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Apr 26 17

Exploring Collections: School Without Walls

by James

Museum shelvesI began working with St Saviours Infant School in Larkhall, Bath in January of this year. I’ve worked at the same school several times over the years through 5x5x5=creativity and feel quite at home there by now.

This time I am working with two classes of Year 1 children, within which there are several focus children who we are paying particularly attention to, in terms of their experience of the project and its evaluation. We are working in partnership with The Museum of Bath at Work, and the children chose to call our project Exploring Collections.

Arriving at the museum

This project is one of several happening through School Without Walls in and around the Bath area, and the SWW projects are part of a National initiative funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation’s Teacher Development Fund. This National project is exploring how art can become embedded across the primary curriculum, and more specifically focusing on teacher cpd.

I began my work at St Saviours by introducing the children to collecting as a way of making art, and of sharing your interests with others. We looked at the work of artists such as Mark Dion, Peter Blake and myself, who gather together different elements and curate or construct with them, to make artwork. The teachers and I then led the children in an exploration of the school grounds, collecting objects and materials that each child was interested in, before creating some kind of container to house them.

Exploring and collecting

Collecting Tray

The children made use of a range of recycled containers, adapting them and adding labels/text as they thought necessary.

Bag of finds

Display case

A week later we all visited the Museum together. For those of you who haven’t been before, the Museum is rich in sensory experiences. It houses redundant local businesses such as a drinks factory and metal workshop, rehoused within the Museum. Objects are present in large quantities, complete with the smell of oil and dust. There are huge stacks of bottles, sets of tools, and an old office that looks as if the person that works there has just popped out.

Museum of Bath at Work

Old bottles in boxes

I first visited the Museum with Ed, our Headteacher, and Catherine, our project Mentor last Autumn, and we had discussed what we felt the children might most be interested in or inspired by. We felt that collections can give us a connection to people’s life stories, their cultures of origin, and can connect your own home patch (in this case Bath/Larkhall) with other places that you have lived or visited. As well as exploring where we felt the project could go, we wanted to give the children the freedom to show us what they were most excited by, this time through the photos, drawings and conversations that came out of our visit.Man at the Museum

Drawing a velosopeed

Back at school, children were asked what they’d like to use to reflect on their experiences of the Museum, and ended up constructing with lego, making large scale drawings or continuing with constructing from recycled materials.

Drawing a machine

Lego Mine

Some children were taken by the quality of light shining through coloured bottles, others by the shapes of the bottles or the mining/quarrying machinery.

Throughout the project we have discussed with the children what they have most enjoyed, and asked them for any ideas as to what we could do next. We have also met after each session as a team (myself, the teachers and where possible, Catherine our mentor), to explore what we feel has been significant and how best to respond to the children’s ideas.

The Secret of Love

At The Museum of Bath at Work there is a machinery workshop that can be activated by pressing a button. a whole room of large, metal machinery gradually comes to life, one section at a time, with accompanying rhythmic clanking and banging. Many of the children found this exciting, and in response I shared with them examples of artwork that moves and makes sounds, including Flying Books Under Black Rain by Rebecca Horn, Marble Machine by Wintergarten and the Strandbeast sculpures made by Theo Jansen. This led to the children working in groups to design and make their own machine or vehicle inspired artwork (other museum favourites were an old car, a velosopeed and a penny farthing) .

Model of a car

We then further built on this, by taking our work outside on the next session, and giving the children a chance to build interconnecting sculptures with the PlayPod large-scale recycled resources. Construction in groups meant that the children had to work together, which some found easier than others. Ideas connected and co-existed and role-play followed.

Building outside

Outdoor Construction

The children had said that they wanted to make work individually or in small groups, and then see how they could join them together to make one big machine, building or city, and we gave them opportunities in this session to do just that. Smaller groups joined and negotiated ways of connecting their sculptures. One of the classes also used drawing to record what they had made together.

Joining sculptures together

Drawing her sculpture

Throughout the project (we have two more sessions with each class left), there has been this dual thread of personal collections, and larger structures that connect, move or make noises. Children have brought their own collections in from home, and local older people (staff who worked at the school previously or the children’s grandparents) have joined us to share the story of their own collections, including Shakespeare related items, holey stones and glass paperweights.

