Yorkshire Sculpture International is the UK’s largest festival of sculpture, taking place in four galleries – Henry Moore Institute, Leeds Art Gallery, The Hepworth Wakefield, and Yorkshire Sculpture Park – and the city centres of Leeds and Wakefield. The engagement programme works with artists, schools, communities and universities, exploring sculpture-making today.
Engage invited Yorkshire Sculpture International to write five case studies from this year’s projects. Each article is written by a different gallery, as projects were managed by staff across all the sites. As a result, you will see diverse approaches to creating ways in which people can engage with sculpture. Every project works within a larger framework which unpicks the conditions needed to provide space, time and resources for working in sculpture, as well as what is unique about sculpture compared to other art forms. This we have called this concept ‘material literacy’.
We have worked closely with five schools across West Yorkshire to investigate accessible ways of using sculpture in the classroom. Each of these projects combined trips to each of the Yorkshire Sculpture International galleries and a number of practical sculpture-making workshops at the schools. Through a partnership with ArtUK, we also took sculptures from our collections into the schools for the wider school community to experience for one day.
One of these projects is the focus of this case study. Engagement Programme Assistant Joseph Legg worked with 10 children aged 11–16 from John Jamieson School in Leeds and Leeds-based artist Bethan Hughes to develop a ‘Sensory Sculpture’ project, focusing on the tactility and materiality of sculpture. This collaborative project involved the work of students, teachers, artist and the Yorkshire Sculpture International team; working together to talk about, experience and make our own sensory sculptures.
John Jamieson School is an open and welcoming, generic, all age Special School and National Teaching School which caters for students with a learning difficulty. The school currently accommodates 230 students ranging from 3–19 years. We worked with high school students with a range of disabilities.
Hughes is currently doing a PhD in ‘3D CGI in Contemporary Art’ at the University of Leeds. Her work brings together the digital and the physical, examining the meeting of the 2D and the 3D. She uses sculpture to explore bodily relationships to both matter and immaterial processes. This relationship to the material world around us provided a thread throughout her workshops, as together with the students, we interrogated our human connection to materials.
We realised early in the project that there was a synergy between Hughes’ approach to sculpture and how the students related to the world—in particular how through sculpture-making we stimulate the senses and use our whole bodies to experience and make. We want to expose the students and staff to the breadth and variety in contemporary sculpture, allowing them to discover the multitude of ways to experience it through sight, sound, smell and touch.
The workshops that took place back at the school were informed by artworks seen and interests that were sparked during the gallery visits. Split over nine sessions, the students experienced;
Session 1: An Introduction to Materials
Hughes prepared a bag with samples of materials that she regularly uses in her own sculptures. Students were asked to identify and discuss the materials and their properties using descriptive language. How does it feel? What does it smell like? How is it made? A range of material samples were provided: sandpaper, fabric, stone, plaster, foam, wax, clay in a plastic bag, leaves, rope. Images of five sculptures were printed large-scale and put throughout the classroom. We discussed the works with the students and a vote was made to decide which one they would like in their school. They picked Mark Titchner’s Something Plastic to Flight the Invisible (English Language Golem Perimeter)2001.
Session 2: Light and Liquid
Students went on a day trip to Arts Council Collection and Yorkshire Sculpture Park. At the Arts Council Collection they met curators and technicians, who showed them Tichner’s sculpture being unpacked from its crate. They also got a handling session with Antony Gormley’s Field for the British Isles. Following a picnic, they worked with Hughes to test new sculptural materials— sunlight, vessels and water—to create fluid interactive sculptures. This was in reference to Kimsooja To Breathe.
Session 3: 3D Paper Forms and Projection
Taking over the school hall, Hughes and the students used the simple technique of folding large 2D sheets of paper into free standing paper sculptures. These were then used as surfaces to project onto, creating an ephemeral installation.
Session 4: The Body
Our second day trip was to Leeds Art Gallery and Henry Moore Institute, followed by a workshop with Hughes using the body as a form to make shapes (arms, hands, knees, wrists). There were lots of discussions around the texture of different materials on the students’ skin.
Session 5: Clay
Our third and final day trip was to The Hepworth Wakefield trip to see Magdalene Odundo’s ceramics, the exhibition on prior to Yorkshire Sculpture International. Here students continued to think about sculptures’ relationship to the human figure, creating their own bodily clay vessels.
Session 6: Sculpture in School
With ArtUK and the Arts Council Collection, we took Tichner’s sculpture into the school. Over 80 students saw the sculpture and created their own large-scale installation in the school hall. It was at this moment that the project reached across the school, with students from primary to 16+ taking part.
I am quite in awe of the sculpture, what looks like such a simple concept on paper has actually turned out to be magnificent. The pupils have engaged really well with it, especially in terms of the visual element which our children really love. The project has enabled the pupils to be a lot more creative in all subjects, not just art.Kofi Mensah, Deputy Principal
Session 7: Fantasy Modroc Sculptures
Hughes introduced the concept of maquettes, working with students to imagine large-scale sculptures and how they relate to our body. Students returned to Barbara Hepworth’s Maquettes seen at The Hepworth Wakefield and were also introduced to the bold, playful sculptures of Franz West. Responding well to this material, students were enthused by the way Modroc solidifies.
Session 8: Smell and touch
Students foraged plants, herbs and flowers from the school garden to create relief moulds in clay and plaster. As a result, textured plaster cast designed to be touched were made and students learnt about the casting process.
Session 9: ‘Sensory Sculpture’ exhibition & publication
To finish the project weused the garden in the school as an exhibition space. We showcased and celebrated the project to the rest of the school’s staff and students. The class were encouraged to share what they had learnt with other students that visited and were each given a ‘build your own’ publication created by Hughes that documented our time with them. Hughes collected photos she had taken along with those that staff and students had captured throughout the project. These were then Risograph printed along with descriptions and students were encouraged to assemble their own publication. This was a great moment to celebrate and reflect on our three months together.
The project has helped us to understand that sculpture making is not just about seeking a ‘final outcome’ to take home, although the students couldn’t wait to share their creations. It’s also about the experience of being with a material, sensing its properties whilst you use your body to discover how to manipulate it.
Throughout this project we have been making notes on our key approaches to sculpture in the classroom:
- Sculptural materials can be anything you like – light, water, and herbs as well as more traditional materials such as clay
- Focus your materials — a limited material language can expand imagination
- Sculptures are not always built to last — build, document, and dismantle (and re-configure and re-use if you can)
- Sculpture doesn’t only exist in the studio or gallery — show people that sculpture can be made in the smallest or largest of spaces and doesn’t rely on specialist equipment or space
- Try making first and then have a discussion on subject matter – reflect on why you made what you made and encourage anything from the world we live in is a valid subject for art