This Arts Council funded initiative comprises a major piece of public art (Energy Artwork by Mark Merer) that draws on the site's power station origins, plus a number of smaller schemes through which community groups worked with professional artists to devise and run their own multi-arts projects. Each project in some way draws upon fragments of Portishead's history.
“It’s cool – to put something into the community.” Gordano School Student
In collaboration with internationally acclaimed sculpture Ian Gregory, Gordano students have investigated the theme of flight, thematically linking with the new Nature Reserve at the edge of Port Marine.
They produced a number of abstract and figurative ceramic birds which in turn inspired a flock of stainless steel seagulls which take flight from the school walls.
The following feedback was gathered by independent evaluator, Cathy Mackerras, during the workshops:
About the project and their work:
“We’re making clay birds, one in flight, one perched. We’re going to put them in a mould then we can make lots of versions of it and change its position and add detail.”
“This bird is about to take off. You can see its feet tucked underneath its body. It will be at a 45 degree angle. We’ve got quite a lot left to do. We’ve got to fit it all together. Then there’s the proportion of the body to the wings.”
“You’ve got to make them [the birds] look like they can fly – put them in interesting positions. And how they move. It’s hard but it makes it more interesting. And you have to get it all in proportion as well.”
“[Ian Gregory] looked through all our work and decided which ones he liked. We’re doing paper mache birds in class and research on birds. We’ve done loads of drawings. He looked through our sketch books and our paper mache birds as well. That’s how the group got picked.”
Comments about the artist and his work:
“It’s a bit of a different lesson having somebody come in. We can see what he [Ian Gregory] does. It was good seeing his work. He did a slide show of all of his work. It’s not just a conventional dog. It has its own character. It has a personality. He makes them really different shapes.”
“You’d have thought it would be a bit weirder [an artist coming in] but I think it’s quite normal in a way. It just feels like another art teacher, just like helping us out.”
“He’s different. He has a different style. He does more like, how would you describe it, abstract. When he makes a dog, he scrunches it all up so it’s like a deformed dog, but it still looks good. They don’t have to be perfect and smooth. It shows its features more. It’s not something I would go for, but it’s good.“
Preferences - drawing, painting and sculpture:
“I probably prefer drawing things, but making things is quite cool because you can pick up on what you’ve done and evaluate it more.”
“Working in Ceramics, you can improve it more. If you’re looking at a three dimensional thing you can see where your problems are, and your difficulties are. If you try and improve it more and more it could get worse in a way, but if you gradually take steps in your work you can find out exactly where you’re going with it.”
“We’re all doing GCSE Art but we’re all from different classes. It’s nice working with different people, different experiences kind of thing. We didn’t really get to chose what we’re doing though. It’s just part of our GCSE. It’s interesting doing different things, but I prefer drawing I think.”
“I prefer sculpture. I like handling it. You can explore stuff. You can change it. You can pull a bit off or stick a bit on. You can’t do that with painting.”
Comments on the public nature of the project:
“If other people are going to see it, you want to make it good. It’s quite a lot of pressure really. When you walk past it you can say 'I did that', prove to them that you did it.”
“It’s good that he’s chosen students to do it, someone from the village, not just by professional adults. It’s cool – to put something into the community.”
“They approached me as a sculptor and asked me to think of an idea to do with the docklands development. I came up with the idea of migration and birds. It was one of the major ports for going to the Americas, and the slave trade coming in. It just seemed to fit so concisely and was seaside oriented. So the initial idea was seabirds. Then the idea came up that we would make this unit with all the kids’ work as a public display, permanent display. My expertise with firing combined materials was one of the reasons they asked me to get involved.”
RESPRAY, formed by poet Ralph Hoyte and musician Stephen Ives, worked with the young people of Portishead over a two-week period to produce innovative fusions of music and original word. Young people produced their own CDs using musical sequencer software, digitally cutting-up words, music and ambients to create unique pieces. These have provided some of the material for a temporary radio station run by the young people in October 2004.
The following comments from Stephen Ives are taken from a conversation he had with independent evaluator, Cathy Mackerras:
"The first day was really myself and Ralph. We introduced what we were doing, played them lots of music. Both myself and Ralph were on an Arts Council funded project at the time, interplaying poetry and music. We had given a performance the weekend before, so we played them the ending of our gig and showed them the material we were working on.
I work with improvisational software and music in a live fashion and Ralph is an improvisational poet so we bounced these ideas around to drum up some interest amongst the young people. Then we split the group into two lots of 15.
Ralph took one group around Portishead, concentrating on the architecture and public art and coming up with some ideas of how we could embody this in words.
I started running through various software packages - ideas of how they can bring sounds from the outside into the computer and start cutting and pasting and messing around with them. Then we dug out some recorders and went into the streets and started doing field recordings.
