Site Specific Arts at Bedwellty House

On the 24th of September we were joined by two leading lights of the local arts scene in our region, Kate Verity and Bethan Ryland at the majestic Bedwellty House and Park in the beautiful landscape of Tredegar, to explore methods of using place to inspire creativity. Under the theme Expressive Arts Outdoors, Beth and Kate led two sessions that illustrated some of the possibilities for creativity and expression that can be achieved by studying site and how these methods perfectly encapsulate the Expressive Arts Framework in the new Curriculum for Wales.

We couldn’t have picked a better place for a site-specific art workshop than Bedwellty House, with its rich history, rolling hills, tall trees and passing sheep. The large Victorian gardens give us many glimpses into the history of the place and the rich families who owned it, complete with Edwardian bandstand and a 15-ton block of coal hewn by South Wales miners. Kate introduced site-specific art with a talk about how artists used the with the outdoors, site-specific art works fall into two broad categories, some works are permanent monuments, such as Anthony Gormley’s Angel of the North, while others are temporary, like the reorganising of natural elements by artists such as Richard Long, or the social commentary in the city of artists like Banksy.

Moving outdoors to Bedwellty Park, Beth led the morning session with some warmup activities that broke the ice with our group of 18 teachers, artists and educators who were meeting for the first time. Everyone enjoyed playing Columbian Hypnosis, for which we split up into pairs, with one person holding out their hand, the other staring directly into the palm, and following the hand this person is led on a journey through the space. This led on to us forming groups to create Image Theatre. Image Theatre doesn’t involve acting or talking, instead we used the body to create images depicting a scene. Based on research we had done investigating a series of sculptures around the park, we created in groups both joyful and tragic scenes depicting the lives of the families who had lived in the house.

After lunch we were joined by Kate, first helping us create handmade sketchbooks to use to draw some of the things we noticed around the park. Then we went on a journey around the park, this time looking for shapes, colours and textures in the landscape, using viewfinders to frame a scene we thought deserved a longer look. Along the way we made drawings, took photographs and collected found materials ranging from colourful autumnal leaves, twigs, fir cones, moss and flowers. Congregating around a large old tree, we found Kate who had sketched on the grass white lines from sheep’s wool, flowing out of the trunk, tracing it’s roots. Using our found materials, we filled in the woolly outlines creating a collaborative art work in the style of Andy Goldsworthy.

Finishing off some teachers commented about the “great range of activities that hit a verity of the expressive arts” and how they “really enjoyed the content and practical aspects”, with “lots of ideas to take back to the classroom.” The collaborative nature of the course was also praised, “the skills sharing is very high quality and inspirational”, and one teacher could “see how I can use these ideas in a range of different lessons for a verity of topics.”

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