Under the Sea in Eight Weeks

20 December 2017
How Young Artists Aged 7 to 11 Created an Entire Immersive Experience

An immersive ‘Under the Sea’ themed installation currently fills Belconnen Community Gallery – and it is truly impressive. It’s the work of seven young people, aged between seven and eleven years, who were participants of the Bungee Youth Resilience Expressive Art Program during term four, 2017. Under the tutelage of facilitators Su and Susan (affectionately known as collectively as “Sues”), the young artists worked hard to produce this considerable body of work in an incredible eight weeks.

Filled with sea creatures that are made of decorated clay, giant wall sized seascapes, and a gigantic squid covered with hand-drawn marks, the exhibition is testament to both the young people’s creativity and the artistic and collaborative skills that they have developed during the term.

Coming together for the first time, the young artists offered their own ideas in a brainstorming session. The resulting critters then came into being in a variety of different mediums over the course of the program.  As a work experience student, I had the privilege of not only sitting in on one of the workshops, but also speaking to both Su and Susan about the ideas behind the process.

It is a sunny Tuesday afternoon and Su and Susan are carefully preparing their students’ artwork to be hung in the Belconnen Community Gallery. I listen in as they discuss the ironing of fish, debate who will stuff the giant squid, and consider whether or not they should hang the jellyfish on hoola hoops.

Su explains that the idea of an ‘exhibition’ was a new concept to many of the young artists, and also that quite a few of them had forgotten what they had made in the first few weeks of the program. She hopes that when they see the exhibition they will be blown way with what they have achieved. “I am excited to see what they think – whether or not it meets their vision. It will be fantastic if we did.”

The work flows between Su and Susan effortlessly, a quality which seemed to permeate the workshop I attended two weeks earlier. Then, the room was a bustle with young artists, drawing bubbles in wax and creating ocean currents with sponges and washes, before studiously filling their own silhouettes traced on giant sheets of paper with strokes of black paint – moving from activity to activity with joy and ease.

When asked about this seemingly seamless workflow, Su chuckles “it is important to have a plan A, and then B… and probably a plan Z…”.

Susan adds that this is the first time the two facilitators have worked together. She muses that their two approaches – art teaching and art therapy – have been complimentary. Su agrees “I tend to create chaos, and Susan quietly gets them to create more order. It works really really well.”

It is apparent that chaos, albeit expertly framed and channeled, is fundamental to the therapeutic aims of the work. When I came to observe the class a fortnight ago, I observed how Su and Susan offered an artful balance of activities which provided a strong structure and flow to the session. The structure was discernible to even the most distracted in the room, but it was one that also enabled the young artists to find enormous freedom and pleasure in exploring new processes and materials. The Sues confirmed this observation as they spoke:

“Everyone has a memory of being told that their art wasn’t good enough in grade three, being criticised or dismissed… I explicitly reject the idea that there is a right way to do something.”

For Su and Susan creativity is risk taking. It’s experimentation and discovery. It’s also fundamental to young people’s development, a key way in which young people learn about themselves and the world.  The Sues articulate these concepts with passion, and in so doing embody the very things that the Bungee Youth Resilience Program seeks to foster.

Both facilitators actively affirm the qualities of creativity in the young artists as they explore their own ways of making. “Children have their own truths, which are just as valuable as those of adults. We are not the experts in the room, telling them what they see. They are the experts… and we are there to encourage their voice – an artistic voice. During the brainstorm we asked, ‘what do you want in there?’ They said ‘we want a shark! A giant squid! Spongebob Squarepants!’ As best as we could, we’ve made those things.”

The Under the Sea exhibition is showing at Belconnen Community Gallery from the 18th of December 2017 until the 12th of January 2018.

Text by Melissa Gryglewski. 

Photographs: Banner / Feature Image – the Expressive Art Class at work. Left -hand column: Photo 1 – clickable link to the 360 degree image of the exhibition on the BCS facebook page; Photo 2 –  young artist crafting a sea critter from pipe cleaners; Photo 3 – a completed starfish made of clay and colourful beads; Photo 4 – wall sized mural containing bubbles and seaweed; Photo 5 – young artists paint silhouettes of themselves with black paint, photo 5 clickable link to the 360 degree image of the exhibition on the BCS facebook page. 

Images by Melissa Gryglewski and Katie Anderson-Kelly

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