So we covered all the things really from recording vocals and instruments, field recordings outside, finding found sounds, cutting up beats; then how you can put it together as a project, how you can mix it and add effects and then bounce it down to a track.
They were finding their roles. There was only one computer so how are you going to work together if there’s a group of you with ideas? It’s a case of, you want to do some rapping, you want to do some mixing, you’re good at guitar, so it’s letting them actually play and experiment with different ways of working.
My role there, by being a computer based engineer was to come in with a laptop and show them the capabilities of working with computers and music; how you can, if you’ve got a computer at home, have a home studio at your disposal. Computers are more than just browsing the internet, you can actually be quite creative with them!
You place a seed with this sort of stuff. And if it works properly they’ll go away and continue doing it. They’ve got great facilities there - they’ve got a recording studio. Jonny [the youth centre’s music worker] was involved in these workshops, so they could go in and continue working after my stint had finished.
What really made it work? The fact that this project has got that continuity with Jonny and that it led to a radio show. Their work was played on the youth centre’s half-term radio show – what a buzz it must have been to hear their work on air!"
Johnny Gough, the Youth Centre's permanent music worker commented on the project as follows:
"In my opinion it was the best project I've been involved with here, musically speaking. There was a real buzz and atmosphere while it was going on. I think the fact we had Stephen and Ralph here - they really inspired the young people to get on and do something creative. The fact that we brought in outside artists really got them going..."
Alan Rowe, Youth Officer at Portishead Youth Centre adds:
"You can see how important music is in this centre, and this provided another layer. It's a continued build-up of experiences, and those which were learning last time, this year are going to be the leading ones, and will take much more responsibility for running their own show. The whole idea is to have fun, meet new people, forge links - it gives them a voice."
Members of the North Somerset Mencap Youth Group who meet twice monthly at Portishead Youth Centre, took part in an ambitious collaboration with Elizabeth Turrell, Director of the Enamelling Research Centre (based at University of West of England), and at the forefront of international enamelling practice. The young people created their own drawings and enamels inspired by their explorations of rhythm and movement, and one of these has been reproduced on a larger-scale as the artwork ‘Henry’s Sharks’.
The project was launched in explosive fashion with a one-day workshop incorporating music, dance, photography and enamelling practice. The interplay of these different arts media was further explored through the use of “Soundbeam”, a distance to MIDI device which converts physical movement into sound by using information from interruptions of ultrasonic pulses. The whole process was filmed, and images simultaneously projected onto the walls of the workshop space to create a truly 3 dimensional creative experience that will inform the resulting enamelling work.
To see examples of the movies produced by participants of “Soundbeam”, click on the links to download (requires Windows Media Player, may take a few minutes to download): Example 1 | Example 2 | Example 3 | Example 4 | Example 5.
Independent evaluator Cathy Mackerras has gathered some responses to the multi media event:
From the young participants:
"We did Soundbeams – different noises and stuff. Different noises, and trains, and pictures and noises. And we put our hand over that red thing, that was wicked. It made light and noises."
"I mostly did the camera, then I did some designs, listened to my CD that I did. With the camera, making pictures, like if someone’s looking the other way, and I was, like, distorting it, and then it looked like two, and then I was like forwards and backwards, and it looked like it was kissing itself. Or like dissolving into each other."
"The camera was the best thing – I’ve never filmed anything before. I’ve never been on a CD before."
From the carers:
"It provided lots of sound and visual stimulation, particularly for the more handicapped children. It gives them something to really enjoy."
"I think mainly the day offered them a new and fresh idea for the children to participate and
"The majority of children were able to participate – there was a good level of participation."
"It enables them to try things out of a school setting, in a fun environment."
"I was a bit unsure about whether he’d be able to do anything because he is quite disabled, but there was stuff he could do and he really enjoyed himself."
"He worked out that if he moved his hand over the beam it could change the picture and things. He seemed amazed at it all and he seemed really happy."
"A lot of autistic kids are really good with computers, so they took this new device and could build on it, so they could appreciate that that pad made a drum, that one was a cymbal and they could put the two together to make a rhythm."
"It brought out a willingness to socialise. It brought out a concentration too. There was a sequence to that process of enamelling. They all had to do the drawing first and get the chalk off the copper and then they had to get it fired and paint it with different colour enamels and that had to get fired again. The concentration was very good."
"There were all the pictures being projected up on the walls. It was different, he hadn’t done that kind of thing before. He enjoys going out and this was a new thing with lots of other people and things he hadn’t seen before."
"Discovering themselves on the Soundbeam – that was really interesting. At first he wasn’t interested, then he saw something on the screen he was interested in. It was a real discovery
"Some of the art that came out of that was fantastic"
"He enjoyed it all. He gets bored very easily and he did get a bit tired towards the end, but there was nothing he wouldn’t
have a go at."
