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Friday 25 August 2023

Take a look inside Play:Make:Art

Photograph by Anna McCarthy 

The summer term of Play:Make:Art has come to an end. Whilst we take a short break, we want to share some thoughts on our much-loved child-led creative session. Orleans House Gallery volunteer Brooke Friday has interviewed artist and Play:Make:Art facilitator, Abigail Hunt on her practice and time on the programme.

For those of you who haven’t had the chance to stop by for Play: Make: Art (or have visited the gallery on a Friday afternoon and thought what is going on in there?), I had the wonderful opportunity to chat with Artist-in-Residence Abigail Hunt. She shared with me the fantastic collaborations and artistic explorations that have been happening during these sessions. 

If you have never been to one of Abigail’s Play:Make:Art sessions, they are incredibly open-ended. Children and their adults are invited to explore and create with an ever-changing assortment of materials in the space. Some sessions are inside, others are outside, and families are invited to come and go as they like. There is only one rule: everyone needs to be safe. Abigail shared her reasoning behind setting this important tone: 

‘I’m not interested in creating a space that’s about saying “No”. It’s very much a “Yes” space. Can I do this? Yes. Are you sure?  Yes. You (the children and adults who attend the sessions) can make the choices about what happens here, and you’re making the decisions.’

Children decide what they want to create.  Sessions are safe, fun, and surprisingly calm.  The target audience for these sessions are 2-5 year olds and their adults, which leads to some inspired creations. Abigail expressed to me why she particularly loves working with this age group. 

‘If you enable a space where a child can explore something, then they will explore it. They won’t always explore how you think they will, and I’m always excited by that. I love the conversations I have with that age group, whether they are spoken conversations, or whether that kind of a conversation occurs using objects, or a visual conversation through a drawing, or through doing something together.

I’m also interested in the tensions. And I use tension as a positive term, not a negative one. So, the tensions between what the adult thinks they’re going to do with it, and what the child does with it. And also, the shared learning that’s going on between the adult and the child, which I think is going in both directions.’

Photograph by Anna McCarthy 

During Abigail’s residency, Play: Make: Art has been part of Cultural Reforesting, a programme that Orleans House Gallery has been undertaking in response to the current ecological crisis. The programme is designed to explore how we can renew our relationship with nature.  How does Abigail approach this complex topic with 2-5 year-old audiences? 

‘It’s very much in actions and decisions. And, encouraging mimicking behaviours or modelling behaviour…It’s showing by doing, rather than by showing, talking, or explaining … I think the main emphasis for me was on how we shaped the sessions to reflect that theme… in terms of the materials we’re choosing, how we’re using them, how we are bringing nature inside, and being respectful of generating stuff. Well, not trying not to generate stuff, trying to discourage “throw away” culture.’ 

Photograph by Anna McCarthy

One thing Play:Make:Art is not about, is creating a specific end-product. In fact, it is massively discouraged that the children bring anything home. Abigail talks about how this connects to Cultural Reforesting: 

‘I strongly believe that as human beings, and as an artist, who is a maker… we all have a responsibility to be thinking about what we’re putting into the world. 

I can have a room full of recyclable materials. I’ve got cardboard and paper and bits and things, and they could quite easily, be recycled in their existing state. But if I give them to a family or a child, and they cover it, and they wrap it in tape, and they put glue on it, they are actually in-effect, making something recyclable into something really hard to recycle… I feel it’s my responsibility because I’ve brought those materials into being and given them to that family, and I think that it’s important that I’m considering that. I feel that’s part of the learning and conversation with the adult and child about why things are being left in the space. 

I’m also interested in how the use (of material) kind of re-changes. So, if something gets torn up or taken apart and deconstructed in a way, then it’s like, well, how can we use that now? (It’s) a different material. That also is challenging to my planning. Interesting challenges to how we can use things differently, or how a child might interact with something that’s been shredded, or how a child interrupts something else. It’s about, good conversations, useful conversations with children at this age because this is learning. This is helping them understand that while we are creating stuff, we also have a responsibility, and can make things again. And then we can change it… When you take away “I’m going to take it home,’” you potentially open up more possibilities about what you can do with the thing.’ 

If this has intrigued you and you want to join in the fun, don’t worry, you still can! Abigail will be continuing her work at Orleans House Gallery with Play:Make:Art starting back up in October with a new focus on Play and Imagination. Although, she will continue to bring into her practice themes explored through her Cultural Reforesting series. 

Find out more about Play:Make:Art here: Play:Make:Art Information