Tag Archive | Artist In Schools

Gaia is Symbiosis at the Silver Ball 2014

2014 and was such a busy year for me! One of my highlights was having my video “Gaia is Symbiosis as Seen From Space” included in Warrnambool’s  Silver Ball Film Festival. (Venture further down my blog posts to find out more about this video & its role in Artists In Schools 2013). My video is currently posted on a kind friends Vimeo channel & you can check it out by following the link above- rather than the “arty” version, it is the “brief-story-of-how-it-happened” version, its a lot of fun but it might make you dizzy!!

The Silver Ball Film Festival was held outdoors in and amongst Warrnambool’s laneways last May. It was staffed by numerous devoted arts people in Charlie Chapman kit. It was a freezing yet spectacular night you can read more about it below.

https://open.abc.net.au/explore/62571

http://www.standard.net.au/story/2264348/laneway-flick-fest-a-ball/

http://colleenhughson.com.au/silver-ball-film-screening/

Sharing Colours

Light House Chamber Observatory

Click to enlarge

On a sunny day last October we embarked on a trip to beautiful Macarthur. These photos capture the liveliness of the Light House Chamber Observatory. It has since been properly completed- the final interior sculptures added, the outer white panels painted orange and the historical bench seat varnished. I am told that whenever you visit the school during recess or lunch you can find children happily playing in it- that’s exactly what I want to hear 🙂

 

 

Gaia is Symbiosis as Seeen from Space

Mac_Post Launch 1

Nestled in the core of my practice is a desire to find ways to perceive and imagine our interconnectivity with the world we live in. The idea of Aesthetic Subjectivity is my master concept for this desire and I try to find creative arts approaches that develop this sense of connectivity. It still surprises me just how many different ways we are entwined with our environment, near and far.

The following account is long, but this project is kinda massive and really damn cool!!

Watching Rage a year or two ago I saw an Aussie Band playing on the ground and rapidly pulled out into an aerial view. By the end of the clip the footage showed the arc of the earth against the darkness of space. It was pretty cool and my husband Dean and I puzzled over just how it was done. Not too long after this we watched an episode of the ABC’s science show Catalyst. Here a team in the Arctic were launching a helium filled weather balloon and GPS to collect atmospheric data. The penny dropped and so began the Google search to figure out how to do this crazy thing myself…

The Concept
Originally conceived as part of my PhD research this Weather Balloon Camera idea seemed quite complimentary to another project I was developing, the Kitchen Table Art Expedition at Macarthur Primary School. I put the concept to the school principle and she was keen to give it a shot. It works like this:
A camera and GPS are attached to a Weather Balloon which is filled with Helium. The Helium pulls the 6ft Balloon skyward reaching an altitude of about 80,000 (Seriously!!) into an area of the atmosphere called the Stratosphere, about halfway to space. Because the air is so much thinner at this height the helium stretches out and expands, enlarging the balloon to a 20ft diameter at which point it bursts. This causes the Camera set-up to fall back to Earth, the rapid descent opens up a Parachute to slow the fall. GPS Tracking theoretically allows the Camera to be retrieved.

My idea was that letting the students at Macarthur experience making this footage would help them to imagine themselves as part of the bigger world of Earth. I called this sub-project “Gaia is Symbiosis as Seen from Space” after the phrase coined by a student of the famous micro-biologist Lynn Margulis. Gaia (a name originally meaning Goddess Mother Earth) is the name given to our planet, Earth, when thinking of it as an integrated ecosystem http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaia_hypothesis . The idea in this phrase being that we can imagine Earth as an interconnected organism when we view it in the totality afforded by a bird’s eye view from space.

