Alternative Monday 12 – Going with the flow

This week’s Alternative Monday post is from Simon Woolham, an artist who has worked on our Alternative Provision programme since 2010. Dr Simon Woolham MA, PhD, FHEA – or “that guy from Manchester” to our students – is a lecturer at University of Huddersfield, Curator and Artistic Programmer at PAPER, a studio holder at Rogue Artists’ Studios and one half of music ping-pong M4SK 22.

“Go with the fuckin’ flow” – this may seem like a blasé comment or tagline, but it is not. It is how you have to work with the excluded kids from The CE Academy. It is also how, as creatives, we want to be. To constantly move on and evolve, both questioning and taking our experiences with us, developing emergent ideas and practices as we ‘flow’ along.

With The CE Academy lot, you have to go with the flow. You have no choice. One minute their minds might be on going for a sneaky cig, at which point you might pull out a video camera, sound recorder or graphite stick – you go with the moment and creativity often works like that too.

As an artist, I’m interested in generating stories and the language between what could be construed as innocence and darker overtones, in stimulating a whole host of associations that lie somewhere between naïve nostalgia and disturbing reportage. Central to my practice is the exploration of hidden human details, collective, shared histories, stories associated with belonging and the relationships to specific places and spaces.

Collaborative practice is key, which is perfect for these students, because this is how they often act and learn; in a pack. I explored a number of projects and processes with the students, all exploring the forest site and spaces in one way or another. One project in 2016 explored mapping and interpreting surfaces of the forest, a collaboratively growing installation activated from rubbings collected from the exterior and interior surfaces.

Creating an installation with Simon Woolham and students from The CE Academy, 2016

Through this simple process of using paper and graphite sticks and working collaboratively, the kids, in a piecemeal fashion, were encouraged to engage directly with and document a process. Some took rubbings of grids, grates and objects, others recorded the sounds of the rubbings being made – scraped metal, wood and glass. Others filmed the act of making and collecting.

The rubbings were then interpreted by the group who built a large-scale drawing from the hundreds of rubbings collected in a very short space of time. There’s no time for those saying they can’t draw, everyone can make a rubbing. It’s extremely accessible, that’s the beauty of it.

From both the process of making and the broken narrative, this culminated in a collective animation with each and every student involved, one way or another. Some directing others from ‘the cosy chair’. Others getting frustrated and telling another kid to ‘fuck off’ in front of my innocent daughter who was mainly unaware of what that meant and who was helping out and generally encouraged a positive environment. In one day, we made a huge drawing, a five-minute animation using stop frame animation and sounds from the rubbing process, plus a film of the whole day’s events. We went with the fuckin’ flow.

Simon Woolham

Video made by students from The CE Academy working with Simon Woolham

Look out for more Alternative Monday posts every fortnight, looking back on some of our favourite alternative provision activities.