Relational Aesthetics and beyond!

Art critic, author and curator, Nicolas Bourriaud had recognised that artists during the 1990s were developing their practices and beginning to move towards participatory art as opposed to object based art. This shift in how artists worked was observed to be building relationships within communities and acknowledging that without people, art had no purpose; like with Schrodinger’s cat, it was the interaction with people that brought the art to life.

I have had the pleasure of being a “little helper” to Yvonne from Bespoke Atelier, who along with her business partner Marion, have been commissioned to create a children’s water feature as part of the River Connections Project (Art and the River Ness) and this is Participatory Art in action!

Queue little ‘ol me being surrounded by 79 P6 & P7 children from four of the cities primary schools over two days!

After setting up and giving a snapshot of the workshop to the teachers, Yvonne introduced us to the children and began by drawing the children in visually with interpretation boards and brainstorming ideas about what the River Ness meant to them: what did they see along the river; what sort of animals, trees, flowers, birds, fish? The breadth of answers was testament to how much the children have observed their environment and with just a few sightings of elephants and killer whales being “seen,” their drawings and model making began.

Working with children is always unpredictable and it is imperative that you enter into even a brief encounter with integrity; meeting those children at a level that enables and facilitates them to accomplish the task at hand. To that end, Yvonne and I moved amongst the children offering encouraging dialogue and support whilst the children drew their designs, explored the clay, patterns, textures and 3D representations of their ideas.

With a nominal participatory approach the children were encouraged to use their imaginations and we simply stepped back and allowed their creativity to flow, supporting that process only when asked or if a child was looking doubtful.

With furrowed brow and a whispered memory of my Grandma saying “don’t be daft chicken,” I wonder at how quickly we become doubtful of ourselves and lose the ability to speak when asked to take over part of the initial introduction to this, our 3rd workshop. I looked up at Yvonne looking down at me and was mute; rooted to the seat upon which I sat and unable to respond beyond some wordless mutterings.

Yvonne graciously carried on with the workshop that we had rolled out twice by now and I sighed with relief tinged with a hint of disappointment thrown in for good measure. Why did a simple request to stand up in front of a class of children and brainstorm with them, produce a sense of self doubt and anxiety?

At our fourth and final primary school Yvonne again reached out to me, this time with a dry marker, and with an encouraging smile handed over the class of attentive P4 to P7’s……and I lived! I have the t-shirt and a sticker.

Clever little ‘ol me thumbs up, smiley face….And thank you Yvonne.