Blog 1: Brian Hartley (Immerse Artist in Residence)

13 March 2020

c. Brian Hartley
c. Brian Hartley

I am working with St Ninian’s R.C. Primary School, a beautiful old 1930’s building in Restalrig, an area east of the city centre, an area which has fascinating and ancient history, with people from many different places making their homes in the area for centuries. I am working with dancer and choreographer Anna Noonan, and we are hoping to combine dance and visual art, uniting the different art forms through choreography, drawing, model making and film-making to explore connections between the children and the places they know and live in. We spent some time together walking from the city centre to Restalrig via several well-known Edinburgh landmarks and along the way discovering new parts of the city. During an initial conversation with the head teacher who shared an interest in the children’s sense of community, and imagining the world they are going into, led to thinking more deeply about place and how we can explore this through a creative investigation in partnership with the children and staff. How do we acknowledge the stories of the past, with experiences of our day to day lives and using our imagination to dream about future places. 


At our introductory session we met the children of P6a and P6b and decide to share some movement and visual work as an introduction to each other. We explored some creative movement exercises about our imaginations of different places. Real and imagined places: from swimming in the ocean, to freezing snowy mountains and busy urban city streets, each location giving a different quality in our bodies. Rolling out a long piece of paper on the floor, making a large drawing of the classroom with a continuous line, by everyone in the class and then a drawing of another person in the room, trying not to look at the paper as we draw. Expanding our experiences of unusual ways of drawing, what happens when we can’t see the paper or know what the end result will be, can we trust ourselves to try new experiences?

Week one

Creating a space for dance in the class room, exploring how can we move as a group, leading and following, listening to each other and noticing details about how we are all moving, building trust as a group.

After moving energetically and creatively we change focus to a visual arts task for the day, revisiting the group drawings from the introduction session. We add another drawing task to the paper, made with our eyes closed, drawing something that we saw this morning. There is lots of laugher and excitement about what will happen if we can’t see the paper. Afterwards, in groups, we look at the drawings and using our imaginations, create a story around what we can see, with some very creative and imaginative results. It was interesting revisiting the work from the introduction session, a way of noticing what we remember and how we can use our imagination creatively in reading and understanding drawings and images.

Week two

Today was all about noticing and observation. What do we see, what do we remember? How can we move as a group together, can we move with awareness of other people and thinking about how animals, especially birds and fish, move effectively in groups.

We shared a dance warm up and it quickly became an enjoyable game: People to People, a great way to energise everyone in the group, changing habits of working within the group. Walking together in a line, with the whole class, how to move in unison with our eyes closed, noticing our neighbours and keep time and pace together, sensing the movement and trusting each other, working as a team. We watched some films of birds flying in flocks, seeing how complex the patterns are and how it looks like liquid, the sound of the birds wings, moving at high speed never bumping into each other. 

Today’s visual art activities involved thinking about the local area around St Ninian’s. Working in small groups, one person describes their journey from home to school, the others in the group draw this journey, and then swap over so each person gets to draw. What did you notice; what did you see, hear, directions, distances, forms of transport, landmarks. Each group devising their own individual systems to describe these journeys as diagrams, maps and expressive drawings full of character, personality and detail. We also had an interesting conversation at break time, in the staffroom, around optimal learning and its benefits on learning and resilience through exploring our creative comfort areas and where the edges are for learning and experience.  As artists where do we work that touches on these ideas when we are creative, and what experiences can we share with the children that are both enjoyable but also expand their creative potential.

Week three

After speaking to Mr McCann, the head teacher, we suggested a trip out of school, to be able to get a view of the city and we felt that Calton Hill would be a good choice. It is within walking distance, and a place that many of the children hadn’t been to before, and offers fantastic views across the city, including being able to see Restalrig. 

There are so many things to see on Calton Hill, its history and location are an essential part of Edinburgh’s history, and we will have a short time there, as we are fitting the trip in before lunchtime, so have to use the time effectively. After seeing the flocking movements developing over the last two weeks in school, we consider the potential to take this further and recreate some of the movement actions on Calton Hill, and that could make an interesting short film of our visit.

Thinking about directions, we look at a compass, learning about north, south, east, west, how do we navigate and use it to help us tell direction, and the children take turns learning how to use it. We continued the flocking exercises developing some more inventive ideas around moving together as a group to support each other and choosing leaders to share the responsibility and had some creative ideas from the children about new choreographic possibilities and we introduce some ideas from our learning about the compass, creating physical gestures for each compass point. Let’s hope we get some good weather next week for the trip to Calton Hill.