Enquiremanchester’s Weblog

The Manchester Museum is the lead museum in the North West Manchester cluster in a national project about art and learning for engage called ‘enquire’

To the Skeleton with Cansfield High December 9, 2008

Filed under: Pathways and Progression — enquiremanchester @ 10:12 am
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Cansfield High joined us at the museum last week for our first To the Skeleton session.  The idea was to use the Tyrannasaurus Rex skeleton to look at negative and positive spaces in art and then to develop those drawings with inspiration from local artist, Rob Bailey, and grafitti artist, Banksy.

Another big feature of the Pathways and Progressions programme for us (which is funding the free school sessions) is that we are looking at how the museum ‘environment’ can promote learning.  By ‘environment’ we mean the people, collections and places in the museum.

To the Skeleton makes best use of the museum spaces and collections by using the T. Rex for observational drawing  (arguably one of the most dynamic and exciting objects any student is likely to come across in their school day).  By drawing through acetate and making scissor drawings by cutting the spaces around the bones of the skeleton out of black paper, we encourage the students to use the museum space in new and experimental ways.

When I was delivering the session I made no pretense of the fact that this was the first time we’d tried out some of the techniques.  I thought it was important that the students knew that this was an experiment for me as well as them and that they could see that I was confident in that position.  I don’t know whether it made any difference, but despite the scale of the object they were being asked to draw and the challenge of the negative space drawings, the quality and breadth of work produced spoke for itself.

The museum spaces and its collections were also picked up on in the students written feedback which mirror how they marvelled at the skeleton as they first approached it:

“at school its just a small room but at a museum you can explore”

“school is in one room and the museum is one big room with lots of things to look at”

“working at the museum you could see the things in 3D that you were drawing”

“freedom to express yoiur own work in the session”

“you got to do what you want instead of being told specifically an you can learn by experiencing it first hand”

“you could see actual things instead of just pictures”

Nearly half of the students commented on the size of the T. Rex in their written feedback.

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An Art Historian in the Museum December 3, 2008

Filed under: Alchemy Enquire — enquiremanchester @ 9:10 am
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Jen Ashton has written this piece about her experiences of working with us on our educational programmes.  Enjoy!

I began working with the Manchester Museum secondary education team in 2007. The process of working with the team has been enlightening; working in the museum space has been inspirational. Not only has working in the Museum influenced my research as an Art Historian, but has challenged my own preconceptions of what a museum and its collections can, and should, be used for.

My own memories of childhood museum visits are not, admittedly, altogether positive.

On coach – hurried in building – stare at objects – lunch – gift shop – coach – school – discussion of plastic toy/ bag of gem stones/ postcard purchased in gift shop – home.

Why were we hurried past exhibit after exhibit, no lingering, no delayed, slow walk up and down, no pondering over shapes, colour, forms, textures, histories? And why was it that the museum was left in the museum? There seemed to be a disconnection between the two spaces – the classroom, filled high with paper and books was distinctly separate from the museum, full of scrumptious objects, jewels, insects, stuffed animals and mummified bodies. Never the twain shall meet – only on that school trip. The museum visit was, for me, almost a token gesture of ‘other cultural activity’, a tick box filled. Did teachers (do they now?) understand the vastness of the rich material held by the museum, and how to utilised that material to stir imaginations and challenge curious minds? And on the flip side: did museum staff (do they now?) understand the needs of these little people; how to present their collections, verbally and visually; to engage and entertain; to stimulate interest, so they long to ponder, linger……..

As an art historian I like to look. As a child, I am not sure if ‘just looking’ was enough – I wanted discussion, explanation, activity, a chance to explore the space, a sense that the museum belonged to me also, not just those ‘in the know’ – those knowledgeable adults, with their big posh words, and unpronounceable naming games. As a child I remember the museum being closed off to me. A space I didn’t feel comfortable in. I never imagined I would eventual come to work in such a space.

As an ‘outsider’ to the museum collections, I am still not one of those ‘knowledgeable adults’. I have only just learnt to spell palaeontology. But I am in. I have been turned. Art History is concerned with all things visual, whether it be paintings, sculpture, architecture, textiles, furniture, fashion, jewellery, photography, illustration, roads signs, advertising, maps – the list is endless …… we live in a visual context. The museum is a visual space, from the exhibits themselves, to the building which contains them, to the landscape (urban or rural) in which it sits. As an Art Historian I have nothing to add of specimen value, I have only my images, my ways of seeing. When I look at the urchins, the jelly fish, the birds, pressed clematis and ferns, (I have currently been working with the Natural Sciences collections) I am viewing them as art objects. Rightly or wrongly, I initially ignore their scientific context, and immediately place them in an art context (remember the shapes, colour, forms, textures?) As a historian of art, I am thus intrigued by the object’s story into the museum, and how new histories can be created through new interactions and interpretations.

