Session 1: Tá Cupla Focail Agam!

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Artist: Helen Barry
Teacher: Eoghan O’Neill
Ranga Do: 30 paiste

I did wonder whether I had bitten off a little more than I could chew! This was the first time I had embarked on an artist in residence in a Gael Scoil. The energies of a mixed group of second class children could sometimes be hard to focus without adding another language into the mix. My Irish was yet to be tested but I did know that the level of the children’s Irish was far better than mine. I had made an initial visit to meet the children in Gael Scoil Shliabh Rua pre Christmas to get a sense of what we might do together.

The Gael Scoil has yet to grow into its building hence there are many empty classroom on the first floor. I set up in one of these large empty spaces which still smells of fresh plaster and paint. The children had mentioned they would like to do some construction and this being my preferred medium I headed to the dictionary. Building – ag tógáil, Structure – Struchtúr, stable – seasmhach are a few I started with.

We began the session in the children’s classroom introducing the session with creating a musical pattern or pátrún ceol together. I had brought a ‘sound nest’ a percussion instrument that everyone can play and produce some beautiful sounds from. We used a simple rhythm, based on counting 1,2,3,4 or aon, dó, trí, ceathair. We used clapping and tapping the desks to distinguish the sounds as as we practiced and we substituted the clapping for names and words. Then the words became a task, ‘Ba mhaith limo go roghnódh sibh go leír focal amhain déas/maith/dearfach fút féin.’ /’I would like you to use a positive/nice/good word that describes you’. We explored a variety of words but the children were perhaps not used to finding the words that describe themselves in a positive way. It is something we shall return to.

We moved to the empty classroom our ‘studio space’ and tested out our ability to work as a group, follow instruction, build a large-scale structure and get to know some building terms. I have asked the children to assist me with my Irish. Their teacher Eoghan is on hand to offer any vocabulary when I am stuck and explains more deeply what I have asked the children to do. We had fun, it was surprisingly easier than I thought to communicate through Irish but I was exhausted. The children have requested to do some more construction which we shall do again next week.

I left with a great sense of achievement and with some extra words to add to my Irish vocabulary.

Session Seven ‘London Bridge Is falling down, falling down, falling down….’

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Artist: Helen Barry

Teacher: Bríd McGovern

Class: Junior Infants (4&5yrs)

School: Our Lady Of Mercy School Convent

I had overestimated and underestimated two key things that would be essential in planning this session; one the children’s continued interest in self-portraits and two how difficult building a cube from green garden sticks could be. Both of these I had originally intended us to focus on. Thankfully I did some rethinking and decided to get back to our construction on a more imaginative and experimental basis rather than asking that they build a perfect cube.

I spent a couple of hours in the studio building the cubes and found it to be quiet challenging especially as green garden sticks aren’t really straight. But with their self-portraits attached on the sides of the cubes they are beautiful and ready to be installed back in the classroom.

Instead Session Seven focused on designing and building bridges. We had already tested out construction on a large scale and both Bríd and the children were eager to return to this again. The previous build had involved the class working together following a set of directions I had developed to build a large stable structure that they could play in.  This time the children would take the reins and build a bridge of their own design. At the start of this session we looked a different traditional and contemporary designs for bridges from around the globe. Many of the children were able to describe bridges they were familiar with. E.g. The Ha’penny Bridge and Dundrum Luas bridge. I asked the children to look at the context of where the bridges were set, the materials used in making the bridges and who and what would use the bridges.

The task then was for the children to work in groups of 4 to design and build a bridge using basic arts and craft supplies. The ends of each bridge were anchored between two tables. The idea was to discuss and sketch the designs for the bridges before embarking on the build. It was interesting to see the different approaches of each group. Some children found teamwork enabled a more ambitious build and others found working as a team quiet challenging. A few of the groups drew possible designs but most of the children used the materials to shape the design of the bridge. I think most of the children found this enjoyable but challenging. The process demanded that Bríd and I were both very hands on with the builds. Some groups focused on the structure where as others focused on decorating the bridge once it was built.

I think if I should do this theme with children again I should make a bridge of my own!!!


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Session Two – Our Generation

Our Lady Of Good Counsel, GNS


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Artist Helen Barry

As agreed with the school I tweeted a couple of images from our session ‘Art Of Politics’ to local politicians and followed it up with an email to invite them to engage with the students during one of the sessions. A local candidate Mary Mitchell O’Connor TD has agreed to join them in our next session. In our invitation to politicians we were clear that they would need to engage with the students for at least 50mins.

A key piece of information I took away with me from the first session was the girls’ enthusiasm to explore, process and comprehend new ideas. Many of them were very aware how political decisions impacted on them not only now as children but in the future. With this in mind, the forthcoming election and the classes’ interest in hosting a ballot within the school, the second session took shape.

We had three tasks to achieve.

  • Identify issues and concerns for children.
  • Design a logo and identify a name for their class campaign.
  • Look at a sample of site-specific installations.

