Each year graduating
students of the MA Curating Contemporary Art (CCA) organise a major international
exhibition in the Royal College of Art galleries. This final exhibition usually
attracts around 4000 visitors, and has hosted many successful tours, outreach
programmes, and education programmes. The 2004 exhibition was entitled
This much is certain and was a four part project that consisted of a catalogue,
an exhibition and a film and talks programme that took place in the Royal College
of Art galleries from 13 March to 4 April.
Together the four
parts that comprised This much is certain explored the significance of
the document and the documentary in contemporary art and contemporary society,
focusing on how documents are usually relied upon by the public to be trustworthy
and factual. Recent political events like the Hutton inquiry, however, make it
increasingly difficult to take these documents at face value.
This much is
certain included works by established British artists such as Dexter Dalwood,
Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard and Jeremy Deller. International artists included
Aernout Mik, Emily Jacir, Kiersten Pieroth, Gerard Byrne, John Massey, Miriam
Bäckström, Huang Yongping and Jeffrey Vallance, and the Los Angeles
based organisation the Museum of Jurassic Technology. The exhibition also included
works by emerging British artists Daniel Baker and Jamie Shovlin. For further
information on all of the artists, and the film and talks programme please visit:
The education programme
for This much is certain was organised by CCA students Peter Bonnell and
Jennie Syson and was intended to run in conjunction with and be complementary
to the exhibition. The aim of the education programme was to provide a series
of free workshops for primary school children, as well as a series of guided tours
designed for college and university level students.
Once funding was
secured from the John Lyons Charity the education team set about inviting schools
and colleges to participate in the education programme. Over 200 letters and emails
were sent out to schools and colleges in the London boroughs of Barnet, Brent,
Camden, the City of Westminster and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
Demand was especially high for the workshops, and the decision was made to add
an extra two sessions making a total of eight, with almost a dozen schools requesting
to be placed on a waiting list.
Once the five participating
primary schools Preston Park (Brent), Ashburnham, Middle Row (both Kensington
and Chelsea), All Saints (Barnet) and Kingsgate (Camden) had confirmed
their attendance, the education team contacted experienced workshop leaders. These
were: Gayle Chong Kwan, an artist who has worked extensively with the education
programme at the Serpentine Gallery; the artist Alex Schady, who has a great deal
of experience as a workshop leader at the Whitechapel Art Gallery and Sally Barker,
also an artist who has worked with the education programme at the Serpentine Gallery.
In addition, two of the exhibiting artists were invited to participate: Jamie
Shovlin presented his work to the children in the workshops, and Daniel Baker
was asked to participate in the guided tours for college students, also presenting
and discussing his work. In addition each member of the curating team was also
asked to lead a tour, based on a basic script provided by Peter Bonnell.
The workshops were
aimed at stimulating the creativity of participating children, and to provide
an interesting opportunity for engaging them in themes relating to:
- The news media
- Truth/ Fiction
The workshops consisted
of an introductory tour of various works in the exhibition, creative activities
(such as drawing, photography and writing) and a final discussion of the work
that the children had made, and its relation to works in the exhibition. The workshops
were targeted at Key Stage 1 and 2 children (particularly 7 11 year olds)
in an attempt to emulate the aims and objectives stipulated in the National Curriculum.
The workshops began
with the children being taken on a tour of the exhibition by the workshop leader,
focusing on and generating discussions of the work of selected artists. The basic
ideas behind particular artworks were explained to them, emphasising the themes
and concepts of documentation, storytelling, identity, the news media, truth/
fiction and the concept of evidence gathering.
Passport of Me
The education team
contacted Professor David Gauntlett of Bournemouth University Media School, who
had come to their attention due to his participation in workshops for young people
for the exhibition Pin-up: Glamour and Celebrity Since the Sixties, which
took place at Tate Liverpool in 2002. In collaboration with the education team
Professor Gauntlett identified the passport as being one of the most recognisable
and familiar documents in society a document filled with personal facts
which contain information about such things as the holder's birth date, place
of birth and vital statistics, and are always accompanied by a photograph. With
this in mind the 'Passport of Me' became an eight-page A4-sized booklet designed
to mimic the style of a passport.
During the workshops
the children were asked to take a Polaroid photograph of themselves. They then
stuck the resulting photograph in the back of the passport, accompanied by a series
of questions which they were encouraged to answer, devised by workshop leader
Alex Schady and Peter Bonnell (for a list of these questions, see below). The
remaining pages were used for drawings and collages that the children created
during the workshops, relating to themes of truth and fiction, narrative, etc.
