Hansel and Gretel

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ArtScapers are delighted to be working with Cambridge Youth Opera, co-creating a ‘Forest of Imagination’ for their new production of Hansel and Gretel. Artist Caroline Wendling will be working with two classes of 8/9 year olds from Girton Primary School and Mayfield Primary School during February and March thinking about forests and fear and freedom. They will be spending time in the grounds of Girton College and Murray Edwards College as part of their research, as well as working together in the Storey’s Field Centre.The children will also be introduced to some of the extraordinary New Hall Art Collection at Murray Edwards College.

Speaking about the project, Jo Cobb, Head Gardener at Murray Edwards College, said: “This will be the first time we’ve welcomed primary school aged children to the College and I’m really intrigued as to how it will spark their imaginations. This project is such an exciting one for the College to be involved with and I hope they will enjoy exploring all the sights, smells and textures the garden has to offer.”

The children’s creative work will be installed as the forest in the foyer area to create an atmosphere for audiences as soon as they arrive for the performances at Storey's Field Centre on March 28th and 29th

ArtScapers is the education programme for Eddington, a new area of Cambridge. Begun in 2016, it has worked with children and their communities in innovative ways, including professional development days, resources, events, exhibitions and an interactive website. The creation of the forest is the first commission of this sort for ArtScapers and CYO and is an exciting development for how children’s creativity can be celebrated and shared as widely as possible. It was inspired by a short film made by CCI of a creative residency by the whole of Mayfield Primary School in Storey’s Field Centre. The space was transformed by enormous paper sculptures, in response to the work of Cambridge scientist Hertha Marks Ayrton and artist Yelena Popova.

Many thanks to Harriet Loffler (New Hall Art Collection), Jo Cobb (Head Gardener at Murray Edwards College), Steve Whiting (Head Groundsman at Girton College), Jake Ziegler (Sound Artist), Wysing Arts Centre and Gladys Jones (CCI volunteer) for their brilliant support.

This project is made possible by the support of the North West Cambridge Development and the Girton Town Charity.

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An orchestra of children

23/03/20

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(by Caroline Wendling) At our first meeting, in Storey’s Field Centre, I had the idea of asking the children to create sounds with their bodies only. I had just told them the story of Hansel and Gretel and all 51 children were sitting on the floor listening. I had never staged such a happening but I was determined to try. I believed in the creativity of the children and their capacity to imagine.  I knew that not all the children had visited a forest.

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Making the sounds of rabbits

First I asked them what they might be hearing in Hansel and Gretel’s forest. They worked in groups of 4 or 5. Each group chose a sound and thought about how to make it using only their voices and bodies. A few pencils were added by one group. We worked with nine sounds: the rustling of the leaves, the sound of a wolf howling, the crackling of the witches’ fire, a dragon, Hansel and Gretel eating sweets, wind, rabbits, bears and birds.

I had to find a way to orchestrate this extraordinary cacophony. It was hard to get children to perform just their sounds and to be as quiet as possible when not performing but I explained how we would proceed. The children performed with great attention and extraordinary resourcefulness. With their bodies, they produced crescendos together and silences to let other sounds come to the fore. I had an orchestra of children. It was so momentous and powerful that after it finished there was a round of applause from the adults present.

We knew we wanted to share these sounds with others and I am so grateful to young sound artist Jake Ziegler who offered to help me. Wysing Arts Centre also gave us the use of their sound studio too.  We hope we can work with Jake again soon.

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Jake Ziegler grew up in Cambridge but now lives in South London after graduating from the University of Sussex with a degree in History and Music. He is passionate about all types of music and began hosting radio shows and putting on live events while still at school. He is now producing music under the moniker Box5ive for clubs in London, Brighton, Manchester and Cambridge. His first record is due for release this month on Well Street Records and a second is planned for later in the year. He create soundscapes for everything from art shows and installations to live events. His music and radio shows can be found at https://soundcloud.com/box_5ive

We had planned for the soundscape to be shared alongside the exhibition for Hansel and Gretel performances Storey’s Field Centre but these are now postponed due to the Covid-19 issues. We are determined to celebrate all this brilliant creativity however and will be making a film of the work to share. More will follow soon on this.

Here for now are their amazing sounds. Take a few minutes to close your eyes and immerse yourself in this eerie world they have created.