I was extremely surprised at the depth of questions the class asked around the installations. Where artists sourced their ideas to the kinds of materials used. We could have just used an entire session looking at site-specific works, indoors and outdoors. We shall revisit this again I am sure.

We looked at some of the concerns children have today. Our aim will be to tease out and prioritize a number of issues that will become the questions on their ballot paper. The results of the ballot will shape their proclamation for 2016. Their teacher Ms Walker will facilitate a number of similar discussions over the next week with them to prepare for the next session.

The level of discussion and productivity that stemmed from designing a logo and coming up with a name was fantastic. I had thought some may find it challenging but they delivered a wealth of designs ideas that they should consider setting up design business. Their ideas and design were clear and very effective and many did exactly what it said on the can. The class voted on the one they thought captured their idea the best. The winning design was inclusive of the changing demographic of Ireland today. The name and logo will be used on their ballot papers and other material they may create over the residency.


Session One- The Art Of Politics

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Our lady Of Good Counsel GNS

Prior to session 1 taking place I had met with the class, their teacher Ms Walker and the Principal Mrs J. Quinn. This had given me the opportunity to begin the process of getting to know the school, the creative experience held within the school to date and look at expectations. I have a collaborative approach when working with children hence I like to engage with everyone involved prior to beginning the process. I have found that each school classroom is unique. The dynamic of each group, the approach to and experience of the arts and creative processes within the school will have an impact on how I approach the collaboration and set the pace for how we shall work together. I like to begin a conversation of expectations around process and outcomes prior to starting my residencies.

On my initial visit it was evident that the students have a high level of vocabulary. As I was finding my bearings in a new school layout I caught snippets of girls talking to each other in the corridors and was impressed at their ability in expressing themselves. This was again reinforced by my conversation with the class as we discussed a variety of potential ideas, interests and curriculum opportunities that we could explore together. The imminent election matched with their recent Dáil Éireann visit dominated the conversation and gave me ideas for our first session. The school had also expressed an interest in using the ‘1916 Centenary 2016’ as one of number of different potential themes. The school has a fantastic amount of indoor and outdoor space that could be used to create some work that celebrates the school 50th anniversary in 2017.

Much of my own work is presented through ‘installations’; ‘an artistic genre of three-dimensional works that often are site-specific and designed to transform the perception of a space’. It can also include two dimensional, audio and film pieces. Hence I wished to introduce the girls to exploring the potential for installation art. My aim was to get the students to build a 3D space made from wool that would be the platform for the content to our discussion around politics and elections. The creation of the installation was also going to demand teamwork.

I pre-built the skeleton of a cube within the classroom using the ceiling, walls and tables as tension points. I gave each table group a large sheet of paper for notes taking and a series of questions they needed to discuss. The teacher Ms Walker and I moved around the room supporting their discussions based on the questions below.

What are the skills you need to be a politician?

 What kind of person do you need to be a politician?

 What questions would you ask if a politician came to your door?

After 20 minutes I invited each table group to take two balls of coloured wool and construct a space within the cube skeleton already in place offering walls, dividers, textures, a cover etc. They were over 26 students working together in a relatively small space proved challenging but not without a purpose. The images show clearly the process and outcome. Once the 3D space had been created the students were asked to return to their rough work sheet and to take one word that they felt was most relevant to them when prioritizing attributes of a politician. Each girl wrote her chosen word on a piece of paper using a calligraphy pen and tied it onto the 3D space for other to view.

We allowed time for everyone to say a little bit about their chosen word and what they had created. Initially they had been a little disappointed at their construction as it was not as uniform and ‘perfect’ as they had imagined it would be and discovered planning and teamwork are essential in delivering a vision, even if that vision is ideals and policies.

The Principal Mrs J. Quinn and others cam to view the piece and their responses clearly had a very positive impact on the girls. So much so that it was decided to tweet our ‘Art of Politics’ to some local politicians and invite them into the conversation. Other areas highlighted in the feedback back time was how government decisions, referendums etc. impact on children and children are not allowed to vote. This I shall use as a basis point for our next session.

Rathfarnham Educate Together NS – Session 7 – Artist: Tunde Toth

Session 7 at Rathfarnham Educate Together

1st May 2014


After the long Easter break we followed our explorations with the class – introducing a new print making technique: a safe, practical and very `school-friendly` variation of LINO CUT printing.

I think this strand of the visual arts curriculum is one of those that many teachers find challenging and difficult to manage in a class room setting. Safety issues bring probably the biggest challenge – and would stand in the way of creation and experimentation with the technique. One of the  solutions is of coarse to try to change the materials and tools used: instead of sharp cutting tools we use large masonry nails and the lino is replaced with soft foam plates (left over mounting material from a framer`s store).

The process worked very well, the children were now curious and eager to try something new and the images again show a different print result with a cloudy, slightly `smudged` finishes: small, dreamlike pictures of boats and sea life.

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