Some pages remained blank, so that the children could take the 'passports' away
and fill them in with other artworks about themselves either at school or at home.
Prior to each workshop
taking place a planning session was arranged between the workshop leaders and
the education team. This was to assure that the themes that appeared integral
to the exhibition such as the exploration of the document and its relation
to truth and fiction, storytelling and evidence, etc, were present at all times
in the workshops. The education team stressed that each workshop leader should
focus on these themes, as well as augmenting them with ideas prevalent in their
The following section,
entitled 'The Workshop Participants', consists of individual accounts by each
workshop leader or assistant (in the case of Jamie Shovlin) of the content of
the workshops or tours they participated in. The members of the education team
acted as assistants to the workshop leaders, taking the opportunity to explain
why they as part of the curating team had selected the works to appear in the
Gayle Chong Kwan
led three workshops one each with Middle Row and Kingsgate and one with
All Saints. Alex Shady led two workshops with Kingsgate and Preston Park,
and Sally Barker led three workshops one with Middle Row and two with Ashburnham.
Jamie Shovlin assisted in three workshops one each with Kingsgate, Ashburnham
and Middle Row, where he was able to discuss at first-hand his work directly with
the children. Peter Bonnell assisted the workshop leaders in all eight workshops
ensuring that themes relevant to the exhibition were adhered to, and Jennie
Syson assisted in one workshop. The following accounts are written by the workshop
leaders and the participating artist:
A series of workshops for primary school children were developed around This
Much is Certain, which responded to ideas of documentation, news media, truth
and fiction, evidence, identity and storytelling.
The workshops began
with a tour of selected works, in which the themes, ideas and personal responses
of the children were discussed. The participants were initially asked to take
photographs that challenged the 'documentary' nature of conventional passport
photographs, by disguising themselves and altering their identities. These images
were stuck into an A4 passport-style workbook, 'The Passport of Me', in which
all their practical activities were based.
responded closely and referred back to the works discussed during the tour of
the exhibition. Using collage, drawing and text-based work, the participants played
with the 'truth' of news media and documentation, and explored different authorial
voices in storytelling and personal memories of shared events and experiences.
Pages of the passport-style booklets were left blank for the participants to continue
to respond to the work explored in This much is certain outside of the
Discussion in Gallery: The
workshop began by focussing on the work of Jamie Shovlin Dexter Dalwood, Jamie
Shovlin, Jeffrey Valance and Emily Jacir. Using the idea of storytelling as a
starting point the children and I tried as a group to make sense of the work.
Our first line of enquiry was always the same: what story is being told here?
Using the work as evidence we tried to piece together the stories being told and
then considered whether or not we thought them to be fact or fiction.
Passport of me:
We used an A4 sized booklet in the style of a passport as the basis for the practical
workshop. Each child was asked to work in pairs and photograph each other using
the Polaroid cameras provided. Once everyone had a Polaroid of themselves they
were asked to stick it into the last page of the passport and to answer the 5
simple questions written on the same page.
1. What is your
2. What is
your favourite colour?
3. What do
you want to be when you grow up?
4. What is
your favourite pop group/star?
5. If you could
meet anyone who would it be?
Once all the passports
had been filled in they were placed in blank envelopes and handed back to the
gallery educator. The children were then asked to randomly take an envelope from
the pile. Using the information in the passport as evidence they were asked to
imagine what the passport owner's bedroom might look like and to make a drawing/
collage on the first page of the passport. Using the answers to the questions
and their imagination they mixed fact and fiction to produce a version of the
passport holder's bedroom. They then produced a second drawing in response to
question 5 (If you could meet anyone who would it be?) The children were asked
to draw a gift they might bring if they had an audience with the person in question
Once both drawings
had been completed the passports were laid out on the floor. We then discussed
the drawings as a group. Were there any stories we could make form the drawings?
Did they give us any information about the passport's owner? Were the passports
fact or fiction?
The work that made the biggest impact on me was Daniel Baker's installation and
I began to get ideas from this that linked back to other work. His work has a
physical presence, not in an obvious sense to do with scale but in his use of
detail and touch.
done by hand: drawn, written, shaved, coloured, sanded, painted. It was all left
to the audience; nothing was obvious, as with a lot of work, you take out what
you put in. The power of suggestion & the use of threads of stories rather than
a complete narrative seemed a good starting point for these mainstream, primary
groups. Thinking about the work of Jamie Shovlin and Jeffrey Vallance (and throughout
much of the rest of the show), the theme coming through was one of blurring fact
& fiction, constructing a big picture out of smaller elements.
