Within art history, the landscape has provided a rich and varied resource for artists. Depicted variously in the Western tradition as a vector for romantic notions of the sublime, as an inventory of ownership, as containing the force of nature, and as controlled and manicured parklands. The idea of taking time to walk through the landscape to gain insight or even enlightenment equally has a long history, as seen with the St.James walk to Santiago. With concerns for the environment and human activity altering many of the systems within our earth, many contemporary artists have chosen this subject to explore. Examples include Roni Horn’s photographs of water, Anne Ferran’s video and sound piece of a journey up the Thames, and Richard Long and Andy Goldsworthy’s subtle and built interventions within the landscape using found materials, light and time. It is the simple action of taking time to walk, think, observe and notate that can be inspirational.
The Deep Time: an Expansive and Immersive Walking Art Project saw students from Spensley Street Primary School take several walks along the Merri creek in term 3, 2014 and introduce them to the notion of Deep Time, a concept of geological time and history through a multi-layered analysis of a site that is already a rich part of many students recreational environment. By examining histories, with particular regard to Indigenous history, human interventions, ecological systems and art making within this environment as part of an expansive field, we intended to open up the site, for students and staff to observe it through multiple lenses as a resource for creativity. This was a collaborative project instigated by the following artists: Kate Ellis, Eliza Hutchinson, Heather Hesterman and Sarah Tomasetti.
In preparation for the walks, the year 5/6 students were exposed to professional experts to discuss ideas providing a context and focus for the walks. Students went to the State Library of Victoria and participated in several tours and workshops including: introduction to the Library, searching the online collection and refining outcomes, viewing maps and drawings of the Merri Creek dating back to 1837, hearing information and seeing artefacts and paintings at the time of Melbourne’s settlement.
Students went on walks with a particular focus, and consecutively investigating geological, indigenous, botanical and artistic perspectives. As the collective knowledge of the area is built in the group, students had the opportunity to explore and crossover ideas and interests through photography, documentation, collecting botanical specimens and film making. Each walk was an experiential event and the information and sensations and insight gained was then directed creatively into the following artistic areas: ephemeral outcomes in the landscape, sound and videoscapes, a fresco wall work exploring the sense of place, mapping project using inks and drawing from projections, and built willow structures designed and led by artist Alexander Knox.
The walks exploring aspects of the Merri Creek were led by experts Rod Fawns, Meyer Eidelson, Matt White, Fern Hames, Steve Sinclair, Jela Ivankovic-Waters, Cath Rush, Angela Foley, Cameron Robbins, Shane Thomas, artists and teachers.
This project was extended into the Prep-4 year levels with expansive and experiential workshops created specifically for Deep Time by artists Kate Ellis, Eliza Hutchinson, Daniel Twomey and Jude Weber. They collectively brought new energy and dynamic art making processes that many students would not have experienced including: spinning paintings, large scale drawings and paintings, boat making, fish wax casting and printing and a workshop with artist Cameron Robbins who brought his kinetic drawing machine and positioned it in the Merri Creek. The depth and fullness of this project would not have been possible without these artists who were generous with their time, sharing ideas and had a willingness to create a far reaching arts experience for the children.
The 5/6 program was an artistic and educational collaboration, delivering a 10 week arts calendar, with Sarah Tomasetti and Heather Hesterman, whereby we shared ideas, art processes and demonstrated to the students new ways of looking and generating artworks.
The culmination of Deep Time was a whole school art exhibition to celebrate the diverse creativity that reflects not only the project but the students at this school. This project would not have been possible if it was not for the vision and capacity of Spensley Street Primary School, lead by Anne Nelson, Gerard Molan and supported by Art teacher Lauris Grant. Every teacher was supportive and embraced our Deep Time incursion into their timetables. This project was funded through Arts Victoria’s Artists in Schools program and we specifically thank Anna Kelly for her support and assistance.
Deep Time was embraced by Spensley Street students, teachers and the whole school community, who all contributed to make this such a rich and rewarding project. A big thank you to everyone involved!