So we began the Kitchen Table Art Expedition back in April this year as my previous posts attest. Gaia is Symbiosis… was meant to provide us with a conceptual starting point, it was to be our first event and the retrieved footage was going to inspire the student’s artistic process. It turned out however that there was a lot more involved in launching a “Near Space” Camera than just blowing up a massive balloon. I learnt a bunch of stuff trying to piece the right equipment via the internet, like alkaline batteries quickly go flat at the -50o temperatures of the upper atmosphere… It took until late June to have the right equipment in my hands. I found a pre-made kit which included all the gear I needed (bar a GoPro Camera and Helium) and importantly a manual describing the process. It also recommended lithium batteries as they survive much longer in colder conditions…

The Preparations
At this point it became apparent that our mission would require clearance from CASA, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. This aspect of our preparation really got my head into the space of understanding what we were doing. I had to familiarise myself with the Air Safety Regulations for “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles” or UVAs and complete a detailed application to CASA. This included plotting a predicted flight path. This link shows how complex that weaving space just above our heads is http://flysafe.raa.asn.au/meteorology/section4.html . Whilst the winds on the ground may be doing one thing, the jet streams that blow above 30,000ft can be doing another thing all together and quite quickly at that!! Drawing on the formula in my kit’s manual I predicted that our flight would start in Macarthur and conclude North East from there near Lake Bolac. I worried that the 80kp/hr winds of the Jet Streams would flick us out to the Southern Ocean or into a rocky crevasse in the Grampians swallowing up our camera forever!! This link shows what the Jet Streams were doing last night http://www.wunderground.com/maps/au/jetstream.html

We gained CASA Approval by September and were at this stage in the later stages of the Kitchen Table Art Expedition. We had kept our Art’s Explorers informed throughout and now it was just a matter of getting great weather, clear skies and low winds, to align with our timetable. The last week of our project was not only hectic but coupled with strong winds and persistent rain. Sadly our launch was postponed and a long, overcast wet spring ensued. I had all but given up on our launch as had the students.

D-Day
An approaching high pressure system was forecasted in last week’s weather. I kept my eye on the Bureau of Meteorology website and decided that we should make a go for it. I got in touch with Macarthur’s new principle, located some Helium, called CASA , the Bureau of Meterology’s Aviation Desk and dusted off the Camera Rig… and began to shit myself just a little!! It was hard to believe we were actually going to give it a try. I metered my worries with my resolve that it was better to risk failure, be it a dud-launch or lost GoPro, than to never know what it was like to try. I love my Macarthur kids and I really wanted to this have a run at the impossible with them.

Tuesday December 17th, the first day of the high pressure system, was the only day we could launch. Morning in Warrnambool was overcast, I kept my fingers crossed. Three Black Cockatoos flew past my car, I hadn’t seen any since before winter, these dudes are my totem bird and I took it as a sign to stay calm and focused, the world was on our side. Driving the terrain out to Macarthur I crossed Tower Hill, out through farm land, volcanic planes and lava flows, past eucalypt plantations and wind turbines, all the while feeling a growing sense of connection to the breathing landscape I was in. The sky was still overcast. Coming through Orford I felt it was time to speak to the land, I knew I had to ask the Aboriginal ancestors for permission. I acknowledged the Gunditjmara as the traditional custodians of this land and communicated my gratitude to Ancestors Past, Present and Future and asked for the blessing to complete our project. I felt the heat on my driving arm immediately, the sun was beginning to disperse the clouds, I felt I had been heard with love. I also made the Sign of the Cross just to keep all bases covered. Another two Black Cockies, and Eagle on a sign post, I was almost in Macarthur, the clouds kept breaking up…

pre-launch

As I set-up the equipment on the School Oval another three Black Cockies flew across, their graceless squawking warmed my heart. We were going to be fine! I enlisted the help of both the current and newly retired principles in the tricky task of filling and tying off the weather balloon. I also roped in two school Mums with abrupt notice. The balloon is delicate; if it touches the ground a simple blade of grass could cause it to prematurely rupture, as can groping or pinching it- we had to steady it with the palms of our hands. We each wore latex gloves as the natural acidity of our hands can weaken the balloons latex causing it to break in lower altitudes. It takes about 125 cubic feet of helium or the equivalent of about 250 standard balloons to fill this 5ft Weather balloon. Sealed and attached to the parachute line, the whole school counted us down, up went the balloon, followed by the closed parachute it pulled up the Camera Rig…. about ten meters into the air and then dropped it back to the ground- not quite enough helium we concluded!!