Holey Stones

Holding a paperweight

The teachers have chosen books and stories that explore the relationship between children and older people, collecting and journeys to different places. The children have also made portraits of what they think they will look like when they are 70, and the collections they may have gathered during their lifetime.

Crown collection

The aim is that in between my visits the themes of the project continue to inform the nature and content of the teaching, and that the teachers involved keep me in the loop so that we can plan later sessions together, based on how things have evolved. In practice its not always that easy, often lessons have been planned in advance and staff absences have impacted on the teacher’s workloads, but the children are always at the heart of our work together, and have certainly been inspired by the project and made it their own.

Green collection

And what next? It depends on where the children and teachers take the work before my final sessions with them in June, but we hope to enable the children to explore the links between their personal collections and the wider community more directly. We have talked about going out into Larkhall and recording buildings of significance to them, exploring the roles that they play in their lives as well as how they connect  geographically with school, as we explored the geographical relationship between the school and the Museum on our walk there and in later map-making sessions.

Mapping our walk

Map detail

The children are still interested in working in a way that sees them each making separate parts of a wider whole, so it may be that each child will choose to create a building that reflects their place in the local community. Whether it’s their home, their Dad’s shop or where they go to ballet, it could also act as a physical container for their stories and collections, which when brought as a group would create their own multi-layered representation of where they live and learn.

Mar 31 17

Walk, Touch, Connect, Remember

by James

Badger MeToday is my final day at Hawkwood College, as I come to the end of my residency here. I have taken photographs to document the objects that I’ve made, and I now I need to write to start drawing it all together in my mind.

It will take time to make sense of all that I have touched, heard, made, thought and felt here. I thought I would come and respond to the woods and garden by making things, but its not been that simple. As I have made time for myself to really be here, and given myself the space to explore and follow whatever pops up for me, my physical exploration of the land has drawn out feelings and memories that I hadn’t expected.

Roe Deer on spy cam

When people ask what I do, I say I work with people and places, and I do, but it’s more than that. Places and people don’t exist in isolation. Places connect with people, and people sense, respond to and remember places. Places bring up memories and enable access to thoughts and feelings that were buried or stored away.

Badger Boy

The Badgers and their clay mounds, along the edge of wooded hills, have connected with the hills and woods of my childhood, and given me a chance to remember my Dad, with whom I explored them as I child. From here at Hawkwood to Wotton Under Edge where I lived as a child (and then visited regularly when my parents split up) is about 10 miles.

Walking bundle - black doll

Doll bundle collage

My sister tells me we would come to Stroud to the swimming pool and walk around the lake in Stratford Park, so I walked there yesterday (about a mile away). I remember coming to the Berni Inn with my Dad, brother and sister, on the weekends that we would stay with him, and I spent some time this week wandering around Stroud to track it down too.

Concertina Sketcbook

The pathways and animal tracks that I’ve followed across the land here, have interwoven with the threads of memory and emotion that run through my heart and my mind. The time I planned to use to re-energise my individual arts practice after focusing for so long on participatory work, has led to me exploring what Fatherhood and Parenting means to me. What was special to me about time spent with my Dad, and what does that mean for me now, with my own son?

Me and My Dad

In the work that I’ve made, I have layered photographs taken here, and some of my Son and my Dad, with text recording what I see, hear, think and feel as I sit in the woods or by the ponds. I have taken photos of the badgers here at night and begun to layer them with images of myself. I have made a basket for a badger jaw bone, and drawn/painted with the clay from the Badgers’ setts.

Woodland Image with Badger Basket

In my artwork the body of the Badger and my boyhood or adult body join to become one, the past and the present meet at the point of making, as they meet through my walking.

Badger and my mask

The time and space that I have been given here, the welcome and support, the food prepared with care, and the horseshoe of woodland cradling the house at Hawkwood, has held me whilst I have surrendered to the moment, following the paths that my body and emotions have instinctively taken me on.

Tea time at Hawkwood

Practically speaking I will now seek out opportunities to exhibit this work, and extend the new ways of making that I have developed, into my daily practice as an artist. On a personal level, this time has enabled me to reconnect with the half of my childhood that I spent with my Dad, and the first landscape that I ever walked in, as a young child.

