Artists as Explorers

Part of the role of the Education team at Leeds Art Gallery is creating activities that align with schools curricula. We accept these challenges and try to work topics into exciting learning experiences outside the classroom.

‘All around the World’ was the latest topic a primary school asked us to work with. It would have been too easy to do a whistle-stop tour of artists who come from different countries or cover a stereotyped example of a specific culture. Instead, we understood it as explorers in their own right; with their investigatory processes of making artworks and wanted to address the journeys that lead viewers on when engaging with an artwork.

Inspiration: Chris Drury

Flicking through the gallery’s catalogue of artworks in the collection, I found ‘Medicine Wheel’ by Chris Drury (1982-1983) (View it on the artist’s website). The large wheel shape contains one natural object for each day of the year, all collected by the artist on walks he took. It also contains twelve segments of paper, one for each month, made from the pulp of particular plants most evident during that month and a mushroom spore print at the very centre of the wheel.

Chris Drury is an environmental artist who makes site-specific nature based sculpture. His work makes connections between different phenomena in the world, specifically between nature and culture. He focuses on the environments in which we live, often using mapping to draw attention to how we use or abuse the landscape. Drury frequently collaborates with scientists, doctors and technicians to explore the sites he creates artworks about.

Journeys as artistic inspiration

Inspired by the artwork, we proposed a creative play space in which to explore the theme ‘Journeys’. We asked pupils to bring a photo or object from ‘all around the world’ to the activity, which would help showcase or add to the work that they had been undertaking in class. Young people used their imaginations and independent creative ideas to go on a journey with their object and to investigate what their object said about living in a particular place.

The play space was constructed as a large wheel installation on the floor with four sections of different activities. Pupils made new artworks that imagined the surroundings of the objects they brought through sound, 3D modelling, creative sorting and drawing. As an example, one pupil brought a picture of a landscape in Zimbabwe to the 3D modelling station; the pupil considered what else an explorer may see in the environment of the picture and made a model of an elephant.

At the end of the experience pupils shared their new creations, displaying the artworks in the wheel to make a collective artwork of imaginary journeys.

Taking an artist process and ‘reinventing the wheel,’ we created a learning experience that allowed children to go on their own imaginative journeys and making an artwork as a response. An artist and their working process provided inspiration for creative learning experiences. This also showcased the role an artist can play in communicating about the world, and how they question our surroundings.

By Lucy Courtney-Clegg

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