Following our successful Make Sense programme exploring the general archive of the British Library, we were asked us to join them again to deliver a new Make Sense programme in response to their exhibition Animals: Art, Science and Sound.
Animals is first major exhibition exploring how animals have been documented over time, with the exhibition including writings, drawings or sound recordings. This engagement allowed us to take a group of participants living with dementia around the exhibition for free and during relaxed hours. As a group we also engage in a documentation process, recording what we found fascinating through drawing and notes. It was great to have the ability to pop between the exhibition and our workshop space for breaks and refreshments, easing the intensity of the viewing.
In Week 2 we made small sketchbooks by folding and cutting paper in a method that allowed us to re-open it at the conclusion. One by one we listened to range of animal sounds found from the library’s vast sound archive, as well as some that were specifically selected for the exhibition; including the song of the last living Kaua’i ‘o ‘o. As each animal sound played, the participants made marks responsively onto a individual page in their sketchbook. At the end of the process we all opened up our sheets to reveal our multi-coloured extravaganzas.
Despite being underground in a room with no windows, Gyotaku (fish printing) was a huge hit and the results were very satisfying. After sourcing a variety of fish from a local market, within the workshop we applied a mix of two colours directly onto the surface of their scales, including a blob of black ink in the position of its eye. We then printed these onto rice paper, which although is very fine, is tough and responsive to the subtleties of the fish’s texture. The origination of this printing method was very connected to the exhibition’s focus on the documentation of animals, with Gyotaku used as a method by Japanese fisherman to document the size and type of catch.
In Week 4 we used easy-dry clay to explore different animal textures such as the fur, scales and skin participants had recorded in the exhibition a few weeks before. We considered what methods would best allow us re-create these textures though mark-making, and pushed the sensory aspect of the process by encouraging participants to use their bare hands, as well as a tools.
While in week 5 we focused on a more specific part of the exhibition, namely Levon Biss’ images of beetles. Using printed out macro images of beetles as a guide, participants cut negatives out of black paper, which they would later lay over the top of marbled paper that they created as a reflection of the beetles skin. The paper marbling produces monoprints, meaning that every print is unique, remarkably similar to the beetles themselves. We learnt that despite similarities in the genetic factors that cause beetles skin to appear colourful, two of the same type of beetle are actually wildly unique, depending on emotions and environmental factors.
In many ways, the last week was the least prescriptive workshops in the programme, where in this session we used Darwin’s discovery of the platypus as the premise for our activity. Darwin’s drawings of the platypus, documented during his trip to Australia, were not initially believed due to their unusual mix of features. We therefore pursued a drawing exercise based on the Surrealist parlour game ‘Exquisite Corpse’, where participants were assigned either a head, torso or bottom to depict in private but on the same piece of paper as the other parts drawn by other participants. The revealing result is a collectively imagined animal, born without the benefit of knowing what it’s other parts look like. It's an amusing amalgamation of elements which either surprisingly work, or completely don't!