Tuesday 26 March 2013

A Gallery educator's perspective

As an educator here at the Gallery, I often find that concrete examples to explain my job are sometimes hard to come by. The schoolchildren arrive, we whisk them in for one-hour gallery and studio sessions, and then they are gone two hours later.

While I work with the artworks on the floor everyday and have a very visible presence, sometimes the conversation and thinking that goes on in the programme feels like an exclusive club that only me and the students share together. So through various blogs I am going to attempt to reveal the complexities of my team's role through case studies, and my own personal inquiries.  

I think that if visitors could hear what the children say sometimes, they would be desperate to be a part of this group! To illustrate this I want to share a teaching moment that stands out to me still after a year and a half.

We regularly teach with Walter Sadler’s Married and on this occasion, it was for our Storytelling Foundation programme. I start by asking the group: what do they notice? You get the standard responses, of course: a garden, a man and woman on a bench, it looks old, they look like they have had a fight.

From these responses we move to: how do they know that? We look at gesture, facial expression, costume, and how these characters are telling us a story through these visual clues. We pose, pretending we are the man reading our books, or the woman who looks vexed and about to leave, scattering her roses on the floor. They come up with ‘speech bubbles’ on what the characters might be thinking ‘I wish he would notice me’, ‘I wish she would talk to me’, and ‘wow this book is interesting!’ We predict what happened before and what might happen next. 

Walter Sadler, Married
oil on canvas, Mackelvie Trust Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki

I am trying to move their thinking from just what they see to an interpretation, through questioning, asking for evidence and justifications. All the dialogue and discussion start to bubble and brew into a conversation about this artwork which is guided by their prior knowledge and their own experiences.

I move on to the setting and ask: how does that add to the story of the characters we have discussed? They notice the seat that blocks everything, they notice the abandoned badminton racquet on the ground, and then one child comments that the garden in the background looks like a maze. One says ‘but they can’t get to it?’ 'Why not?’ I ask. Pause. A bit more silence. ‘It's like they cannot find their way to each other's hearts’.

That insight by a boy of about eight years old rounded up the most insightful conversation I have had with anyone (not just children) in front of that work, or perhaps any work. Then the moment is gone, we line up to go outside, and they are off back to school. Moreover, just like the end of most of my sessions, I walk away wondering who learnt more: me or them.

Tuesday 19 March 2013

Schools in the Studio : Landscapes Foundation Programme

Recently, Year 1 and 2 students from Parnell District School enthusiastically participated in the gallery and studio sessions of one of our Foundation programmes - Landscapes.

After looking at traditional landscape artworks in the Gallery, we explored Golden Cloud by Gretchen Albrecht. We wondered - could this work be a landscape?

Gretchen Albrecht, Golden Cloud, 1973
acrylic on canvas, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 1974

The children initially retorted, 'NO it could not!' But then, on reflection and further observation, some children changed their minds. Perhaps it could be?

'It reminds me of the sea, the sand and the sky...'
'I can see some clouds!'
'It looks like the sunset!

We decided as a group that this was a work that ‘reminded’ us of a landscape we are familiar with. We discovered when Gretchen Albrecht painted Golden Cloud, she was living on the West coast of Auckland.

Back in the studio, inspired by Gretchen Albrecht’s work, we experimented with dye to create an artwork that somehow reminded us of a landscape. We applied two or three bands of colour, then tipped the paper and watched the colours run together.

This reminds me of a landscape.... I can see two people at sunset, land and some strange kind of animal. What can you see?

What parts of the landscape does this artwork remind you of?
What time of day could this be?
How do the colours used make you feel? 

We shared our results and observed the work of others, discussed what we noticed, then tried another painting. This time, we thought about what worked well in our first artwork and what adjustments could be made. We followed the same procedure then blew through a straw to create some interesting effects.

I can see the sun setting behind a forest. What can you see?

We could title this work 'Hydrating Grasses'.
Can you see why I chose this title? Can you think of another title?

Once again, we shared our creations and talked about what parts of the landscape we could see in our work. We even turned the work upside down to see if another part of the landscape appeared and then discussed which way we wanted the final work to go, and why.

Some of the children created a title for their work, to help others understand what part of the landscape the work represented for them.

Thank you Parnell District School for a wonderful day!

Useful links:

Thursday 14 March 2013

Behind the Brush: a documentary series featuring Auckland Art Gallery's Māori portraits by Gottfried Lindauer

Back story to the television series

When I first met AWA Films' director for Behind the Brush I immediately thought of The Matrix (1999) and the character Apoc - a freed human and crewmember on the Nebuchadnezzar led by the mysterious Morpheus. In the film, Apoc is a liberated good guy and the first victim of Cypher who decides the Zion resistance movement is not what it’s cracked up to be and makes a deal to be reinserted back into the Matrix.

I loved that Behind the Brush director Julian Arahanga played Apoc in The Matrix and that he sent Māori into the future – not literally of course, but figuratively – and I sensed he understood responsibility to the past, the present and the future.

Eighteen months after that initial meeting, Māori Television will broadcast the first documentary series featuring Auckland Art Gallery’s 21 Māori portraits painted by Gottfried Lindauer in the 19th into the early 20th centuries. The first episode will screen 19 March 20013 at 8pm on Māori Television.

The artist, the patron, the descendants and their ancestors

The stars and the success of Behind the Brush are the descendants; Lindauer’s grandchildren, Henry Partridge’s successors and the many and varied mokopuna tuarua (descendants) of beloved Māori ancestors. At the commencement of this journey we agreed that the series would be driven by descendant stories and that we would privilege these rather than replay history according to art, social and political history.