Launch

We commenced the careful task of un-sealing the tie and refilling the balloon. We waited until the balloon could lift our counter weight a good meter off the ground with ease. This is an imprecise measure but the best that we have. Too little helium means we won’t reach the altitudes that will burst our balloon and return our “payload” to Earth, too much helium and our balloon will burst before reaching 80,000 ft.

balloon_inflate

Today we err on the side of too much. We tied the balloon off again. I connected the audio beacon and ensured that the GPS and Camera were on. The students counted down, up went the balloon again followed by the parachute line, pulling with much more force the Camera Rig from the hold of my hands. This time we have true lift off- the collective elation we feel is palpable, this is the coolest thing ever!!!

Kids_post_launch

The balloon remained visible for at least 15 minutes in the perfectly clear sky above us- we wondered what it could see, I wondered if I would ever see it again! Actually though, I had decided, that won’t matter if I never see it again- it is simply amazing that we got this crazy idea into the air.

Tracking
My husband, however, had a little less abandon about saying goodbye forever to our GoPro. He kept an eye on the website that allows the GPS Location to be tracked live on a Google Earth Map. The GPS Website is great. Whilst it doesn’t plot GPS locations above 10,000ft it does give us a pretty accurate indication of our course and amazingly it followed the flight path I gave to CASA. The Macarthur students are also able to watch the live tracking, at the 3:30 school bell they reported to me that our Camera had landed just shy of Lake Bolac. WOW!! A perfect outcome, I was pretty stoked.

GPS_Map

Retrieval
I had expected to spend the following day driving the countryside looking for our camera. Instead I was able to leave directly from Macarthur and attempt to find it that same day. Up through Hamilton, through Dunkeld on the Glenelg HWY on a beautiful hot, sunny afternoon in my little blue hatch back on a mission! I headed up the dirt road toward the location on my GPS Map only to find that the part of the lane way I needed to access was private property. I had no luck at the couple of farm houses I approached so headed into Lake Bolac to see if anyone could help. It was after 5pm but a few good lads were still about in the workshop of their freight depot. I made my peculiar request, asking one if he knew how I could get into the paddock that was shown on the screen of my iPhone. I love country towns! He not only knew the spot, it was just near his place, but he knew the landowner. He rang him for me and I soon had permission and directions to get into the paddock where our camera appeared to be.

retrival_1

I walked with my iPhone and water bottle. The sun was still damn hot and I was not without trepidation. I got through the first paddock and out to the second toward the marker on my map. Sheep scuttled as I headed further in, looking for landmarks and expecting to see the orange parachute flapping about. I had an awful feeling that just the GPS was in this paddock, perhaps it had come loose on descent… I seemed to walk for ages and all I could see was grass and sheep. Then I heard a faint beeping, the audio beacon!! I had forgotten all about it! It was faint and the wind made it hard to sense which direction it was coming from but it was close….

Finally I saw it, frame complete with Camera and GPS (although held on by just one tie now), parachute and burst balloon splayed out with it.

Found_1

Holy shit this crazy plan worked!! And here I was in a sheep paddock near Lake Bolac, on a beautiful hot December evening just after 6pm with the majestic Grampians gracing the horizon to the west. I uploaded a few pictures and announced my success via Face Book. This moment in time was the absolute upside of modern technology for me: physics, satellite infrastructure, affordable technology and artistic madness combined into a feat of wonder. It was damn tempting to stop in for a well earned cold one at the Lake Bolac Pub but I knew I had to complete my mission and get back to Warrnambool for some cold pizza and celebratory hugs!!

Taking it all in…
I did an epic circuit of the South West on our launch day. Warrnambool, Tower Hill, Macarthur, Hamiltion, Dunkeld and the Grampians, Lake Bolac, Mt Shadwell and Mortlake back into Warrnambool to my little house by the sea. I felt connection with the ancient geology of this volcanic ground, with the Indigenous Ancestors whose presence in the land is still strong, with the Macarthar crew who this grand mission was for, with the sense of country Australia that I grew up in through the generosity and humour of those lads at Lake Bolac. Most of all I felt a real sense of connection to my own spirituality, to that creative pulse that excites me and drives my imagination, to that sense that the world is bigger than that which is before my eyes, in many more directions than just the 3D. I really felt a part of the land, the sky and the universe through this event.