 

Re-imagining the familiar

16/03/20

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(by Caroline Wendling) For this second visit the children walked to Murray Edwards College under falling snow. How exciting to see the college grounds white! The children raised a toast to ArtScapers as they began, with one brilliant addition – Cheers to ArtScapers and to light savers. It was so cold and wet outside that we decided to make the most of the glass covered passage. We looked right and left through the large windows. We were delighted by several comments from passing staff saying how lovely it was to hear and be reminded of children. We had been worried that we might have been too noisy in this place of intensive study.

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Having said that, the children got on with their own studies. They noticed small details as they were sketching the college building and grounds: fairy lights, water going around, the purple colour on the dome, students at their desk behind windows, television aerials, minimalist gargoyles with water dashing down like waterfalls, shapes of abstract sculptures, vases on display, etc… I discovered the college through their drawings.

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Like Girton Glebe Primary school children, we learned to use scissors instead of pencils. Beautiful leaf shapes and arrangements emerged from the end of the scissors.

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Back at school, in the afternoon, the children were shown how to print from special dried leaves, seeds and twigs prepared by the Head Gardner, Jo Cob. Printing is always magical, I guess. The moment you pull the paper from the plate (in this case the natural objects) unexpected marks are revealed as the ink transfers to the paper. A series of beautiful monoprints emerged with glorious textures.

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I then asked the children to create a large composite drawing, referring to their sketchbooks from the morning, and working in pairs. Stories emerged;

- A large pigeon, with a flock of smaller ones, had taken over the college…

- if you follow the ghost, you end up in a dark area and find an abandoned house that is the college. The witch had sent all the people away.

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The children cut up their prints, and collaged them to their drawings making a direct connection, through texture, to the college garden. I noticed that only a few children collaborated with their partners. They mostly worked side by side. I believe that each of them had their own personal story to tell.

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A return visit

16/03/20

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(by Caroline Wendling) The sun was shining for this second visit to Girton College. I asked the children to absorb the landscape silently. I talked about our senses and how, if we pay attention to things around us, seeing, listening, smelling and touching we might become part of the landscape. The children kept silent as they looked around pointing to things and later their notebooks record many wonderful observations including: the smell of a tree that had been cut down that morning; drumming of a woodpecker; thumping of our feet against the forest ground; traffic on the A14; planes flying over; and the specific shaped bumps on a tree.  

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We walked to the patch of Scilla flowers under a beech tree and discovered a set of large holes and tunnels. We imagined who might live there. I noticed that children were spontaneously using their sketchbooks with spelling difficulties forgotten; they not only drew the mammals that might live there but also made notes. Their sketchbooks became diaries. What a contrast with last week’s writing exercise in the classroom, now no prompting was necessary. I had a class of attentive, thrilled children eager to learn and noting down their observations. I believe nature is the key; nature is a stimulus that gets everyone to connect.

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I had promised to teach them how to draw at tree. We talked about the general shape, how the branches were attached and one child showed how a sycamore branch had curled around the trunk. At one point the children were sitting in little clusters on tree trunks, drawing one tree after the next.

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One child accidently stepped on a puffball, the brown puff was magical. The Deodar cedar became a point of discussion; children looked up, touched the trunk and picked the cones of the ground. They were fascinated to hear about the seeds in the cones and how those were released with the help of the wind and how new cedars might germinate and grow. The glorious old orchard, that used to provide fruit for the college all year round, was an excellent site for more observation, note taking and imagination. Along the hazel hedge, Gladys explained the life cycle of the hazel; children looked, listened and pointed to the tiny red flowers, the catkins, and gathered left over hazelnut shells from the under the bushes.

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The smallest tree in the orchard
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The Hazel Hedge and Scots Pine

Observing the children’s pleasure in these spaces, we were reminded of the importance of revisiting and remembering together when we set up our projects.

Please pick flowers

16/03/20

(By Caroline Wendling) In front of Yelena Popova’s painting Untitled 2016 (part of the New Hall Art Collection at the college), year 4 children from Mayfield Primary School exchanged ideas about abstract art. We thought about making art from and with a place: in this case it was the ash of trees of the garden and earth.

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Later I couldn’t stop myself comparing Hansel and Gretel eating and enjoying their full basket of berries in the forest with the children discovery and picking flowers as I watched the children move from one wonder to another. Head gardener Jo Cox, who so kindly lead the walk, invited the children to pick flowers.  She explained she wanted them to be touched, smelled, collected and in our case studied through drawing. We had definitely entered a world of the senses, where beauty, refinement and grace collide. I felt we had suddenly touched on the feminine that we all have in us.

