Moving Walls was the first Cultivate project to be completed – although the enjoyment and learning are sure to carry on amongst the children at St Mary’s Primary School.
Some background about the project…
St Mary’s Primary is in the very centre of the Battersea Exchange development, with new buildings going up all around, including an exciting new school building that they will move into in September 2016. (You can see a timelapse video of the new school going up here.) This is a key project in the overall development of the area led by Wandsworth Council and the Nine Elms Vauxhall Partnership.
Dallas Pierce Quintero (DPQ) is the cultural strategist for this development and, in partnership with Pump House Gallery, they commissioned artist Orly Orbach to work with the children to create a site-specific work. Moving Walls aimed to enhance the timber hoarding built around the school and visible from the playground.
Because it is such an immense change, the project aimed to engage every pupil in the school, to give them a chance to express thoughts and feelings about these changes, to produce something beautiful of which they can feel proud, to gain creative skills and to learn about an artist’s practice.
Orly ran sessions in the school from November to March 2016, having some contact with eight classes in the school and 240 children in total, but running more in-depth workshops with the older pupils. Teachers also carried on work in between those workshops, for example, to develop creative writing contributions. The hoarding was installed at the end of May. Councillor Govindia, leader of Wandsworth Council, visited to see it and contributed to the first Cultivate film, much of it filmed at St Mary’s.
It was ambitious to try to involve all the pupils, so a key challenge was to ensure that all their many ideas could be represented in a professional and inspiring way in the hoarding artwork. It borrows the aesthetic of a sketchbook, with the children’s contributions jostling and overlapping, with visual cohesion provided by the simple red, black and white colour scheme.
The original brief for the artist suggested a range of approaches relating to the construction of Battersea Exchange, for example:
- Responding to existing structures such as the railway viaduct
- Documenting the building process
- Responding to the architectural designs and materials of the new school building
- Documenting the history of the site and school building to be demolished.
The Pump House Gallery were in a supportive role, recruiting, briefing and guiding the artist and ensuring the school needs were met. Anneke Kuipers, its learning programmes manager, was very clear that the school should lead the development of the project content in collaboration with the artist. After planning with all the class teachers to ensure that activities would meet the curriculum needs across the school, Orly chose to explore the idea of the life-cycle of the school. Children were helped to imagine the school as alive, growing, being loved, falling into disrepair, dying, and a new school being reborn. As stimulus, she used a range of resources such as her own photographs and scenes from The Fall of the House of Usher by Poe.
She used a variety of printing and image-making techniques with the children, including creating printing shapes with foamboard and visual poems. The range of activities gave the teachers and children new creative ideas for observing, documenting and responding to an environment and its changes.
Other key ambitions for the project included the artist being able to develop their own artistic and educational practice, and for the Pump House Gallery to develop its relationship with local schools. To follow up this project, the Gallery is committed to working more with the children and families living in the nearby estates.
Chocolate Films were commissioned to make a film about Cultivate, including the Moving Walls project. This will be linked here as soon as it is complete.