This project aimed to provide a block of visual/sensory art sessions over a period of eight Saturdays to adults with severe learning disabilities and communication difficulties. The sessions were a multi-sensory approach to aid participation for the group with different interests. Sequences of experience-based sessions led towards each participant designing an object that encased their favourite everyday materials.
In preparation for the project I went along to West Dunbartonshire Libraries and Museums Collection. I was invited into a small room that housed many metal cases and objects. I was naturally drawn to the shipbuilding handling box and its contents that permitted touch. Inside laid a bronze plumbline on an orange nylon cord. This was used on the shipyards to achieve straight lines. The conversations I had in this room sparked an idea to make sensory weights. From an on-going interest in the friction between systems and spontaneity I wanted to explore a non-linear use of a plumbline. Whilst any weight on a string will give you a straight line I am was more interested in what a sensory weight would bring to mind…like the transporting element of smells or tactile intimacy of textures.
I chose ordinary, everyday raw materials such as:
The materials were chosen to appeal to all the senses and encourage playful and non-conventional uses. This provided a session with no conventional boundaries and more space for participants to lead and share their preferences.
The aim was to engage the participants with different materials and scents.
The emphasis was on each person selecting their favourite material towards creating individual artworks.
The sessions began with the borrowed ship building handling box where everyone was encouraged to interact with the objects. The groups brought the box to life by trying on the workman’s shoes and welding mask. This session sparked imagination and conversations about the objects and led into the design of sensory weights in the following sessions.
Reflection / Observations
Within my artist practice I strive to facilitate co-learning, to explore ways of working with communication barriers, to facilitate expression and creative processes, all of which leads to new ways of seeing and understanding.
Processes allowed participants to go in different directions such as: tactile intimacy, visual qualities, sound and movement and taste. Support workers were encouraged to take their time to allow their creative partner to respond.
Willie used facial expressions in response to the materials and especially the malleable warm feeling of newplast. His support worker considered all the ways Willie could interact with materials such as: on the cheek, over his ear, palm of hands and movement of his arms.
Clare loved the humour with newplast and laughed when her support workers used it as earrings, bracelets and glasses.
Robert enjoyed using the smells especially cinnamon. He worked at a pace so he could consider each object and its qualities. For example he slowly added objects to a container and shook it to hear the sound and feel the weight before adding more.
Greg added a musical element to the sessions and chose objects that had a variety of sound. He had a great rhythmic ability and turned his containers for sensory weights into a musical object.