UNMAPPING: Charting New Paths to Creativity
Seen something a little different about our front window? You might have noticed the incredible new artwork on display, alongside reflections from students and interactive viewing devices. It's all part of Ella Condon's Light Leaks work, which was commissioned as part of our Unmapping program.
So what's 'Unmapping'?
The Unmapping 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 creativity.
Students are supported and encouraged to find the links between different forms of creative exploration and expression, and to question and deconstruct restrictive formulas and habits that even young people can find impinge upon their creativity.
The first program in the Unmapping series took place in Term 2, 2017 (May-June). The resident artist for the first phase was Ella Condon.
Ella describes herself as "an artist working within expanded and experimental forms of photography, video and installation.” She says she is “interested in notions of time and experiences of light,” and is “engaged in thinking around light."
Ella's work and practice have been a strong foundational part of the program, with her process of research, experimentation, problem solving and translation all having clear relations to creativity. Her focus area, light, allowed students to explore more esoteric and abstract subjects, and also provided an interesting access point to students with strong interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects.
For phase one we worked with students from Plunkett Street Public School and Canterbury Boys High School.
The Unmapping Experience
The Unmapping project began in early May with workshops for the primary and high school students in the galleries at the MCA and in our creative writing centre in Redfern. Students first explored the creative process with Ella, hearing her journey in creating art, and using similar techniques as she might to experiment with her chosen subject, light.
The first excursion to the MCA allowed students to experience art in a gallery, while also using the MCA learning facilities to continue their tactile experimentations. The students responded extremely well to these hands-on classes, with high levels of engagement carrying forward into weekly creative writing workshops. Students were asked to take a subject such as light, sound, communication, or an emotion, and just as Ella might research and experiment with an idea before settling on a final presentation mode for her findings, so too did the students through different creative writing activities.
"Even when they wrestled with the questions or the topic, it felt like a good kind of frustration." Amy, volunteer tutor
The students from Plunkett Street embraced the ideas of play and experimentation, easily seeing the value in a freeform period of creativity in the art making process, and readily applying it to a creative investigation of abstract subjects and concept words. Students loved creating characters based on their abstract concepts, and especially enjoyed directing the visual presentation of their final piece of writing, choosing colours, typefaces, and layout to better express their concepts to an audience.
Towards the end of the program, students met Ella again at the MCA and with their learning staff developed responses to Ella's work and the Unmapping program. One student with severe literacy issues expressed his feelings through song, recording a two-minute impromptu tribute to art and creativity. Another student said that she now understood much more about being creative, and claimed that she would be an artist when she grew up. Ella told her that she already was.
"The students were very excited to be able to visit the Martian Embassy. It is a stimulating environment and paired with the enthusiastic staff, my students had a great experience. Our experiences visiting the MCA gave my students the opportunity to engage with visual arts in a way that many would not have the opportunity to do otherwise. Participating in hands-on activities and exploring abstract ideas through art engaged the majority of the class. My students enjoyed making friendships and building bonds with the tutors and this assisted in completing activities and developing improved attitudes and outcomes in writing." Raven Bendersky, Plunkett Street Public School
The students from Canterbury Boys High were fascinated by the findings of our resident artist in her own research and experimentation, as her investigations and expert interviews have bridged the gaps between science, maths, and art-making. Students combined personal experience and emotion with research into their topics, as well as personifying their abstract concepts and writing from multiple view points. They took great care in editing their many experimentations into new, unique works for the final presentation. In the final reflection week, students shared what they had learned.
"I think of abstract things differently now", said one student. "Before I thought of love as a wise old man, but now I know it is young and confused like me." "I loved the freedom to explore", said another, "and I think differently about art and creativity and everything." This student went from distracting disengagement to breakthrough weeks of writing, from stapling his work shut as it made him anxious to share, to openly discussing his thoughts and feelings with fellow students and the staff of both organisations.
"Once they realised this wasn't school and any pressure is self generated they became involved, and more confident in their ability to produce. They came to the edge, they jumped: and they flew." Philip, volunteer tutor
"Some of the boys were more focussed than usual. They were definitely inspired to use their imagination a lot more as they weren't restricted by certain criteria that is usually given to them in the classroom." Louise Hassey, visual arts teacher Canterbury Boys High School
From the Artist
"I am a visual artist working within the areas of expanded photography, video and installation.
The most critical and transformative opportunities for my practice have been through residencies and extended projects enabling ongoing dialogue and engagement. The opportunity to collaborate with Sydney Story Factory for Unmapping has provoked dialogue and engagement with my practice from a range of audiences, and given me the invaluable opportunity to collaborate with new audiences.
Supporting artists through projects like this fosters a unique and creative space for learning, which provided inspiration and ideas to respond to." Ella Condon
Plunkett Street Public School is a small primary school in Woolloomooloo with only 45-50 students. We worked with the 21 older students in grades 3-6 (ages 8-10). Nine students (42%) are of ATSI background and five (23%) are from language backgrounds other than English. Many students have learning difficulties or behavioural support needs, and find mainstream education very challenging.
Eleven volunteers supported students as writing tutors during this program. Involving these older students in the Unmapping project provided an opportunity to significantly extend their learning experience, not least because it provided the rare opportunity for the students to undertake off-site excursions to the MCA and our writing centre in Redfern.
"Our students have higher than average behaviour management and academic needs, but I feel that the SSF understands these needs and caters to them by altering the delivery and being flexible to the individual learning styles of our students." Raven Bendersky, classroom teacher at Plunkett Street Public School
At the invitation of the Department of Education, we are partnering with Canterbury Boys High for the first time in 2017 to deliver a year-long program of workshops for students in years 8, 9, 10 and 12 on-site at the school. During Term 2, 17 students in years 9 and 10 (ages 14-16) participated in our Unmapping project. Thirteen of them (76%) are from language backgrounds other than English, including Mandarin,Indonesian, Samoan and Arabic, and one student is of ATSI background. Five volunteers supported students as writing tutors.
Some of the Canterbury students were reluctant to share ideas with the group, as creatively expressing ideas and sharing personal anecdotes relating to emotional and abstract concepts can be challenging for teenage boys, especially if they are unsure of vocabulary and language usage. Working in smaller groups with tutors provided students an opportunity to share ideas and experiment with writing concepts in a safe and supportive context.
"The two venues, SSF and the MCA were fantastic places for the boys to get creative. The main difference between the two venues and being at school is that with this program the boys could be more open-minded and were able to think outside the box. This was evident in what they wrote [from the start]." Louise Hassey, visual arts teacher Canterbury Boys High School
Thank you to all at The Balnaves Foundation for your generous support for this innovative and exciting project. Together we really are changing young lives, one story at a time.