Session Six: Context Is Everything

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Artist: Helen Barry, School: The Muslim National School

The title of this session is more about my work than the students. But most importantly it was the children who demonstrated a fresh understanding of my title. The children and I are engaging in an exchange of skills. During my time with them they are teaching me Arabic. I can honestly say that I am not an A student and children make excellent teachers. Today I brought with me three words that I needed help in translating into Arabic. Faith: Belief: Purpose: I didn’t want their context and meaning lost in the translation. The conversation brought a new awareness of why I had chosen those three words. It has also opened up where and how this work in the studio will develop but most importantly how this work (my studio work) is intertwined with what is happening in the context of the classroom.

Over the last couple of sessions we have continued to explore what and how we can create a city or community. What are the priorities? What makes a good community? I have been observing how we engage and listen to each other throughout the process of making as this influences the direction of where we are going. Another factor that cannot be removed from this decision making process is space or lack off! Careful planning is required when storage space is minimal. At times this is exasperating as we can’t just ‘get on with it’ but it forces us to re visit what, why and how! But it also offers the children and I an opportunity to reflect on their experience and deepen their level of questioning which in- turn delivers work of a much higher quality.

In this session I asked the children to work on their own rather than in small groups. They used overhead marker pens and sheets of plastic to sketch and write their city plans. The emphasis of this process was to assist them to form a clearer picture of what their city or community would contain. Working this out on paper first would help them to talk about it. I brought recording equipment with me and wanted to start recording the children talking about their city or community.

The process always unfolds new ideas and better ways of what, why and how. The children presented a variety of ways we could use and present our city streetscapes. One idea that could work really well was to provide a series of instructions that would allow the viewers of their piece to interact with the piece whilst learning about Islamic culture. I found this session very inspiring as it offered so much potential for what is happening in the classroom and back in the studio.

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