Saturday, 24 March 2012

Dividing lines

Friday was a big celebration day at Nottingham Contemporary, showcasing the work of 12 schools that have been working with the Associate Artists over the last year.

Inspired by the DAAR exhibition, I have been working with Heathfield Primary School. As part of our project they held a "Line Day" - they drew a line right through the school for one day, with masking tape, and then hung newspaper streamers above it, appearing like an 8 foot wall towering above them.

Some of the children became trapped on one side of the wall, some trapped on the other side. They had to stay like this all day, without crossing the line.

At the end of the day they made a film about the experience, which was shown at the celebration event. How had the line made them feel?

DAAR's exhibition is all about borders and territory, a study of architecture in Israel / Palestine where borders are contested and the exhibition tries to imagine different futures for the building and territories there. The Line Day at the school helped the children to understand the reality of this kind of conflict. This is experiential art, where the children have an experience about an idea, rather than passively looking at representations of an idea in a gallery. The results were profound.

For the film each child's face appears for a brief moment, cropped close and staring at the viewer directly, the line hanging behind them. There is something about these serious, sincere faces of children that are incredibly engaging. The children each say a few words, sometimes only one word, to describe their reflections of the event. "Despondent", "depressed", followed by shouting, "angry", "frustrated!" "It's splitting up friendships", "it's just not fair" says a boy. "But I've done nothing wrong!" pleads a girl.

This simple act created a film that I found incredibly moving. These children expressed deep understanding of the results of conflicting borders on peoples. It was also courageous of the school to take on the experiment, often so difficult for schools to step outside their own constraints of the curriculum.

750 school children visited the exhibition on Friday, and it stayed open today for the general public. I'm really proud of everything they have achieved. All 12 schools had made remarkable and thought provoking work.

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