Since attending a workshop last year on the topic of art and the community, I’ve been growing increasingly interested in the use of art in facilitating wellbeing and social inclusion. During the day long workshop, I was able to experience first hand that art can be a very powerful tool in helping to build connections with others. It can help break down barriers and open up conversations with strangers.
So with this curiosity in mind, I went along to Making Conversation, which is part of the adult learning programme at Manchester Art Gallery. These practical sessions take place on a monthly basis and are designed to explore exhibitions within the gallery using all your senses. It’s open to all but they have been specially designed for blind or partially sighted adults in mind.
Our afternoon started with Artist Naomi Kendrick welcoming the group to the Learning Room. For this session we were to focus on the latest temporary exhibition: Eastern Exchanges. To help us get started, objects related to this theme had been laid out on the table, such as a marble carved elephant, a Chinese dragon and a piece of red fabric with delicately embroidered flowers. Naomi provided an audio description of these objects before inviting us to pick up, examine and pass them around the room.
We then headed to the second floor gallery to visit a few of the exhibiting objects Naomi had picked out. One of them was the set of lacquered food boxes, which had been produced as a result of the Japanese adopting a mealtime in the middle of the day. It would appear that up until the 1500s, the concept of lunch did not exist! The lunchbox would have been used to transport food to a scenic location where one could feast while admiring cherry blossoms in spring.
Again, Naomi provided a verbal description of the displays we stood in front of. Experiencing this made me re-examine the objects again because hearing about them prompted me to look at them differently – as if to see them in a new way and to truly take in the items in front of me.
Fully inspired, we returned to the Learning Room where we were to produce a piece of work that was beautiful, which also had a story. Unsure of how to interpret this brief, I gathered a few bits of craft material and fueled up on tea. After experimenting with the paper dollies and circles I had picked up, my innovation was complete!
Introducing…The Portable Pop-up Garden!
So what was the story behind my creation? My visit at the gallery began with a lunch visit to the Lost Gardens of Manchester, a beautiful oasis in the city centre. The gorgeous flowers of the gardens brought me there, just as the cherry blossom attracted the owner of the Japanese lunchbox to dine out of doors. Instead of travelling to the flowers, I decided to create something beautiful that one could take with them and display with ease. Possibly most suitable for those who hot-desk a lot!
Instructions for use:
(1) The blossoms fits into the cup to protect the flowers during transportation.
(2) When the desire destination is reach, they pop back out for display!
(3) Sit back and rejoice at the beautiful flowers.
The concept certainly delighted the other participants. I really enjoyed hearing the stories behind the pieces created by everyone else. Their creative processes often led to accidental surprises and the activity inspired some stories that was infused with so much imagination that it was the beginnings of a long novel!
The Making Conversation workshop was certainly a very enjoyable afternoon of art making, learning and making observations in a new way. A quick thank you to Naomi and the volunteers! The sessions are also documented via their official blog: making-conversation.tumblr.com
At the end of the afternoon I was pleased to hear that the gallery was planning to hold similar sessions during future Thursday Lates. Something fun to look forward to!