Me making in woods at Hawkwood

(See here for further information on Artist Residencies at Hawkwood, supported by the F W Reckitt Arts Trust)

Mar 21 17

Badgers, Bodies and Me

by James

Hawkwood from below


This is a post about the first two days of my residency at Hawkwood College, and what is starting to happen in terms of what I’m making, and what I’m realising about the value of this time and space for myself.

I’m mainly realising that this time of ‘not knowing’, within a rich, supportive, nurturing environment where I can walk and make and think (or not), about whatever calls me to notice it, is exactly what I had needed.

Yesterday after settling in, I went to the woods and based myself on the badger sett spoil heaps, huge mounds of orange/yellow clay dug out via deep dark tunnels opening up out of the woodland edge. I forgot my water and graphite sticks and instead used a mixture of earth and paint to respond to and record what was around me.

Working by the badger setts

Badger sett picture

In the afternoon I took another walk, down past the sculpture studios and barns, and back via the main drive, gathering baling twine, hay, a scrap of fake fur and leaves into my first Walking Bundle of the residency.

Hawkwood Walking Bundle No1

In between I ate the most tasty, colourful, hearty food I’ve had for a long time. Food cooked with care from ingredients sourced locally and ethically. And before I slept I read from Alain de Botton’s new book, The Course of Love.

Hawkwood ice cream

I also walked to the woods before it got dark to set up my camera trap where I had been working. I wanted to capture the badgers in photographs as they emerged out of their setts at night. I didn’t actually get any but will keep trying.

Breakfast at Hawkwood

This morning (after more delicious food, bought and cooked by someone else) I returned to the woods, taking a longer, different route, and a male ‘Ken’ doll, with his hair chopped off and his overly glossy featured lightly scratched.

Preparing a Ken doll

I have taken time to source male dolls to make bundles, firstly because I didn’t want to be seen to be sending a specific message about women’s bodies, but to be exploring embodied ways of knowing in general. But today it seemed obvious suddenly that the male doll’s body stood in for my body. As I walked and listened, and slipped on wet ground or scratched against holly, I wrapped and bound and covered his body in materials that I found.

body bundle in progress

Hawkwood Walking Bundle No2

The body bundle is more powerful to me because it is a male body. As a father of a boy, as a gay man, as a man whose own Dad died relatively recently, what it means to be a man is a subject that seems very relevant to my sense of identity right now. It always has been, but in a way that excluded me in the past, the dominant cultural models of masculinity have never included me. Maybe now I am building my own.

Doll hair drawings

When I got back I made some very quick sketches of male bodies with glue and the discarded doll hair. I have also begun to record my experiences of the gardens into the Walking Diary that I made in a concertina format yesterday – printing with leaves near the sewage treatment ponds (a lot nicer than they sound) and the gardens.

Walking Diary in the Orchard

Hawkwood Leaf Prints

My time here feels therapeutic. As a parent to an adopted child my time tends to focus on him, on advocating for his needs at school and elsewhere. But now it’s time to take time for myself. My time here gives me the space to explore, on an intuitive level, who I am right now, what my becoming a father and losing my own parents means for my identity, and the necessity of taking time for myself both in terms of my continuing development as an artist and my future well-being.

So, two days down and eight more to come. Lots more to share as it happens…

Mar 20 17

Settling into Hawkwood

by James

Hawkwood College


My 2 week residency at Hawkwood College, near Stroud in Gloucestershire began today. I have the keys to my studio and my bedroom (staying one day a week as I need to get back for my son the other days), I have unpacked and arranged my equipment and materials in the studio, met my fellow artist in residence next door (the musician/songwriter Helen Chadwick), and now am taking some time to write this and listen to the radio.


I first came to Hawkwood for a sunny, bustling open day a few years ago, and have since visited to run a workshop for The Centre of Narrative Leadership, and spent some very happy times here with my much missed friend and collaborator Chris Seeley.

I’m going to go for a walk and do some bundling later, making the first Hawkwood Walking Bundle. I’ve bought myself some massive paper to take out into the woods and fields, as I want to push myself and my work in terms of scale, and I also want to make work that explores my bodily relationship with this place (hence the hashtag #BodyAndPlace on Twitter).