"When I picked my son up after the project he was very happy, and they said he had thoroughly enjoyed it. He enjoyed himself at the Soundbeams day. He was proud of his painted tile. He also liked waving his hand through the red beam."
"He was pleased to show me the tile he had made but was especially excited to show me the music set up and the pictures he made. He was given a CD copy of his work which we still look at."
"It is great for our youngsters to have the opportunity to try lots of different activities, which will encourage them to try new things in the future."
Artist Sue Pearce led families in two series of creative workshops that inspired the creation of two permanent artworks installed within Knightstone’s residential areas. Firstly, three days of creative workshops inspired a word game in bronze sticks embedded into the cobbles running along Malin Parade, where many of the project participants live.
In conversation with evaluator Cathy Mackerras, Sue Pearce describes the project:
"I was working with a poet called Matthew Barton and Liz Milner who is a photographer. It was well advertised - the local Knightstone houses had leaflet drops - and we attracted a core group of ten children who were very keen to come back each day. We worked on ideas based around 'HOME'. We made bunting and maps, looked at words and textures. Part of the initial brief was to encourage imaginative play. The young people just loved playing games. One of Matthew's games involved a group of children where one person is outside the group and thinks of a person in the group. The group has to ask questions to find out who that person is... 'if that person was a ... (something or other!) ... what would they be?' The 'something or other' could be the weather, a piece of furniture, a meal... let your imagination run riot! We all made up the questions.
Reflecting on the workshops, I decided to use this game in the artworks. The words would be set into the cobbles and made out of sticks cast in bronze. The 'something or other' will be a range of carved images, some quite abstract which will relate directly back to the workshops and the children's ideas from the game."
Through the second stage of the project residents were invited to explore clay brick as a medium for carving and sculpture, and to build a cob pizza oven. The project parallels the journey people take to arrive at their new homes with that taken by the packs of clay bricks during the process of creating these new homes. The resulting sculpture entitled ‘Moving Stories’ is a permanent installation that reflects the building of this new community in Portishead. This project is generously supported with funding from the Knightstone Housing charity.
Over 600 children from every primary and junior school in Portishead enjoyed working with eight artists, thanks to generous sponsorship from Arts and Business. Photography and textiles, storytelling and drama, Cameroonian drumming and Zimbabwean instrumentals... the experiences on offer were diverse and imaginative.
Following the project, all participating schools completed questionnaires relating to its successes and problems. Here is a sample of the feedback received:
Arts activity: Willow sculpture, Musical composition, Story-telling
Did the activity promote / encourage other skills?
Example? Oh Yes! - ICT – the children in Year 2 followed through Bill’s mood music by composing their own pieces of mood music (linked to the ‘Take One Picture’ project) using the computer. They will be creating Powerpoint presentations of their music. Also evident was the promotion of Thinking Skills, Key Skills and skills necessary for collaborative learning.
What response did you get from the children afterwards?
Very positive. Their evaluations of the two Arts weeks clearly showed their appreciation of working with experts – ‘real artists’ as the children called them. Several children said they’d like to be a story teller or a musician when they grew up – testimony indeed of the successful promotion of creativity in the classroom!
What would you say is the main value of this visit?
It raised the profile of The Arts and Creativity as being part of life – ‘I can do this as a job when I leave school’ ...(6yr old comment)
Several parents wrote into their Home / School Link Books that their children had ‘come alive’ during the two Arts weeks and had ‘not stopped talking’. They mentioned the day ‘the artists came in’ as being particularly fascinating to the children.
Any other comments:
The absolute necessity of balancing experiences such as these alongside the more academic aspects of the curriculum; data and statistical ‘evidence’ can only improve if Strategy documents encouraging creativity in schools, everything is actually geared to SATs data, Value Added data, League Table data etc, etc, etc!
Perhaps funding could be made available for all schools to work alongside an ‘Artist in Residence’ for a period of 6 to 8 weeks at a time, thereby allowing a more prolonged period of learning for the children – Their learning would leap forward as a result!
Arts activity: Story-telling, drama, music
Do you think the activity was pitched right for the age group?
Did the activity promote / encourage other skills?
It involved all the children - including those that have been reluctant in the past to join in drama activities. One boy really thought in sounds!
What would you say is the main value of this visit?
... having people come in to do such activities is great - as they are specialists in their field. It would be fantastic if more artists could be involved so that we could involve the whole school.
Were there any surprises with individual children?
One boy was surprisingly keen to find out the names of different kinds of shells. A usually unfocused boy shared his story very effectively.
What is the main value of this visit?
We do not normally have the luxury of spending a whole day on art activities. The children had the opportunity to develop their ideas and see them come life in the photography project. They could be very creative with the hangings and develop their imagination in the story-telling. Each of the three activities was great, thank you.