At Charlton Lakes with Harrow Way Community School

Our second session with the Year 8 Art & Photography students from Harrow Way, saw us walking to the nearby Charlton Lakes, and basing ourselves around a group of young Ash trees.

Before leaving school we had recapped on the student’s ideas from the previous session, showing them how we had taken these into account in the planning for this session.

I shared images from artists such as Ana Mendieta and David Nash, who had used found materials in their arts practice in different ways, and then Becky demonstrated how to make a frame for weaving from sticks and twine.

The frames were used on our walk to the lakes to introduce the group to a way of documenting journeys and places through incorporating found materials. We wanted this session to start to make links between Ash trees and the wider ecosystem, by weaving together the different elements that make up the whole.

Once at the Lake we split into three groups and took part in three main activities:

1. Making artwork around one of the Ash trees, using found materials gathered nearby, bringing the attention of members of the public to them.

2. Looking for animal footprints around the lake, identifying them with a tracks/signs guide, and choosing the best ones for casting with plaster.

3. Using drawing with charcoal/pencil/found pigments, and photography with phones, to record the elements of the Ash trees’ local environment that stood out for each student.

After walking back to school, each student selected the photos that they wanted to be printed off, and wrote their reflections on the day, all brought together within the sketchbooks that they started during their first project session.

We finished off by discussing what we might do in our third and final session in May. One boy was keen to find out more about Ash Die Back Disease, where it came from, how long it had been in the country and what the signs are that a tree has become infected. It really struck me the way that he had started to realise that trees were living, breathing beings that could grow sick just like us.

So in our next session in May, we will revisit the subject of the disease itself, and possibly look to extend some of the activities that we have already tried out, depending on what they have moved on to with their teachers. It’s obviously a little way away so we will be keeping in contact with Mrs Collins their Art & Photography teacher, and planning through discussion with her.

Initial thoughts are that we might change the scale of the mark-making and use very large sheets/rolls of paper with mixed-media to document their experiences in groups. Or we may respond to their obvious enjoyment of creating a temporary installation around the Ash tree, by moving to a site where we can have more and larger resources available, to create large site-specific sculptures/shelters.

Published by James Aldridge

Visual Artist and Consultant, working and playing with people and places. Based in Wiltshire, UK

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