I’m here to explore the gardens and woods, fields and ponds, and yet here I am indoors writing this and laying out paper, clay and pens, but claiming and getting to know this space is important too, this long, light, wooden floored room in a cotswold stone outhouse, with the scent of narcissi from the vase in the corner, the sound of the wind buffeting the bare branched trees outside and a reassuring background hum from the radio behind me. So, getting to know here first, then exploring.


Mar 1 17

Body and Place: From City to Sanctuary

by James

Foest Map MaskThe Art of Outdoor Learning Exhibition came down at the weekend, and marked the end of my Green Town Group residency with the MK Gallery in Milton Keynes. On the 20th March I begin a new, 2 week residency at Hawkwood College near Stroud in Gloucestershire, focusing this time on my individual practice and research.

When applying for the Hawkwood College residency I focused on my wish to spend time in the woodland and gardens, noticing and recording the local animal and plant life, and experimenting with scale.


This residency is a chance for me to sink deeper into my own ideas and experiences, as well as to revisit previous work, from within the context of the grounds and surroundings at Hawkwood.

Badger skull on body warmer

My socially engaged practice is key to my work, I connect with others and we each connect with our environment, and as a system, we each benefit the other. I also need time by myself, to notice what and how I am feeling, to allow the quieter voices to creep into my consciousness, and pay attention to new thoughts and ideas that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Composted bodies

At Hawkwood I want to be enveloped by the earth and the trees, to allow the land to wrap itself around me and revitalise my creativity. In a sense I see it as a retreat, not from the world, but from the pressures of time and money, which will allow me to become more present and more aware of my place and my role in the world.

Making Walking Pages

I want to offer myself up to the ‘more than human world’ and allow it to imprint itself onto my skin and seep in through my eyes, ears and nostrils, the roots and branches creeping under my skin and birdsong washing me clean.

Smelling fleece

My artwork will document my experiences, and lead to new forms of work, in turn informing and enriching future projects, when that time comes.

Jon holding flowers

I want to start to put more energy and focus into exhibiting my individual work, in the same way as I do for others. They are the two halves of my practice and neither could exist without the other. In The Art of Outdoor Learning, my Walking Bundles and Walking Pages were shown alongside images, text and objects sharing the work of local children with whom I collaborated. I want to start to make the relationship between the two more tangible, to draw out and disseminate the links between my bodily, imaginative experiences of place, and those that I create and offer to others.

Walking Bundles at MK Gallery

Walking Pages in exhibition

I’m currently looking for further opportunities to share my Walking Bundles, and Walking Pages (so let me know if you have any thoughts) and am excited at the thought of new, as yet unknown forms of work emerging from my time at Hawkwood, which I’ll share here as it develops.

Jan 18 17

The Art of Outdoor Learning: Exhibition at MK Gallery

by James

Boy Exploring with ClayFebruary 2017 sees the opening of an exhibition that I have curated with the support of the MK Gallery Learning Team called The Art of Outdoor Learning.

The exhibition reflects on and shares learning from, my Green Town Group residency with the Gallery, which took place throughout 2016, working with 4 local schools and local families.

The exhibition also places this work within the wider context of my art and outdoor learning practice, drawing on other examples of work within Primary and Pre-School education, and as well as photographs and artwork made by children, and includes examples of my own individual artwork, made whilst walking at a variety of locations.

‘I think it has shown me that some of my children… are actually very articulate and creative, they just can’t always express it at school. It has also shown me that these children may be stronger in practical activities. I love how the activities have been accessible to all, regardless of abilities.’

Green Town Group Teacher

The exhibition will also launch a film made to document the journey of one of the schools through the project, Holne Chase School in Bletchley, and feature an interactive element, where visitors will be able to make and take away their own Walking Diary, to record their responses to their local outdoor environment.

In addition I will be running a cpd event for local teachers on the value of listening, and responding to children’s ideas, within the context of Art and Outdoor Learning.

‘We will be using the outdoor environment and creativity far more next year as well as a more free-flow learning style, allowing children to take ownership of their own learning and ideas…’

Green Town Group Teacher

For further information please come back here again soon, follow me on Twitter and Facebook, where you can search for #GreenTownGrp, or check the MK Gallery website for updates .

