strong enthusiasm during the intensive two weeks. Many students chose to continue carving in their free time. This project has served to rectify social regrets and aid in community reconciliation.
Howsham Kingfisher (2017)
SAFE WORKSTATIONS: Carving a long tree trunk, laid on the ground offers many safe workstations. Due to the weight of the wood, no further clamping is required other than some stabilising wedge support. It is a suitable arrangement for a group of participants to work at the same time on a shared project.
BARK CARVING: As an example of this relatively simple, and easy to master woodcarving technique, the Howsham Kingfisher (2017) has been created. It is a controlled carving off the bark revealing the wood underneath that is further incised with contour lines, and eventually painted and varnished to preserve it against the elements. It is a suitable technique for narrative expression on long tree trunks, and therefore it may be called narrative bark carving.
This technique is quick to learn and easy to apply by younger age groups too. It is less demanding physically and therefore very pleasurable to use. It requires only one chisel per carver to handle, and the result is highly satisfying.