Temp Blog

In lieu of starting the Kitchen Table Art Expedition with the launch of our “Gaia is Symbiosis… Camera” we visited Eugene von Guerard’s Tower Hill at the Warrnambool Art Gallery back in April. Under the methodology described by forefather of Ecological Science Alexander von Humboldt ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_von_Humboldt ), von Guerard had captured, in accurate detail and contrast, through paint and canvas the interconnection he observed in this new landscape. I believe that there is a poetic beauty in the way we were able to conclude our own, contemporary artistic examination of that same terrain 170 years later. We have used contemporary technology, scientific knowledge and artistic imagination and passion to find another way to imagine this same interconnectivity. From the blades of grass on the oval to the upper reaches of our atmosphere, this is the amazing planet Earth, our mother Gaia, the one place in the whole universe in which our lives are possible.

launched_1

The footage is amazing. I spent the following day showing students at my own children’s school in Warrnambool excerpts and prepared a USB Stick which was sent out in time for the Macarthur Primary School concert that night. I haven’t heard yet, but I am pretty sure they got to watch it to. I really hope they did. The footage is exhilarating, I have loved watching the awe it inspires on everyone that has seen it so far…. this world is a wonderful place to live

launched_2

launched_3

Mac_Post Launch Google Map

We got about an hours worth of good footage before the camera stopped recording. I will edit it over the next week and post a link up to it soon.

Amazing Drawings by the Kitchen Table Arts Explorers

paintings_2

Late in the second last week of our project I made an evening visit to our Project Coordinator and School Principle Lynn Lyle’s home. Here I collected 18 completed drawings crucial to the conclusion of our project. When Lynn and I attended an Arts Vic PD day back in March she warned me that she was not creative at all, non-the-less she was prepared to take our explorers for their Painting and Drawing Sessions as part of our five week rotation. Looking through these 18 completed drawings together I could see Lynn’s genuine pride in the children’s work.

paintings_1

During the Painting & Drawing Program the students were introduced to different mediums and taught a number of drawing techniques. It wasn’t until after I’d written this program that I saw the quality of the work the students were already making in there fortnightly art classes, I began to doubt if my program had anything to offer them….
We used Eugene von Guerard as a starting point, not so much for his meticulous technique but for his arts explorative process of looking at the environment in its parts and as its whole. The Arts Explorers in our program were to look at their environments, drawing on their expedition themes and create images uses the new methods shown to them.

This process was not about creating “perfect” drawings. In fact parts of this process were specifically designed to break with that idea we hold of being “a good drawer”, this was about getting in touch with creativity, and becoming brave and bold in the process. One of my favourite bits of feed back came from a year six student when I asked her what she had learnt through the process. She replied that she had learnt “that art didn’t have to be perfect” and that “it could be anything”. WOW!! Her mum actually stopped me in the hall one day to let me know the interest that her daughter was now showing in creativity and art and what a positive effect the program was having on her. For me it doesn’t get much better than that!!

Untitled-3

These 18 Images are really strong works that are a kin with works I have seen by practicing artists in contemporary galleries. I collected the drawings that evening to turn them into digital prints which would become the lead-light images for our Light Chamber Observatory. Logos Ahead Warrnambool did a great job printing these and they look absolutely stunning inside our child centred light space.

Space Exploration with the Kitchen Table Art Expedition

I learnt so much working with each of the Expedition Parties. It deepened my understanding of working with school aged students and it also deepened my understanding of the themes selected for exploration: Space, Light and Earth. These themes are important within my own arts practice and being able to open them up to the fertile minds of these young explorers’ revealed new perspectives that I would not have otherwise seen.

space group

As part of their ephemeral art practice the Space Expedition Party created a large joint work that had to develop the concept of space. Collaborative processes can be tricky for anyone to work through but I was really pleased with the way that each of these groups worked through their ideas, compromised and reasoned, and cooperated in making their collective works. The Space group came up with a great solution to their art work. They created this Space Island (the proper name I forget but maybe one of them will add it as a comment for me, please  !!). One large space which was then sub-divided into smaller regions which included an abandoned beach shack, a farm, a wildlife park and camping ground nature reserve, a pier, a pub and was centred by a beautiful black hole.

