Visit to ArtPlay, Melbourne
While in Melbourne I was fortunate enough to be able to visit ArtPlay and sit in one of their "dreaming" sessions. A dreaming session is when an artist is testing out ideas with children to see how the idea needs to be refined. This means the interactive art sessions at ArtPlay are very much about the voice of the child, about ensuring the children are influencing the process and also the end product.
Obang is the name of the dreaming performative installation I observed and is designed for children aged 6 months to 18 months together with their caregiver (you can click on the link for more details) - the artists behind Obang are Youbi Lee and Yee Wen Soo. it is inspired by the Korean idea of Obang - the five cardinal colours - red, blue, yellow, white and black - this was also connected to the home and spaces within the home, and spaces understood by the youngest of children... the kitchen, the bathroom, the toilet, the living room and the bedroom.
I was at the second dreaming session and the bathroom was being explored.
I sat on the side and watched the young children and their caregivers participate, and afterwards there was time for the caregivers to give their opinions about the session, and then the artists came to me and the two others that observed (they work for ArtPlay and theatre production). There was also a photographer documenting the whole session (parents agree to being photographed as part of the session)
What I found fascinating was that some of the parents had found it a little unsettling that it was so quiet and would have liked more background music (there was a gentle water like sound in the background, as the "bathroom" was being explored). Apparently in the previous (and first session) there had been more noise, and also a lot more instruction by the grandma puppet and the session had been more chaotic.
Chaotic is not necessarily a bad thing, but in the session that I observed there was a wonderful tranquility where the young children were not only fully engaged but were in control. They had the time and the space (including auditory space) to determine how they wanted to explore the experience... and it was clear that there were many ways to explore... from confident hands on testing everything and interacting with everyone and everything, to mimicking, to slow, purposeful interactions and also those children who needed to experience from the edge. Due to the fact there were no instructions it left the space open for the children, as the parents did not need to try and usher their child to "do the right thing" - and this kind of ushering means there is more likely to be a kind of chaos in the sense that children can be pushed out of their comfort zone... either by being too limited or pushed into something they are not quite ready for. it was beautiful to see that by the artists daring to make the decision to try being quiet this time, they created a space of baby/toddler power. The parents got the chance to see and learn from their child (if they are given the support to see this, and not just feel uncomfortable with the silence... which is something that many adults I have met in ECE and doing philosophy with children experience... the need to fill that silence too soon, and not handing it over to the children to fill.
Children will quickly see that the adult fills the time and space with ideas, things and sound... and begin to rely on that rather than their own creativity.
I think this links to the phrase "I am bored"... I think boredom is not a good thing... but children who have never experienced filling time themselves (with sound, ideas, play etc) will at first utter "I am bored" as a knee-jerk reflex of being used to being entertained. So I think even as parents and educators we need get comfortable with the silence, to believe that the children are competent of filling it if we give them time. so doing a session where the caregivers can practice getting comfortable with the silence that allows the children to fill it I feel is an effective way to empower children.
As adults we need to practice dealing with these feelings and not just talking about it... after all there are many who can talk the talk... there are fewer that walk it... so if we got more time to practice the talk the more there would be that would dare to walk it too! There will be more sessions where the artists test out their ideas with the caregivers and the children, to see how they are received so that they can be refined before the final production.
There a few photos and explanations of the session below... ArtPlay also has exhibitions created by children with artists, as well as various art clubs and sessions... check out their website to find out more...
some of the bathroom materials used.. introduced over time to maintain sustained interest without being overwhelming. All the senses were included.
detail of the Korean inspired decorations
the simple homemade mirrors were very popular. The materials were a mix of familiar and new... which I thought allowed the children to feel safe as well as discover new things.
here is a snapshot from the current exhibition created by children (8-12) and an artist... where the artist enabled the children to realise their ideas creatively and through aesthetic expression.