Okay we’ve got 4 days. In those 4 days we want the Primary 7 pupils to completely rediscover their classroom space; to see it, experience it in a whole new way. We want them to get to the end of the project and feel like anything is possible. We’d better start moving some furniture!
I was the lead artist on this short Immerse summer residency, working alongside the brilliant artistic duo of dancers Clare Adam and Lesley Howard. We decided that at the heart of our process would be a sense of playful discovery, safe disruption, and considered communication and access support. We knew we had to work within the classrooms, so we wanted to find a way to turn those known spaces into something brand new. As this might involve a bit of disruption, we invited pupils to bring in a “comfort object” that they could use at any time throughout the process. These objects – cuddly toys, fidget toys, slime, sand etc – were used by most pupils during our time. Some pupils had their comfort object on them at all times.
On the first day we explained to each class that we would be using different artforms but it might not always be obvious what that artform is. So, we invited them to consider that everything that happened was art. We also introduced a visual map each day that would explain what the day would look like.
Day 1 was all about creating a new zone in the classroom by moving furniture about. We provided some simple rules:
- only one person can make a move at a time
- don’t deliberately undo someone else’s move
- all moves have to be completed by a certain time
Other than that, it was a free-for-all!
Very quickly pupils made bold choices – putting chairs on top of tables, placing items on top of cupboards, turning a bookcase upside down. My favourite moves were the ones that seemed small but carried a lot of significance: one pupil rubbed out all of the teacher’s writing on the board, one pupil rearranged the lettering on a wall display to create nonsense words, and one pupil placed pompoms in a small jar – it turned out this pompom jar was the teacher’s system of rewarding good behaviour!
Interestingly, this first day felt playfully chaotic but the end result perhaps wasn’t worth so much disruption. There’s something about how busy classrooms are already that even the bigger furniture moves became quite diluted by the visual noise that is always on the walls.
On the second day we recorded improvised music using paper instruments and then created small sculptures out of paper, wool, foil etc. These were then suspended across the classroom. We encouraged the pupils to rediscover through sound and by thinking of the space above their heads. This process felt like it was better catered to all the different ways that the pupils naturally want to work. Some of the neurodiverse pupils really flourished here – one pupil created a whole musical instrument out of rubber bands suspended between table legs. And the end results were quite beautiful with all of these small pieces of work hanging over the classroom.
On the third day we started to introduce BSL, lead by Clare. The pupils responded to this in such a great way, showing a real eagerness to learn more and more. Several pupils went home and learned how to communicate things to show us on the last day. We worked from a place of movement today – rediscovering the classroom by how we move through it.
Towards the end of the third sessions we asked the pupils to create a task for the other class to carry out the next day. We said there was no limit to what this could be, only informed by what they had been exploring this week. One class asked the other to “Draw your teachers as planets”; the other class set the task of “Take your entire classroom outside”.
During the last day we explored artistic interpretation. We got them to do some exercises to show how it is possible to interpret art in various ways. And this then helped them to decide how they wanted to interpret the task set for them by the other class. This was especially helpful for the task of “take your entire classroom outside” – of course they wanted to do this quite literally, moving every item of furniture outside. Through a democratic process of listening to and then voting on pupil ideas they actually interpreted it by playing games outside for the rest of the day. It was such a joyful small act of children setting the rules and a perfect way to end the short residency.
Lesley Howard also shared the following quotes: