In December I worked in Oaklands school for a week-long residency with Willow class - a group of eight pupils (P1-P5) with a wide range of interests and personalities. I was lucky to be teamed with amazing artists Jack Hunter, Marie-Gabrielle Koumenda and Ink Asher Hemp. None of us had worked together before and the combination of approaches and artistic practices blended really well. By combining our individual skills in music, storytelling, writing and theatre making we aimed to create a multisensory installation for the children to experience.
Oaklands is a pretty amazing specialist school with incredible staff and brilliant resources, including a whole hall devoted to expressive arts. As such, the hall already had things such as colourful lighting, digital projectors, and PA audio as well as musical instruments, material and craft items. We worked with what the school already had to create a forest environment that would change every day to reflect a different season.
Marie and I played live music every day both as part of the songs we composed for the residency and also by improvising during play and chillout sessions. One girl from the class was particularly drawn to my cello. Whenever I started to play she would make her way over to me and stand really close to the instrument listening and gently swaying. She was incredibly respectful of the instrument and she was very clear with her non-verbal communication - sometimes indicating that she would like to play by gently strumming the strings, sometimes indicating that I was to play with either my fingers or my bow. These interactions would sometimes go on for a long time. She really reminded me of the value of slowing down, making meaningful exchanges with one other person through artistic expression.
Another good example of what can be achieved by slowing down the artistic process came on the last day where we recreated the effect of falling cherry blossom. With an electric fan on the ground we scattered hundreds of tissue paper circles above the flow of wind, creating a mesmerizing flurry of pink and white. As a few of the pupils in Willow class spend a lot of time in beds or reclined chairs their viewpoint is often upwards. This activity worked well because everything happened in their comfortable eyeline. As a result it went on for a long time with some of the more independent movers picking up handfuls of blossom and helping to scatter them again and again. It was pretty magical.