Moments of magic

Residency: Pasha Kincaid at Ash Field Academy

By Pasha Kincaid

Photo Credit: Bob Christer, AAC

A visual arts-based residency with Ash Field Academy led by Pasha Kincaid with assistance from Jasmine Kelly-Gobuiwang, for the Attenborough Arts SENSory Atelier programme.

I am a multi-disciplinary artist and art educator/activist. Within my practice I explore identity through autoethnography. This informs my facilitative practice in terms of valuing people for their unique experiences as well as prioritising agency in the work I do.

For this eighteen-day residency delivered over nine weeks, I was joined by Jasmine Kelly-Gobuiwang, a third year Fine Art student seeking to develop her practice and gain experience as an artist educator. Working together in planning, delivery and evaluating proved to be a dynamic and fruitful  process.

Our residency at Ash Field Academy began with an in-depth consultation with the class teacher to find out about the young people we were to work with. There was an incredible range of needs and abilities – some would communicate by eye gazing, others through speaking, some with Makaton, many were wheelchair users and some required hand-over-hand support at times. The teacher told us a lot about their likes and tendencies towards specific activities. This was followed by the chance to meet the young people and get to know how they prefer to communicate, and what they love to do.

To give scope for as much agency and independence as possible, we decided that we didn’t want to dictate the medium we would use but to offer a menu of choices tailored to what participants were naturally drawn too.

For one young person it was having cloth-like materials floating above him and falling over him, for another it was all about things that turn around, windmills, clocks and washing machines, for another it was the colours pink and purple and the element of control, organising things into a visually neat order.

We chose to respond to these modes of interaction through art by curating a range of activities that would extend these sensory experiences in different ways. We then themed each day, for example one day responded to sunshine with a walk collecting natural materials for cyanotypes, drawing around our shadows and catching light with metallic ribbons on streamers. A lot of planning and resourcing went into each day meaning we were prepared for a range of sensory needs and multiple responses.

For the person that loved cloth tumbling around him we brought in what can only be called a disco curtain! A curtain made of reflective strips of foil. He appeared to love it and played extensively with it for half an hour.

In response to this we suggested den building and most of the participants loved the idea. We took it to another level, introducing lots of sensory material and playing with scale.

With staff and participants, we transformed their ordinary classroom into a new and extraordinary world. We set up canopies of cloths some 4 x 3 metres, and pegged netting, streamers, bunting and disco curtains to it. We added LED lights – push button ones, cubes that changed colour as you turned them and LED light rings on fingers. This one young person was known for staying in a corner of the room and doing his own quite isolated activities but loving cloth and things being above him on a one-to-one basis. Once the den was constructed with free floating cloths all around, he suddenly ventured out into the room and joined his peers in a way that he wouldn’t normally do. It was as if we had extended his perimeters and upscaled his world. In week six, we built a new den and we provided handheld fans and one large fan as it was 30 degrees. He came into the centre of the room and very clearly demanded a handheld fan in a way that he seldom does.

In turn, each child found their own response to the new environment. Some helped construct it with pegs and streamers. There was a golden moment when one person responded to the hanging curtain of foil strips by literally trimming it with a ruler and scissors two inches at a time – much to our amazement – two hours were spent cutting piece by piece – whilst another person who has a sight impairment used a torch to shine on to the sparkly cloths, the streamers blown by the large fan and to make shadows with his hands.

One young person who is non-verbal and, in a power chair, enjoyed being under the blue net curtain and trying on sunglasses with different colour lenses and interacting with the LED lights. He enjoyed experiencing the environment through different coloured lenses.

photo Credit: Ash Field Academy

The Reggio method suggests that the environment or classroom becomes the ‘third teacher’ – this transformation of the classroom embodied that theory – giving opportunity for multiple and simultaneous entry points. The den we had mutually created, enabled the participants to discover and investigate their own interests, theories and ideas in an inspiring and safe environment.

Another day was themed around giant outdoor mark making. Partly inspired by a participant who loved painting and has some impressive wheelchair skills, we offered printmaking with wheelchair tyres. Pooling paint on tarpaulins the young people were invited to drive through it and print on long roles of paper. Chaos ensued! There were those who immediately took to the activity with glee and confidence, others who steadily, carefully steered their chairs through the paint and those without chairs used mops and brooms, plungers, and car tyres to engage in this new large-scale approach to mark making.  It again proved a theory that when we aligned the activity to one person’s main joy and skill – this in turn gave others the chance to reach into each other’s worlds. For example, the young person that usually veers towards controlled and detailed work, was challenged to make larger, messy, less controllable marks from their wheelchair with brooms dipped in paint. Coincidentally, a staff member shared with us that one of this person’s learning targets was to use more extended arm movements so for that, it was perfect too.

But it was the wheelchair users that really came into the foreground, being able to demonstrate and extend their skills. In this context they had the superpower!

 In another activity where watercolours were provided this young person was able to thrive in her place of detail and control – and a love of pink and purple whereas another took license to get messy, to drip and drizzle paint through funnels, squeeze it out of sponges and even drag the pallet upside down around the page. These simultaneous access points were magical – the same materials but two very different responses.

Throughout the residency we partnered with the class teacher along with a super, willing and enthusiastic team of support staff. This collaborative approach, the teacher’s keen knowledge of the pupils, the support staff’s expertise along with the creative methodology that we brought gave an incredible synergy.

This eighteen-day residency was like dancing with several modalities and sensory access points all at the same time and watching multiple languages unfold. This dynamic model can thus extend and challenge people or really speak to their chosen modality giving immense reward. Overall, the residency broadened our experience, gave us opportunities to grow and thrive, exposed us to new processes and gave license to experience ‘art’ in different ways. It taught me that, if we truly listen to, observe, and try to understand what a person experiences with natural joy and then respond to this fully, the magic can happen!

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