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It was a geranium leaf that Jo handed personally to children as she picked them one after the next. Noses met leaves and a general sense of excitement guided the first drawings. I observed the children moving with grace and pleasure in the Fellow’s garden. Some drew their leaf three times in a search for perfection, every detail noticed with patience and sublime attention. One boy even drew the smell of the geranium, the smell of the daffodil and the smell of grass!  We remembered too that there is no perfect drawing, that drawing is about drawing and can be abstract like Yelena’s work.

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To the all our amazement we were walked to a giant nest. Small groups sat for a little while in it. It was round and soft -  a perfect opportunity to be in nature and be nurtured. Needless to tell you that all drawings later on made in the classroom had a nest in their central part.

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In the orchard we noticed the smallest things near our feet: a hazel catkin, a beach leaf, a primrose leaf, a hazelnut shell, a clover, a primrose, a twig, ivy and an iris and they both drew them and annotated them.  We also looked closely at trees and drew their shapes, some taken over by ivy, other large, some with thick pollarded branches - all full of personality.

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Tigers and cool trees

16/03/20

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(by Caroline Wendling) Groundsman Steve Whiting welcomed us to roam on Girton College’s grounds on a wet day earlier in February.  The gates to the Mare Run had just been reopened after a weekend of high winds. It was a perfect opportunity to embody Hansel and Gretel’s walk on the forest path. The dark alley and its prickly bushes surrounded by magnificent mature trees became the subject of observation and discoveries. The path became a point of focus for several children during the afternoon making session in the classroom; they mapped their walks around the path.

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We saw plants we had never seen before and drew them. I heard how the tree was shaking. Great excitement went round the group when one boy saw evidence of tiger scratches on a tree - it made such an impression that he drew it. Another boy knew more than many adults about violets and how they grow.

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A bone was discovered and added to a collection. The boy wrote in his notebook: I saw a bone and I liked it so I put it in my collection and I saw a few trees that looked cool.

The imagination was racing and children made analogies with people and animals looking at trees; there was a dog’s face and one had a really, really long nose.

I asked the children to write about something special they noticed. Here are some of their observations: The wind sounding like a waterfall that was gushing down like a forbidden water slide; the tree roots because they tap over each other; I saw a plant I had never seen before (drawn beside it three times); the tree with two points, it had really long roots and one side lend over as the other side was straight up; I liked it because we got to go in the forest and I got to draw things

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Ryan’s dancing trees with beautiful roots

Children had been given a small paper bag for a collection of leaves that I had the intention to use as prompts in the classroom. First we made rubbings and created forests like Max Ernst ‘frottage’. The children experienced the magic of their graphite pens and it felt as though time expanded as the spirit of the gardens at Girton College was revisited.

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I swapped scissors for pencils and invited children to draw. I demonstrated how to cut, fold and shape paper. Even the most boisterous and excited children sat down, cutting meticulously into the paper, shaping leaves following the patterns and complexity of nature. Slowly and meticulously we created a parterre of leaves. Nature entered the classroom, we all recognised it and it was special!

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Starting with a story

16/03/20

 (by Caroline Wendling)

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I wasn’t sure if 8 and 9 year olds would want to hear a fairy story as a way of starting our day together. We were all meeting for the first time to begin to think how to create a forest of imagination for the new production of Hansel and Gretel. I noticed that the children were engrossed – I felt as though their eyes were totally fixed on me and that they had ears wide open; 51 children were listening and enjoying being told the story. We talked later that day with parents and helpers about remembering the pleasure of being told stories when we were younger.

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I invited the children to create their own opera score making the sounds of specific forest noises you might hear deep, deep down in Hansel and Gretel’s forest. They performed their chosen sounds: the crackling of the witches’ oven fire, the rustling of leaves, muted footsteps, a dragon, …and rabbits. Every child contributed. No props were given; they made use of their bodies only. A group of boys not only made the sounds of rabbits but even mimicked their gestures – everybody loved this. 

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Then the children imagined and drew trees, first on their own and then together on extremely large pieces of paper. Different materials were offered through the process. Energy and collaboration became necessary. Special attention was given to the texture of the bark.  As I went round the room asking children about them I noticed that most trees were carriers of fruit, birds and small mammals. One child said that their tree was a house for all the animals of the wood. One had a beehive, another had willow leaves drawn and coloured with great detail, a girl thought of what you might find in the ground around the tree and she collaged a bone. Some had a night sky above, others bright sun. I was as always impressed by the efficiency of the group work and diversity of the outcomes. Mrs Taylor summed it up by saying: ‘I can’t imagine 6 adults working as well as you all have together’.

Our tree has magic powers – it will listen to you and produce any fruit you ask.

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