A Whirlwind Fortnight!

Well it has been a lovely two-and-a-half weeks in cloudy England! I am the Australian artist, Renae Coles, that has bent sent over to West Yorkshire for the professional development of a lifetime! I have so much to say that I’m not sure where to start. Maybe some dot-point highlights and then some reflective thoughts…


Chickenley Primary School

  • I’ve been out at Chickenley Primary School four times now- I absolutely love being there and working with Mary Robson (who is my Gandalf <3), and her artist colleagues Incy and Talya.
  • So far I’ve been the centre of attention! The kids love my highly dramatised stories of Australia (I tired to think of my best Australian story and recalled swimming at a secluded beach in the Shark Bay area and suddenly realising the was a two metre shark in the water half a metre away from me! This story went round the school- I’ve never been the stuff of legends until Chickenley!).
  • I’ve been re-named ‘Lady Vontasia’ to much hilarity and giggles, but more often just get, ‘AY! AUSTRALIAN LADY!’.
  • I’ve been a part of a new project with a group of Year Twos, which are… well, I described them they other day as ‘wild puppies’. They’re lovely children, but they have very short attention spans and are a bit naughty! We are reading them a different book each week and making something from the book. On the last week we’re reading Possum Magic, a classic Australian story book, and because they’re featured in the story we’re going to make lamingtons, Vegemite sandwiches and pavlovas to go with it!

  • I’ve also been a part of four Year Six sessions, working on Mary’s self portrait project. This project has been happening for 10 years and is absolutely incredible. This is the year 6’s third week and they are already beginning to understand more about themselves- can’t wait to see the end results!

The Henry Moore Institute

  • Last week I discovered the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, which had a Sarah Lucas show on at the time- it was amazing (I love being in England/Europe and just casually stumbling upon really famous artists!).
  • HMI has an entire library devoted to sculpture- my heart was racing as my eyes scanned the wall to wall, floor to ceiling book shelves, all filled with sculpture!
  • Today I went to a seminar called Branching Out: Botany and the Sculptural Object. It was very art history heavy and I really enjoyed it. I met some lovely artists, including an artist from Melbourne! And I was told about a fellowship opportunity that I’m going to apply for because I would LOVE to come back!

Crow Lane

  • On Thursday Mary, Incy, Talya, a lovely artist named Fiona, and I went out to a school called Crow Lane.
  • We spent the whole day there, working with every student in the school!
  • Every child made a bird, a member of the Corvid family, to represent themselves. Incy made Rooks with Reception (what we would call Pre-Primary) and Year 1, Fiona made Magpies, Talya made Ravens and Mary made Crows (I forget which year groups they had, because I was helping Incy out!). We installed them in a great hurry at the end of the day in the hall. We were all soooo wrecked that night!
  • They looked fantastic and we got some great responses the next day!

Things I’m Learning…

I’ve actually never really had the chance to work with a more experienced community artist. When I think about it, every project I’ve ever done I’ve made it all up as I’ve gone along. Usually I just act confident and go forth! So after just one day of working with Mary I really learned a lot! And I’m sure I will continue to learn a whole lot more while I’m here.

When Mary works with kids, she sets up the sessions so that they take away something meaningful, make something beautiful, and then through this and the one-on-one chats, (more often than not) have a lot of fun and feel really good about themselves. I think that I tend to devise projects where the kids make something ‘awesome’ and maybe clever, I think I tend to shy away from more meaningful projects. I guess I haven’t really felt equipped to take kids through any more serious themes. But after working with Mary I think her way is absolutely the best way of working with kids. The exercises Mary, Talya and Incy have come up with are always really simple, clear, clever and effective. I’m pretty inspired and it’s going to radicalise the way I work.

I’ve been really appreciating the time to reflect and to work on things alone. I’m a bit of a workaholic at home. I work full time and on weekends, I take on extra project management/production jobs and run occasional workshops, I run an artist run space, and work on my own artistic projects. I am always working, every minute of every day. It’s actually horrendously stressful and when I get back to Perth I want to make sure I change this so that I have time to think and reflect, to create and experiment, to read and write. It’s just so hard to turn down a great opportunity! But being sent to England for 5 weeks is really the best thing that could have happened to me at this point in my life.

Since I arrived I’ve been continuing a project I’ve been working on this year; studying playgrounds as starting points for climbable sculptures. I’ve found some beautiful English play structures and have been painting and model-making in my flat at night.

(Abstract steel sculptures found at Crow Lane Primary School- actually used in the way an Australian school would use plastic cones, like to kick a soccer ball (football!) through. There were other shapes- these ones can hold rods for low hurdles <3)

We also had a Salon at Mary’s house yesterday but I’m going to make that a separate post! More to come!

– Renae Coles (massive Doctor Who fan, who met a Dalek in Bradford!)

About Renae Coles

Renae is a Perth (Aus) based artist, working between live art, sculpture and installation. Renae loves working with children and young people, usually through community art projects, and is currently working on a series of experimental play structures. In addition to being an artist, Renae works full time at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts and is a Paper Mountain Co-Director.
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