The great thing about descendants is they have personal relationships, memories and stories related to the artist, the patron and their ancestors. The series contains the epic narratives of love, life and death found in all histories. They are somehow more heartfelt in Behind the Brush because each of the 21 stories will affect the way you see portraiture, the past and the future in this matrix of liberating korero.

Eru Tamaikoha is my Ngai Tuhoe ancestor. Not only does he feature in the first episode of Behind the Brush, he is also on display in the Gallery's historic New Zealand portrait gallery.

Gottfried Lindauer, Eru Tamaikoha Te Ariari, 1903, oil on canvas
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of Mr H E Partridge, 1915

Monday 11 March 2013

Tribute to Ralph Hotere

A king tide

A king tide has a special energy and occurs after a full moon when the moon is closest to the Earth. One such tide greeted us at Rawene as we assembled as an ope waiting for the ferry to arrive from across the Hokianga Harbour to start the last leg of our journey to Mitimiti, where we would pay our last respects to Ralph Hotere. Like a karanga, this was a call of welcome into Hokianga whakapau karakia territory. Indeed, being in the company of elders, artists, writers and educators gave me a strong feeling of drawing closer to the heart of friendships and aroha tetahi ki tetahi for Ralph, his whanau and for Mitimiti. 

When you get to Mitimiti, the only way out is the way you came in. The remoteness is reflected in the road conditions indicative of a remote community, located on the western side of the lower reaches of the Hokianga. However, the sheer distance does not suggest to you the beauty of the place, its people and their whakapapa. 

The remembrances of a generation are most poignant at a tangihana as memories wash over each mourner. Tangihana provides everyone with a role to uplift people, to recall those already passed on and to inspire the bereaved to let go of a beloved. For an ope like ours it was a chance to pay last respects. On the day, Tumoana, Matihetihe, Hato Hemi, Mitimiti and Hiona had the last say. The Tasman Sea has quieted down and the king tide has ebbed and flowed into Te Moananui a Kiwa. Moe mai, moe mai, haere atu ra.

- Ngahiraka Mason, Indigenous Curator, Māori Art

Thursday 7 March 2013

Family drop-ins: Make art in the Gallery!

Family Drop-ins
Saturdays 1-3pm
North Atrium

Sessions are designed for visitors aged four and up - but all are welcome!

When materials meet busy hands and lively imaginations, an excited buzz can be heard on the family drop-in mat. Family drop-ins have become an integral part of Saturdays at the Gallery, with many families now regular visitors. You don’t need to book or bring anything with you – just your enthusiasm for making and sharing!

These free art-making sessions appeal to families (but children are not a pre-requisite, and our interpretation of 'family' is rather lateral) but are suitable for all ages. They provide a chance for active parent-child engagement and making art together.

Print your pet: Dry print making inspired by Andy Warhol's iconic work in Degas to Dalí

We suggest you turn up by 2.30pm as most activities require around 30 minutes to make an artwork. Often we encourage visitors to create an individual artwork which can for a short time between 1-3pm, become a larger collaborative work.

Miniature dioramas were inspired by Graham Fletcher's Lounge Room Tribalism series (2010), featured in the exhibition Home AKL. Before visitors took their creation home they were encouraged to place their 'room' next to others, creating a collaborative cardboard city.
Each week the motivation for artmaking is linked to the Gallery's collection and current exhibition programme. Here’s a montage of creations from past family drop-ins that celebrate everything from collection-based exhibitions such as Toi Aotearoa to special exhibitions such as Degas to Dalí.

Art inspired by exhibitions on display in the Gallery, including Reuben Patterson's Gazillion Swirl! (top left), a wide variety of NZ artists from Toi Aotearoa and the hugely popular touring exhibition Degas to Dalí

Mini lampshades inspired by Niki Hastings-Mcfall's Home Is the Sailor, Home from the Sea, 2012, from the exhibition Home AKL.
Art-making sessions are designed to provide enough direction for participants without being too structured or restrictive in how materials can be used (although we find constricting materials often produces surprising results!)

These magnificent 3-D paper sculptures were inspired by Max Ernst's mysterious work La Forêt (The Forest),  1927-28, from Degas to Dalí.
Sessions are facilitated by Gallery educators, who encourage visitors to share their innovations. Come along and spend a Saturday afternoon with us, we'd love to see you!

– Robbie Butterworth, Senior Gallery Educator and Viven Masters, Gallery educator

Monday 4 March 2013

The Creative Process: Experiment

Following on from my previous Creative Learning Centre post looking at exploring the space, this post looks at the ways people can be experimental in the room. After our keen explorers have had their curiosity piqued, they have opportunities to try things out and find out what happens when you test things in different ways.

Experiment with pipe cleaners and create a sculpture

The activities offer a chance to experiment with materials, with different ways of creating a piece of art. For the tiniest visitors it can be as simple as experimenting how to hold a crayon a different way – how their drawing changes when they hold the crayon on its side. What happens if I apply more pressure or arrange that in this way? How does that change my drawing? On the other hand, trying out what happens when you mix yellow with blue, or blue with red results in delighted squeaks and giggles as they put on glasses with coloured lenses.

Experiment with colour and the different things it can remind us of and represent.

Besides materials and art-making, visitors also experiment with new ideas in the Creative Learning Centre. Perhaps something in the space has changed their perspective on how they saw art, how they saw the Gallery, or their own creative abilities. The possibilities to experiment are seemingly endless and open, there is no ‘right or wrong’ way to do something in the space, its all about giving something a go and enjoying the process.

Experiment with crayons or pencils. Watch your composition magically appear.

We want this space to not only make people curious, but to give opportunities for that curiosity to turn into participation. To give people motivators to engage with the creative process, the artist's work, and their own ideas.