I view my role in the museum as thus: to discuss objects in their visual context; to engage students and visitors in the artistry of the collections – whether natural or man-made – to enable students to make connections between the school space and museum space; to develop connections between the museum and all areas of the curriculum. I have always championed interdisciplinary practices; the museum enables this blurring of boundaries between the arts and sciences – a good thing for all concerned, I feel.

Lastly, I think as an Art Historian a can also introduce new names and visuals to the curators themselves; to engage them in new ways of seeing. It is a learning curve for us all.

 

Art Forms in Nature – in the Life Lab November 11, 2008

dsc004551Last week we were joined by 15 students from Droylesden High School for Girls their teacher who took part in our Art Forms in Nature session up in the Life Lab and down in the birds and insects gallery below.

The girls seemed to be interested in what was going on at the museum from the moment they arrived. Only two of the 15 students had been to a museum before, yet they were soon keying into current debates like the ethics of having human remains and animal remains on display.

The beginning of the session asked the students to interpret scientific illustrations for themselves without any prior knowledge of what they are looking at. This is not an easy task for any artist or art historian but the students were soon coming up with a range of their own interpretations which showed how just by looking and discussing they could understand how art works communicate ideas for themselves.

dsc004571After identifying a range of creative techniques, the students went down onto the galleries to draw from the real insects and birds on display. They were challenged with a number of experimental drawing techniques which reminded them to take risks with their work and not to always be so focused on final outcomes. Two drawings stood out from this, a bird and a butterfly – both drawn with the wrong hand – looked as if they could have just fluttered away.

In the final part of the session the girls developed their drawings into design ideas for furniture, jewelery, wallpaper or architecture. This part of the session involved the girls thinking about how they could turn their documentation of natural objects into a functional design. This was a big step to take within the two hour session but meant the students had the chance to experiment with a range of materials and see how their research at the museum could be turned into something useful.

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Highlights: year two August 6, 2008

Filed under: About Alchemy - enquire,Background — enquiremanchester @ 9:17 am
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In 2007, we started off with a group of nine artists, three to work with each of the three museums (Manchester, Bolton, and Harris in Preston).

It was planned that each of the artists would develop a proposal and one of the three artists’ proposals would be chosen to work with the schools. However, the artists had other ideas and the majority of them decided that they would prefer to collaborate together rather than competing for a project.

This added a very new and interesting dimension to the project in which artists did not just collaborate with teachers and students, curators and museum educators, but also with each other.

In Bolton Adela Jones wrapped pupils from Harper Green School up as hieroglyphed mummies before showing them how to best to conserve their egg sculptures, which had previously fallen victim to an unfortunate egg-smashing incident.

Day-glo

Over at the Harris, Pete Flowers, Patricia Ramsden and Jane Fairhurst gave St. George’s High School from Blackpool a technique with which to recreate Islamic patterns in acidic day-glo colours in their transformed history classroom (thanks Mrs Baldwin!).

Back in Manchester, Marina Rees, Robin Graham and Sue Flowers, brought boys from Littlemoss High School for Boys to the museum to meet curators in our stores before working with them to create a performance piece, costumes and sets which would tell the story of their ‘tribe’. I’ll never forget the boy-sized praying mantis as, clawed-arms outstretched, it stalked across our dimly lit mammals gallery!

Artists Beth Allen and Daksha Patel did not take part in the school project work but their early contributions to discussions to plan our research and evaluation were valued. They tell me they have continued to make use of what they found out on their research visit to Bolton Museum.

Ups and downs

There were ups and downs to working with such an experienced, passionate and creative bunch of people. But, as we all knew, if we had stuck to what we were familiar with then we wouldn’t have found anything out. Like we ask of the pupils, we had to take risks. More on the research process next time…

 

Highlights: year one

Filed under: About Alchemy - enquire,Background — enquiremanchester @ 9:16 am
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In our first year we worked with two fantastic artists, Amy Leach and Brian Percival, who had very different practices and opened our eyes to the vast array of possibilities that open up when you work with contemporary artists and schools in a museum. Amy took a class from Chorlton High School on a dramatic journey through time, acting out what they thought Egyptians might say as they look back from the afterlife and then creating memory boxes to tell future generations what they wanted to be remembered about them. It was touching to listen to one young man considerately reflecting on how he had made a good Egyptian husband.

A class from St Ambrose Barlow High School joined Brian in an investigation of native and non-native species in and around the local area and stretching out across Britain. Through photography and film, collecting, drawing, audio recording, interviews, web research and media research, this class created a striking documentary exhibition which demonstrated the diversity of the wild (and not so wild) life that they came across.