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When art teacher Hannah Rother-Gelder invited Princes Hill parent Soren Dahlgaard to be our artist in residence for 10 weeks, she set in train a playful, witty and surprising art project that captured the imagination of all age groups and left behind photographic images of some startling still life—and lasting inspiration.

The children’s study of the works of contemporary Chinese artist Ai Weiwei led to the question: How is it art? Hannah responded with an exploration of how the traditional genre of still life stretches our imagination and helps us see the world with fresh eyes and mind. The children considered the ways artists challenge boundaries and stretch thinking to make meaning.

And then Soren Dahlgaard took the learning further.

Soren is a contemporary artist who transforms objects in confronting and unusual ways. His approach to still life is to select and compose objects in the traditional way, but to pour paint over them and photograph the wet and glossy results. The photographs become the artefact, and the mind sees those objects in an entirely new way.

Different processes were designed for three different age groups and resulted in some startling works of art.

Prep and Year 1 children drew a still life from their imagination and then selected small sticks which they embellished with paper clay modelling and assembled into a still life.

Year 2 students each made a drawing and paper clay models in the Giorgio Morandi still life style, and then chose to collectively compose their still life. By pouring paint over their work and immediately photographing it, they captured Soren’s wet and glossy effect.

Years 3–6 chose their own objects to create a still life, limited only by their imagination.

The children found the process very pleasurable and enjoyed the regular interactions with a contemporary artist. Soren gained a lot too: “The children have really good ideas and processes of co-creation. What they bring is more innovative,” he said. Soren was also surprised at how the children fed and influenced his own creativity.

At Princes Hill, we are committed to growing our students’ natural curiosity and we encourage active participation in many forms of expression. Still Life recruited the children’s inherent skills and abilities to think creatively and expansively, and to realise their inspirations through the techniques they learned.

Still Life—and our other Artist in residence projects—directly relate to our mission to partner with our students on their lifelong journey of learning and discovery. It allows for critical engagement in complex, purposeful contexts where relevant connections to our world are made.