I wanted them to
construct stories and I wanted them to work together to keep a strong element
of verbal communication running through the whole of their visit. They would create
their stories, in small groups, from a selection of words I would give them. These
words were a mixture of real and fictional:
characters, places, thoughts and objects. They were only to be used to get their
ideas going and if they wanted to disregard any or introduce new ones, they should.
Then they would make simple props from brown paper, masking tape, small bits of
wood etc: basic materials that still needed the imagination to both make and read
them. They would read the story to the whole class.
The whole workshop
would last about half an hour; I wanted it simple, imaginative and potentially
funny. I also decided to use the passport idea, so at the beginning they were
given a passport and asked to take Polaroid's of each other to stick in. I then
asked them to change their appearance, invent a character, and draw on their self-portrait.
This got them into the idea of mixing fact & fiction and invention. I was very
pleased with the way the workshops went. All groups were very interested in talking
about the work, the show, and art. I think their visit to the RCA was enjoyable,
stretching and positive: experiencing art they had never seen before in a different
kind of environment and making something together in response to this.
Initially the pupils were told to focus on looking the idea being for them
to form their own opinions without any prior information regarding the specifics
of the work. I then introduced certain elements of the work predominately in the
form of questions. For example, the pupils were asked to construct a possible
narrative or character (gender, age, likes/ dislikes, etc) evident in the work
from the prevalence of specific imagery.
My intention in
using this method was to create the basis for a dialogue between myself and the
pupils rather than have them as purely a captive audience. Many of the pupils
relished this opportunity and gave surprisingly insightful perceptions regarding
the nature of the work. My main concerns in creating the open dialogue between
artist and pupils was to establish a lack of definitive or 'truthful' answers,
hopefully mirroring the intentions of the exhibition at large and providing the
pupils with a method with which to approach other works in the exhibition.
The Guided Tours
The guided tours
were intended to provide college level students HND, Foundation, BA and
MA level in art and design and art history the opportunity to engage directly
the themes discussed within the exhibition and film programme. The tours also
provided an opportunity for the curating team to discuss these ideas with interested
groups. There were ten tours in total, eight of which were led by two members
of the curating team. Peter Bonnell led three of these tours, and participated
in one more. In addition to the curating team, artist Daniel Baker was asked to
participate in two tours one of which, for the West London College situated
in Hammersmith, was funded by grant money provided by the John Lyons Charity.
Baker has contributed the following to this report:
As an artist showing in This Much is Certain I was asked to participate
in the educational tours organised by the curators. I was very willing to become
involved in this side of the project because I felt it was important that a group
coming to look at the show could get to speak to an artist about their work first
hand, and I was interested in the opportunity to hear some responses to my work
and the exhibition in general.
The tours were very relaxed and informal, and I felt that the curators involved
each time did an excellent job of elucidating the background to the exhibition
and their course, alongside introducing the works, in what was often quite a tight
For my part, I
added comments during the tour,
when I wanted to say something about a particular work, from an artist's perspective.
I also gave a talk about my own work, in the installation itself: about my practice
in general, and the installation in particular and also trying to draw parallels
with the other artists' work. After this I was happy to answer questions. I found
that some of the students were very interested, and I spoke to them individually
after the group discussion. The whole experience was a very positive one, and
I felt that something was gained on both sides.
Without the generous
financial assistance of the John Lyons Charity the education programme for This
much is certain would not have been a success and quite possibly may
not have existed at all. In total the £1,800 provided by John Lyons allowed more
than 200 primary school children in London some from deprived boroughs
to enjoy and engage with contemporary art works.
As can be seen
with the evaluation questionnaires completed by participating teachers, the workshops
were a great success with many of the teachers acknowledging that the content
of the workshops was reflected in the themes and ideas they were exploring in
the classroom. Doreen Morgan, arts co-ordinator of Ashburnham primary informed
the education team that the pupils who participated in the workshops had continued
to work in the 'Passport of Me' booklets after they left the Royal College of
Art galleries, and that they had produced some "interesting work."
The guided tours,
although much more informal, were also considered a success. Max Ellis, Foundation
tutor on the art and design course at West London College commented that he and
his students had "…found it a most stimulating visit", and that the tour they
participated in was "most informative."
Perhaps the most
rewarding element of the education programme was the opportunity for the education
team, and by extension the rest of the curating team, to see the excited reactions
and intellectual engagement of the children with the contemporary works on display.
This also extended to the participating college students, many of whom are studying
to become artists, or to work in the arts in some other capacity. Although the
education programme was small in comparison to the exhibition and films programme,
it nonetheless succeeded in facilitating a relationship with young people, and
hopefully fostering an increased appreciation and understanding of contemporary