Watching the kids negotiate with each other as they created their miniature world was really cool- it gave me an insight into how humans divide the world, compete for resources, practice democracy and create the human space in which we live. Working with this group helped to develop my comprehension of the overlappings of space: from the Macro Space of the Cosmos and Space’s emergence from the big bang to our planet, the atmosphere and our human Spaces of inside and outside, private, public, personal space, emotional space and sacred space to the Micro Spaces of mini beasts and micro-organisms…. Our world really is multi-dimensional, how amazing is that!!

Light Chamber Observatory & the Men’s Shed

Mens Shed
Since June this year we, myself & Macarthur PS Principle Lynn Lyles, have been working with the Macarthur Men’s Shed to create the Light Chamber Observatory. I wrote an earlier post that explained the process of planning and designing this unique “child centred” structure. Lynn has worked tirelessly to manage this project and ensure that all of our ends “tied-up”. She and I have to thank Woodhouse Graesser Johnston Civil and Structural Engineers of Warrnambool for providing us with their expertise in order to make sure we met our safety standards as well as Bunnings Warrnambool who generously supplied materials for the construction, David Reeding of Plastral who helped us with our acrylic sheeting and Daniel Baulch of Logosahead Warrnambool who helped out with some cool digital prints. We have also had some great help from school mum’s & dad’s and Macarthur community member’s as well…

Most importantly though we need to thank the group of amazing men at the Macathur Men’s Shed who have donated their time, effort and skills in order to turn my drawings into a material reality that should stand proud in the Macarthur PS yard for a good 50 years!!

I am actually a little speechless at the moment, I have spent today working on site to cut all the acrylic sheet for our Light Chamber and had the pleasure of working with the blokes from the Shed as they put our colourful atrium in place. They have been so truly generous with their time and have been a lot of fun to work alongside, they make a pretty mean sponge too & were kind enough to save me a slice for morning tea…. I don’t have the words to express my gratitude right now, let me just say that it is immense!!

One of the coolest things about working on community art projects is being in the position to ask different community members to contribute what they can to a project- I am always impressed by people’s willingness to be generous, and in what ever way they can contribute time, skills and resources for the love of it. Today Lynn walked a group of preps & 1’s through the Light Chamber with its Perspex roof now complete- the sounds of their voices saying “wow!!”, their smiles and the look of amazement in their eyes was a great indication of how well all this effort is appreciated…

Last week the guys from the Men’s were set the task of retrieving the old school bench from the school shed so it could be re-used on our construction- would you believe that it is the same school bench that many of them sat on when they were boys at Macarthur PS many moons ago…. how cool is that!!

Tomorrow night is our Gesamtkunstwerk- the coming together of all our artworks into one final festive celebration of our explorers and the knowledge they’ve gained and the things they’ve created. Our Light Chamber Observatory should be just about completed by then, with a little bit of painting to be finished off in dryer weather. I still have a little more to share about this project so I will keep on posting until I am all caught up…
Atrium

Light Expedition Crew… Exploring Ligh, Art & Science

Ephemeral Light
During the winter weeks of the Kitchen Table Art Expedition I worked with the Light Explorers. I had so much fun with this really interesting group of personalities and thinkers. We spent the first two weeks playing with ephemeral sculpture. I have come to quite enjoy facilitating the students at Macarthur in this practice. We begin by looking at images of other artists that include, among others, Chris Drury and Andy Goldsworthy. The students then get to go out into the yard, find their materials and create their own piece of earth art. I guide them in this process and ask that they bear in mind the topic of their expedition party. They spend the first week working individually and the second week working as a whole group to create their larger work. After spending the morning brain storming about the nature and idea of Light the group came up with their collaborative work- a Part Bon Fire Part Volcano that drew on ideas of fire, lava and the Earth’s origins as star dust….

Light Permanent
The explorers spent the next three weeks developing their understanding of light and colour. We drew on that clever fellow Isaac Newton and his illumination (pun intended) of the properties of white light. The crew made colour wheels and put them in motion… Drawing from this experiment they designed novelty colour wheels to be attached as permanent features on the Light Chamber Observatory…. I had a blast with these bright sparks 