As part of our Poplar Partnership project, artist educator Adam Walker worked with artist-in-residence John Mayson and a group of Key Stage 2 students from Manorfield Primary School to explore the question “Can a conversation be an artwork?” The project took this question as the basis for a collaborative and open-ended exploration inspired by the Philosophy for Children approach to questioning and enquiry. Adam and John used practical sessions to explore the idea of the conversation itself as an artwork, including creating spaces for conversation to happen and exploring ways of sharing meaning and understanding that go beyond language. Here they discuss the benefits of collaborating on the project:
ADAM: A major benefit which I really enjoyed was the large amount of risk and not-knowing which was able to be carried through the project. John and I had many conversations before and during the workshops, and this enabled a really free exploration of ideas to take place, with the pupils seeing immediately that they were genuine collaborators: they weren’t being taken along a pre-determined path but were instead themselves determining the direction the project took. The level of understanding John and I had built up meant he really understood and enhanced the ideas I was seeking to explore, so trusted me to me to take the group down a route of exploration where the outcome was very much unknown until approaching the end.
JOHN: I don’t believe in the stereotype that artists work best in an empty room with only their own thought process to contend with. I think that creativity is like a virtuous common cold that spreads and grows with every sneeze and this was why it was great to have Adam come and work with us on our philosophical/conceptual art project. Bow Arts really understood the aims of the project and the pupils of Manorfield Primary School and by selecting Adam to work with us they ensured that our pupils, and myself, were challenged appropriately.
ADAM: While we had distinct roles (with me bringing the initial idea and continuing to develop and lead the project conceptually, and John of course knowing the pupils and handling practicalities from the school side), it was the blurring of these distinctions and shared excitement and language we developed around what we were exploring, and the way we both shared this with the pupils, that really made the project a success. The unknowingness, freedom and risk that collaborating with John enabled, meant that this project really reflected the way I work as an artist and the distinction between the educational and non-educational parts of my practice was even less distinct.
JOHN: It was great to work with another artist who was generous with sharing his thoughts and ideas but sensitive enough to always combine the ideas of the group to move the project forward in really interesting and unexpected ways. Because Adam and myself trusted each other’s way of working and constantly fed back to each other how we felt the sessions went, it meant that we could ensure that the pupils were exposed to new ways of working artistically but that the pupils were supported throughout the entire project. In many ways, because our way of working is so different to each other, we were also challenged to work outside of our comfort zone meaning that we were more sensitive to the pupils experience of the project and that meant the project was exciting and weird and fresh for everyone involved.
John Mayson has been artist-in-residence at Manorfield Primary since 2006
Adam Walker is an artist who graduated from Camberwell College of Art in 2011. He has led Education projects for Bow Arts, Tate and Camden Arts Centre