Yorkshire Sculpture International (22 June – 29 September 2019) is a 100-day festival of sculpture across Leeds and Wakefield, celebrating the pioneering work generated in West Yorkshire over the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The legacy of the work of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, who both grew up in Wakefield, has resulted in this area being considered a cradle of British sculpture. This inaugural festival has been accompanied by an engagement programme which provided an opportunity for young people and local communities to make connections, find relevance and explore the wealth of contemporary sculpture on display.
Yorkshire Sculpture Park worked with students and teachers from Minsthorpe Community College and artist Alice Withers, to explore innovative ways of making and thinking about sculpture, over a period of six months. The project was part of the wider engagement programme funded and coordinated by Yorkshire Sculpture International (YSI) and ArtUK, which also included parallel projects at the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds Art Gallery and The Hepworth Wakefield.
Yorkshire Sculpture Park worked in partnership with Minsthorpe Community College to support their art department to develop ideas and gain a fresh perspective and renewed confidence in embedding sculpture into the curriculum. Minsthorpe were also interested in scoping out the potential of achieving Artsmark status, which made them an ideal candidate to participate in this project.
Year 10 and Year 12 students were inspired to explore and learn about contemporary sculpture through six practical sessions in school, an exhibition of their final collaborative artwork in a public setting, visits to each of the YSI venues, and experiencing the unique opportunity of working directly with a sculpture from YSP’s world-class collection in the school grounds.
Co-planning with artist Alice Withers and discussion with teachers, resulted in identification of the following aims:
- Increase confidence when making and discussing sculpture (both teachers and students)
- Develop critical thinking
- Investigate the artist’s process and explore how ideas can be realised
- Understand how sculpture can be used to express ideas about ourselves and the world around us
- Instill cultural confidence in young people
- Learn about and experience the work of national and international contemporary sculptors
- Understand the career path of an artist
- Gain confidence in visiting and develop a sense of ownership of public galleries in the region
- Engage with the vibrant exhibitions and events of YSI
- Understand the importance of sculpture to the region
- Engender a sense of place through contemporary art and the grounded context of Hepworth and Moore
What are the possibilities of sculpture?
Students explored how to express their ideas and opinions through sculpture by participating in a series of six workshop sessions, delivered in school by Yorkshire Sculpture Park and artist Alice Withers. The sessions aimed to explore the artistic process from conception to realisation and experiment with form and materials.
Each student chose a topic from current stories in the news that they felt had relevance to their lives, and used it as inspiration to write an alternative headline that they would prefer to see in the future.
Students were introduced to the work of contemporary artist Michael Dean, who embeds meaning in his work through shapes and symbols and his own unique sculptural language. Dean also uses democratic materials, (materials that anyone can access), which highlighted to both the students and teachers that making sculpture doesn’t have to be expensive. Students also considered the work of Bob and Roberta Smith and the idea of art as protest or activism.
Over the first four sessions, the students made collaborative text-based sculptures from recycled and found materials, which addressed the topics from the news articles they were passionate about: climate crises, teen suicide, mental health issues, immigration and knife crime. The final two sessions were dedicated to creating visual imagery and sculptural objects associated with their chosen topic, which were then embedded into wax bricks. Alice then assembled each of the bricks into a collaborative work, which was presented at school and in the public realm.
While displayed at school, other students were asked to chip away at the wax to reveal the hidden objects and messages beneath. This idea was inspired by David Nash’s work Barnsley Lump at YSP. Nash installed a solid cube of locally mined coal in the grounds of YSP in 1982, which has been left to endure the elements and is gradually disintegrating back into the earth. Nash called it a ‘going sculpture’.
The students were also inspired by visiting the vibrant exhibitions at the four major venues exhibiting work for YSI. Staff from each venue highlighted the themes and ideas of the work on display, providing the students with insight and context, and engaging the students in critical discussion about how the work was relevant to them and their place in the world. Students were encouraged to think of themselves as young artists and make drawings and notes in their sketchbooks. They also took part in collaborative sculpture building at YSP, using their learning from an earlier interactive tour of the park, to inspire them to discuss ideas, build and create collaboratively, and critique their work in a plenary at the end of the session.
The final collaborative artwork was presented in Wakefield Cathedral as part of Artwalk Wakefield, a bi-monthly evening of visual arts, crafts, workshops, live music, and performances across Wakefield city centre. Students were empowered to take pride in their work and encouraged to think of themselves as young artists. They were invited to view their work in the public realm alongside artworks by established artists, providing them with a fantastic opportunity they wouldn’t ordinarily have had the chance to experience. The artwork was also named by the students through a voting process and called Time Will Tell, referencing the temporal nature of the sculpture. Time Will Tell was also exhibited in the main visitor centre of YSP during the opening weeks of the YSI festival, as YSP’s new exhibitions and commissions for YSI were revealed to the public. This again heightened the significance of their achievement and provided a truly authentic outcome.
Sculpture in School
The Awakening by Abbott Pattison was transported from YSP to Minsthorpe Community College for an exclusive day of activity in the school. This one-day session provided a unique opportunity for students to gain private access to a sculpture from YSP’s world-class collection and to display an original artwork in the school grounds.
Yorkshire Sculpture Park worked with the teachers to select an artwork, which helped them gain a greater understanding of YSP’s collection. The Awakening was chosen as it had a particular ‘wow factor’ which assisted in transforming the space it was exhibited in, but also because it provided rich material and possibility for practical activities and critical discussion.
Yorkshire Sculpture Park and artist Alice Withers led interactive drawing and making sessions for 150 students from years 7-12 over the course of the day. It was important for the impact of this exclusive opportunity to be experienced by as many students as possible, to give them valuable insight into the power of sculpture to transform the places it is situated in.
Legacy and Future Plans
I discovered that you can make art from anythingYear 10 student from Minsthorpe Community College
After the project was complete, the teachers expressed how their confidence had increased in communicating the value of sculpture to their students and colleagues, and how they were now more likely to use local sculpture resources in their teaching. The students shared how their understanding had been stretched to acknowledge the wide variety, breadth and potential of sculpture, and what it can be used for and made from. They also explained what they would create if they were tasked with making a sculpture to improve or communicate the value of the place where they are from.
Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Minsthorpe Community College continues to work in partnership and will exhibit the remains of the Time Will Tell sculpture alongside time-lapse footage of its disintegration at another Artwalk Wakefield event in autumn 2019. YSP also aspires to take a resident artist into the school to provide a unique opportunity for students to work with and be inspired by a contemporary artist working in the art world today.
I learned that sculptures can tell a storyYear 10 student from Minsthorpe Community College