Saturday, 31 December 2011

The Mayor's Thames Festival

A secret club worked on this project with the House of Fairy Tales in 2010 - ages ago - but I never got around to write about it and I really liked what we did, so here it is!

signal post
A secret club's signaling post in the festival grounds

We started with two workshops teaching children in primary schools in South East London, that the House of Fairy Tales had matched us up with: Rockmount Primary in Upper Norwood and St. William of York Primary school in Forest Hill.

The idea was to run a practical workshop in each school to get the kids working on the theme, Waterwheel, and to develop ideas together that we then would use as inspiration to create one or more pieces of artwork to be installed in the Bernie Spain Gardens at the Mayor's Thames Festival.


The first workshop we called, Monsters, Maids and Men of the Sea, which was based on the mythical beings of the sea and the idea that some of these might actually live or have lived in the Thames. The kids drew fantastical hybrids of creatures, inspired by the Surrealists' collaborative game "exquisite corpse", i.e. one child would draw the head of a creature and then passed his/her drawing on to another child, who would draw the creature's body/tail.

deciding on cargo

The other workshop was essentially about messaging and communication at sea. The children made beautiful ships from paper and cargo flags to symbolizes the load these ships would carry. We also experimented with morse code in the school yard using umbrellas.

in the school yard

Following these workshops, Kenn and I got our thinking caps on and we developed a signaling system based on the kids' drawings, that could be operated easily and would invite visitors to indulge in some collaborative play!

Here are a few pictures of our work-in-progress:

the making of 2
Kenn outside the house, making the rather tall scaffold to hold the signals

the making of 4
Me, doing some sawing in the kitchen and a little bit pregnant

the making of 3
Background patterns and colour combinations for the signal flags

The finished signals

In the end, we decided to stick fairly close to the childrens' drawings of all the fantastical sea creatures and hybrids - they were so fabulous!

Following, you can see pictures of our stall in the House of Fairy Tales Fabulist's quarter at the Mayor's Thames Festival:

decoding station 1

Kenn explains the Books of Heads and Tails. And on the right: The Cargo Identification Codes and the Signal Decoder.

the book of heads and the book of tails 1

A little girl is leafing through the Book of Heads and the Book of Tails.

cargo ID codes
Cargo ID Codes

Above you can see a close-up of the actual cargo identification flags, that the kids had drawn in our workshop.

Our station 3

Here, a little boy is decoding the signal he has spotted on our signaling post, but will he earn his sailor's tattoo?

signals and signaleer
Signals and Signaleer

Apart from the signal, we also made two books using the original drawings of the children.
Like the Equisite Corpse game, they worked together, i.e. placed next to each other, one book displays the head, while the other shows the tail of a creature. Leafing through both books simultaneously, there are a great number of possibilities to explore matching up creatures in fun ways...

the book of heads and the book of tails 2
The Book of Heads and the Book of Tails

Have a look inside...

poking prickle boy
Poking Prickle Boy

stripeless zebra woman
Stripeless Zebra Woman

opti bob
Opti Bob

Looking back at this project makes me very happy. We had a lot of fun and the kids from Rockmount and St. William of York, too, I think, because they all came to visit and play with us!

sailor tattoo stamp

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