Tuesday 30 March 2010

Rubbish for art not rubbish art

Michael Landy's Art Bin claims a rubbish Damien Hurst skull painting. Hooray! Tracey Emin also contributed, and my perception of them as people changes, if not as artists.

Got me thinking about rubbish, art, quality and value of art. Artists/ creative practitioners comment:

'You need to use quality arts materials to make good art.'


'To really value the work people do, you need to use quality materials'

I kind of understand where it's coming from. At Kings Heath Stay and Play we bought two sets of children's drums - one all cardboard and plastic, which sounded tinny got sat on and broke. The other was hardwaring, still sounds great but cost a lot.

However, working with rubbish can be exactly the quality you need. What's more, I think there is a satisfaction making art from rubbish, and even better from your own rubbish.

In 2005 I worked on CP project with Graham Langley, storyteller, and a secondary group from Quinton on Who are we. They were working with Graham creating a story from local placenames. I brought in a big bag of my rubbish, and together with some lentils and other bits we found in the room, we made the world in which the story happened. The model had quickly provided a few photos for backdrops, development of the story and their storytelling.

It's a media I've used a fair bit over the years with much effect. I'm working with Shenley Green Youth & Community Centre at the moment, and as one of the activities we decided to recreate the community centre from rubbish. The group gradually extended their model to include much of their Shenley Green. The model was made from rubbish and was due to last shorter than the centre (demolition next week). We decided no one will put it into Landy's, or anyone else's skip. The model at least was rescued from demolition by the people who made it.

Wednesday 24 March 2010

The New House that Jack Built

This is an archive I found out about through Dr Ian Grosvenor (who has recently published a paper on it), in Birmingham Archives and Heritage. The original 'House that Jack built' is an old English Nursery rhyme:

"a cumulative tale that doesn't tell the story of Jack, who builds a house, but instead shows how the house is indirectly linked to numerous things and people, and through this method tells the story of 'The man all tattered and torn', and the 'Maiden all forlorn', on top of other smaller storylines."


It isn't unusual for a parody to be made from nursery rhymes, and this story in particular. There are many examples dating back to the eighteenth century. Initially I thought about using the story as an example of slave campaigning in nineteenth century England.

Then I thought the structure of the story would be useful to develop their own parodies, looking to where products they bought had come from. Finally, as I read closer, I found more in the story, to explore attitudes to learning, science, geography, race and learning - a history of ethics, a pedagogy for 'creative learning' and fair and ethical trading.

Tract ends with 'God save the King!' - a reminder of the times, perhaps, to avoid any accusation of harbouring Frenchie Republican notions other slavery abolitionists had been tarred with.

In the end, the group (Yr8 Science class exploring 'A Scientific justification for Fair Trade') moved on from it to their own products, and exploring where they have come from. However, it was useful in framing our project - laying out a 'scientific' reductionist framework, mapping out and linking mechanical, chemical, geographical, historical, social and any and all aspects of the manufacture and sale of their products, promoting their own creative and well reasoned connections between goods, people, and our responsibilities in a consumerist society!


'Explications' at end give extensive notes on all from slavery, wheat production in Norfolk, and (here) what is salt. Written in 1800, Joseph Priestley had only just discovered Oxygen, and Lavoisier the 'Father of Chemistry' only recently made discoveries which led to the periodic table later in nineteenth century.

Sunday 21 March 2010

In the beginning

This blog takes its title the first big project I was involved with in 1997. A lot's happened since then, but my direction, purpose, mission, whatever you like to call it, always seems to comes back to it.

'Home is where the Art is', was the first project which pulled together all the various oral history, art and craft, drama, xmas crafts, work in old people's homes and other work together with my personal commitment, valuing the lives of people around me, old and young.

A couple of years earlier I had quitted the first year of a PhD creating a Computer Car Crash Simulation programme in Swansea, and now I felt I could call myself a community art worker!

My work, my home, my values and my interest in creativity and art all led to where I am now. 'Home is where the Art is' is my attempt to make some kind of sense of it all.

Saturday 20 March 2010

3rd Workshop 18th March 2010

Arrived 2:30 to talk to senior citizens and see whether they were interested, and what they might be prepared to do. Cynthia and Brenda agreed to stay on after to meet OOSC.

The school group only arrives at 3:30, which means Brenda and Cynthia did have to hang around a bit, but OOSC interviewers decided to delay tea so we could start straight away. Some good questions, but group size of 12 is a little large and means it is harder for everyone to ask questions - something to change for next time.

I had prepared the ‘Shenley History Detectives’ cards for the group which all were happy about, and responding to what they wanted to do (and I did too) we got out paints and began a mural, ‘Museum of Shenley Green’.

There were plenty of ideas, including wanting themselves in the museum, so we began outlining everyone, finding space on the wall, and painting all on.

Everyone enjoyed the activity, and as parents arrived (and staff from the office) more people had a go painting with their children and for themselves.

Each of the ‘Shenley History Detectives’ took a folder with them, and I’m hoping some of them will begin collecting material from parents, interviews, artwork, whatever, for our project.

2nd Workshop 11th March 2010

Arrived 1:00 for the senior citizens. I had compiled the photos from last week and printed of many of them. Mike from Archives had also brought archive material about the area and photos from ‘Suburban Birmingham’ project. We had maps of the area from 1887 and 1937.

Alan Shrimpton from BVT and Phil Benjamin-Coker from Weoley Library also came to meet the group. A music group had been booked in on the same day, but there was time afterwards for us to chat with the group. Although some of the group were interested in joining the OOSC group later on in the project, no one was available for today. I had a backup plan for later, but it was a shame not to persuade anyone to meet the young people on the first week, as there is a limited amount of time on our project.

The OOSC group were pleased with their photos and we began attaching them to the map they had started last week. We also talked about what they would like to do on the project, and started by interviewing themselves, and then the staff.

The cameras were also available for more photos of the centre, and we drew everyone together at 5:15 (those left) for group photos which did not include faces. Quickly the group decided to try writing on the floor with their bodies – eventually writing their own club name on the floor.

First workshop 4th March 2010

I hadn’t met the group yet, so needed to get to know the out-of-school group, and them to meet me and find out about the project and what the group wanted to do. We started with some games based around getting to know each other and asking questions.
Initially the challenge was to work with everyone who wanted to take part, which initially was everyone (around forty young people). I asked people to form a circle and asked people to step if ‘there eyes were brown’, ‘they were wearing trousers’, and so on. Very quickly they got the hang of it and easily came up with their own questions, and even started to qualify their questions, responding to what the group did.
It was already 4:40 and some of the group were beginning to go (as an after-school club, parents come to pick up whenever convenient). We decided to break up the group – Joe had already started making drawings of Shenley with some of the group, so the half of the group I was left with was far nearer the number I planned to run activities with.

We started a map of the centre on wallpaper. The group started small, but soon, led by a couple of the group, a map started to materialise. Meanwhile in small groups, children took turns to take our cameras into the centre and photo what they saw.

They needed little encouragement and really enjoyed taking photos. They were also competent photographers and needed no support within the centre to find what they wanted and take their photos.
All went well and was a good introduction to the group.