Ok. So it's just a small Art and Design publication. A long, long, long, long way from being 'Wallpaper' or 'Aesthetica'. But I'm absolutely tickled pink to have had an article published. It's About the Holocaust Project which somehow took over my life a little last year. Didn't tell anyone I was writing it because I really, really didn't think it would get anywhere. The magazine was on my doormat. Waiting. When I came home. I did that funny little jig thing again. Followed by possibly the tiniest of squeals. The paper smells lovely. All inky and er... papery? And, if you look in the right light, there is the faintest suggestion of a glossy surface. Anyway... here it is...
The Holocaust Project- A cross curricular, mixed-media collaboration between Art and RE
Human existence is messy. Life is not categorised into neat little subjects. Artists make work that is gritty, often offends, deals with real, actual things that happen in life. RE is not about the existence of some distant god. It tackles the word ‘Faith’ and the hope, pain, euphoria, despair and ultimate questions that this raises. Both subjects are fundamentally about people and their response to the world around them. Art is an ideal tool to communicate this human response. As one of our students said, “It’s for when you want to say something but it takes more than just words to say it”.
We, hence, strived to explore the possibilities of a cross- curricular project concerning the effect of the Holocaust during the Second World War with a group of gifted and talented y9 students. The focus was on empathy as a deeper level thinking skill and discovering ways to communicate this visually. The journey was immense, even in the planning stages. We were determined that the project should have integrity at it’s very core, and for this to happen we had to change the way we viewed ourselves as subject teachers, abandon our subject labels and simply become teachers of the ‘project’, albeit with a particular specialism in Art or RE. It was essential that both departments had an intrinsic understanding of how the other worked so that ideas could be developed in a genuinely collaborative context.
We worked with a group of 10 students who were recognised as being ‘gifted and talented’ in Art or RE, and opened the project with a study day at the nearby ‘Holocaust Centre’. Here they had the opportunity to build upon learning from their RE lessons, and to meet a holocaust survivor. At this stage they seemed quite overwhelmed by the situation and the visit required thoughtfully planned follow-up sessions in school, in which the students began to grow in confidence, talk openly about how they felt and to begin to place themselves in the situation of the holocaust victims. The gradual development of a sense of empathy began to occur. The comments the students were making were thought-provoking and insightful, and supported by hard-hitting practical outcomes. We challenged their concepts about what a piece of art is, immersed them in a range of contemporary installation work, then introduced them to video, projections and text based work.
The students worked together to explore their ideas and ultimately produced three large scale canvases that showed “fragments of broken lives”. They collected and dismantled hundreds of personal objects, dipped them in plaster of Paris, and arranged on the canvases to create “textures from peoples’ lives”, working intuitively and showing aesthetic awareness. It was felt by the group that the white finish helped to obscure the identity of the objects, as from a distance the individual objects were unidentifiable, which was a visual metaphor for the stripping away of one’s identity. It was only possible to discern the fragments from individual lives by stepping up close to the. One student was particularly skilled in IT and explored the possibilities of projecting images over the textured surfaces; it was then a logical progression to layer the images with music and the speech of holocaust survivors.
The students presented their work at a press event arranged in school, which lead to being invited by the Holocaust Centre to present the work in front of an audience of international dignitaries and Holocaust survivors as part of the 15th anniversary celebrations of the centre. The work is now on loan there and is being shown to every school group that visits.
We were constantly ambitious throughout this work and had a strong vision for how cross-curricular learning could be established within the college. We believe it has had a truly positive impact and enhanced the learning of the students involved, not only with regards to their attainment, but in many more subtle ways; they have gained kudos by being recognised as gifted and talented, been indulged with time to develop, reflect and experiment, produced large-scale powerful artwork, and above all, worked as team to support and coach their peers through an emotional, ground-breaking project for their college.