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In Term 4, 2020 children returned to onsite learning following a protracted period of remote learning due to the Covid 19 pandemic. Throughout this time, they had experienced disconnection and isolation from their peers, teachers and school communities.

Research undertaken by school leadership found that after an impactful event, communities should be guided and supported to reconnect and have a sense of optimism, hope and safety going forward.

They also learned that the manner in which recovery processes are undertaken is critical to their success. Recovery is best achieved when the affected community can exercise a high degree of self-determination and is able to contribute actively to the planning and implementation of recovery activities.

Acknowledging that the school community and individuals within that community needed an outlet to express the complexity of what they were feeling, the following research questions were posed:

  • How are natural events a catalyst for connecting the human experience?
  • What is it to be human within nature?

The idea of a Wellbeing Festival emerged…a welcoming back. Experiences and provocations involving four artists working with all children across the school were planned. Each artist would undertake 10 residency days, with children engaging with provocations and ongoing projects between the days.

This would provide time to reflect on our thoughts and feelings during the Covid 19 lockdown and our lives at that time and now, since returning to school. It would provide four languages of creative expression to bear witness to, and support the processing of the communities experiences. It would enable a sense of hope, resilience and growth as individuals and as a community.

The child’s curiosity, action, reflection and voice would drive the experiences and explorations and ultimately, hopefully, unite a community. The children would take on many diverse roles throughout their explorations.

Three of the artists were parent members of the school communities and one the partner of a community member. We wanted to also give back to the Arts Community that had been greatly impacted in our wider school community during this time.

The Artists and their Residencies

Sound machine explorations / Emily Hayes – Sound Residency.

Emily Hayes is a community singing leader, voice teacher and performer.

The students constantly discussed what they were hearing from news and conversations at home about the impact of the virus locally and across the world. They wondered about how the sounds of their environment changed as a result of COVID and the lockdowns.

Students came up with ideas to make a sound machine that would capture the virus. They explored sound using their bodies, through construction and using artefacts that made sounds. ‘The virus might sound like “shshshsh”. Animal ears hear better than human ears. Some of the virus might stay in the ear and travel through the body. We can put the sound of the virus into a machine and make it loud.’ (Lulu)

Using the body as a vehicle for expression / Tony Yap – Dance Residency

Tony Yap is a dancer, director, choreographer and visual artist.

One big change for the senior students who had had their 12th birthday was the necessity to now wear face masks due to the pandemic. There were curious about the history of mask wearing, not only for protection from disease, but also to preserve anonymity.

Students were enthusiastic to create masks and we explored the power of a mask to inspire freedom of movement.  By masking the self the children found a safe means of expression. ‘The process of mask making felt positive and empowering, and there was much reflection about how we often present a masked form of ourselves to the world, and indeed a whole mask of body language, as a way to hide our true feelings.’ (Deb Kayser)

Through the lens of understanding COVID-19 as a world changing virus and the experiences of daily life in lockdown, the children went deeper into their own expressive potential. They filmed their movements and then viewed this in slow motion.

We learnt that we all have our own language for movement and a unique choreography of everyday moves. How we think about movement can be empowering and liberating, and when we express emotions through movement we have a mode for coping and healing.

‘I notice what I notice’ / Darren James – Photography Residency

Darren James is freelance photographer, videographer and photojournalist.

The feelings, emotions, information and imagination of a photograph allows the photographer to transport someone to another place and another time. Photography raises awareness and enables understanding.  A photograph tells a story.

What emerged in each separate photography Inquiry was the range of lenses that children viewed their current world through… as documenter, storyteller, collaborator, and curator.

Empowered by a technical and skill-based understanding of this means of expression, students were able to record stories around them. ‘The thing I was looking at was a flower from my apple tree, I looked at this because I had a thought. The thought was that this flower would be oblivious to Covid, oblivious to what it was called, oblivious to where it was and oblivious to what it did. I wondered what it would be like to live like this, if you could even call it living, to be thoughtless’ (Reuben)

The interconnectedness of our lives / Sarah Rowe – Collage Residency

Sarah Rowe is an artist and textile designer.

 Our work with Sarah began after an extensive few weeks of reflection on our relationship with the natural world. This was provoked by the Kent Morris ACCA installation, Never Alone.  ‘Part of my concept is the interconnectedness of all things, which is a very significant First Nations philosophy that for plants, animals, people, landforms, waterways and celestial bodies — we are all interconnected.’ (Kent Morris)

Students discovered that understanding how they were connected with nature helped them to connect with both the world around them and themselves. ‘Understanding and healing, story-telling and hearing others’ stories, understanding the interconnectedness of our lives within our community became the driving force of Sarah’s residency.’  (Hannah Rother Gelder)

Students used the technique of collage to explore their connection with nature and create a symbol that reflected a story of interconnectedness.  These stories communicated the students’ realisation that experiences during Covid had changed them in some way.

With the help of Sarah Rowe, students brought these symbols together creating a 12-metre cloth panel that represented their shared experiences and our return together as a community.

This length of fabric has become a symbol of the ‘fabric of the children’s lives’ through Covid; a canvas that holds the many individual stories of connection and interconnectedness. Now, the canvas is available to the wider community to further embellish and stitch, applique, embroider and make a mark on the surface of the fabric to add to the stories. It will take a year to go around to each family and will eventually hold the stories of all the community.

By expressing their fears and challenges in creative ways, students developed strategies for coping with difficult issues and an increased confidence to talk about their uncertainties. They recognised that people experience tough times in different ways and that they are not alone in how they feel.

Through children’s eyes and creative expressions, the community was given the opportunity to heal and connect. Everyone could tap into their own emotions and experience though languages of expression.

Four Residencies, four experiences, four creative ventures leading to countless encounters and projects.  One connected outcome…reflection, belonging, hope, resilience.

The projects were launched at the Princes Hill Primary School Wellbeing Festival, a festival to welcome the community back together in February 2021.

The Wellbeing Festival Inquiries were included in a presentation given by Dr Esme Capp to the Reggio Emilia Australia Information Exchange.

Click on the image below to see the presentation.

Nature Collage