The Art of Outdoor Learning
MK Gallery Project Space
2nd to 25th February 2017
Open Thursday and Friday 12 to 8pm and Saturday 11 to 8pm



Nov 17 16

Body/Building: Sensing the Past

by James

Sharing artworkYesterday I ran a workshop for staff, volunteers and researchers from the Bristol area History of Place project, a nationwide initiative which describes itself as follows:

‘History of Place is a nationally important social history programme that charts the lives of deaf and disabled people from the middle ages until the late 20th Century. History of Place will explore and animate eight built heritage sites, unveiling the stories of the people who inhabited or designed these places.’

The group have been researching the history of The Guild Heritage building in the Old Market area of Bristol. The building is said to be one of the first buildings designed specifically for use by disabled people, with doorways on the ground-floor accessible to wheelchairs, although the upstairs obviously wasn’t designed to be accessible to all. The building was constructed as a new base for The Guild of The Brave Poor Things in 1913.

Empty Hall

Work in progress

My role yesterday was to provide a way for the group, who hadn’t previously had access to the building, to explore and document their experiences of, and feelings towards it. Each person was coming from a different viewpoint both due to their research interests and their own personal circumstances, identifying as disabled or non disabled, and the approaches to their making were just as varied.

line of images

Large collage

We explored the building which has since been used for offices by Bristol City Council and the NSPCC, paying attention to our senses and our emotions, comparing the newly whitewashed and divided rooms with modern lighting and office carpets with archive photographs of the craft workshops and main hall, formerly used for performances and lectures. I provided a range of mark-making materials, and Grace Swordy from History of Place printed some archive photographs for us to use, enabling the participants to layer text, drawings and photographs.

archive photo from The Guild of Brave Poor Things

The workshop led to discussions around the feelings that the building brought up in people, whether it was felt to be cold or warm, friendly or oppressive. We discussed how the direct experience of being physically present with the space, compared to knowledge gained through research and access to archive imagery of the building in use, and the importance of being allowed access to a building that for some held a very personal connection to their family history.

Staff imagery

artwork hung on the Guild Heritage wall

The afternoon culminated in a sharing of artwork and a reading of a poem written onsite by one of the participants.

For more information on upcoming events such as a film screening on December 3rd at MShed, Bristol, see the History of Place Bristol blog.

For more thoughts on the building and its relationship to disability culture and heritage see this blog post of Bristol-based artist and activist Liz Crow.

Sep 26 16

A Chaffinch From My Run

by James

Painting a dead chaffinch

I went for a quick run this morning, before dealing with emails and residency applications. At a kissing gate from the field into the path by the school, I saw the most perfect little feathered body, a cock Chaffinch.

I thought he’d been killed by a cat, but there are no obvious injuries except for a tick by his beak, so the cause of his death is a bit of a mystery.

chaffinch and painting (detail)

I carefully and loosely cradled him in the fingers of my right hand and carried him home as I ran. I wanted to do something to honour his beauty, to really see him. So I drew him.

beginning the chaffinch drawing


Sep 15 16

From Rock Pool to Kitchen

by James

Working in the kitchenFollowing on from yesterday’s work linking the rocky Penzance foreshore with my garden, today I returned to another Cornwall painting, this time revisiting it in and with the resources from, my kitchen.

I go out to explore, walk, notice, see artwork, run projects, and I return home to rest, reflect, cook, clean and be with my family. So why should the making stop at the door, why do we often divide our work and home selves?

Work in the sink

This piece draws on my Kitchen Sketchbook series, exploring how to make art an everyday practice, and my regular walk-based work, but this time it brings the two together, as they join and mingle in my body-mind, and they bring out onto the page my pressing thoughts and questions too, my self at that moment drawn, scratched, dripped and written out onto the paper.

Rock Pool to Kitchen wider view

Rock Pool to Kitchen detail



Sep 14 16

Meeting Places

by James

Detail, Portrait (Cornwall meets Penzance)

Today I took a painting that I made on the rocky foreshore at Penzance in Cornwall, and responded to it from the context of my garden. One place meeting another within a single piece of work.

I enjoyed the layering, the freedom to tread mud and drip water, to write, pick, smell and stitch herbs, and create a piece that speaks to how my experiences of different places meet within my memory and my body.

Cornwall meets Wiltshire in my garden

Text Details (Cornwall meets Wiltshire)