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19 April 2017
By Anique Jayasinghe and Shelby Farmer
With the help of the Auckland Art Gallery Outreach Programmer Iokapeta Magele-Suamasi

For the past three years, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki has had a presence at the Auckland International Cultural Festival (ACIF) with the goal of building meaningful connections with the diverse communities of Auckland while having an opportunity to showcase what the Gallery has to offer visitors and their families. This year it was up to us – two Gallery Assistants from the Gallery – to co-ordinate an art-making activity based on artworks in the collection, and to deliver on the day of the festival. Our project was to provide a fun, creative space with materials at hand for participants to share their ideas and create a collaborative sculpture that we have affectionately named, Accumulative Mass.

Our daily experiences as Gallery Assistants observing how both young and old visitors interact with and respond to different artworks was key, and this heavily informed our choice of works. In this way our art-making idea was inspired by the simplicity of artists using familiar materials in unfamiliar and exceptional ways. Lonnie Hutchinson’s cut-out paper works evoke a nostalgic child’s play and depict cultural iconography, while Judy Millar’s enlarged sculptural paintings spark imaginative thinking by moving between two-dimensional (2-D) and three-dimensional (3-D) mediums. Judy Darragh’s Limbo was also a huge influence because of her use of household objects such as tinfoil along with jewelled clusters and colour to create those asteroid-like structures that are suspended high up above Gallery visitors. We chose the works of Hutchinson, Darragh and Millar for their forms, colour and tactility, which we have seen kids be instantly drawn to. Similarly, the choice to use familiar materials such as paper, tinfoil, markers and string was also purposeful in its intention to create a welcoming atmosphere in the stall and motivate kids to keep creating with materials they have at home after the festival. If we could embolden kids to see familiar materials in unique ways, we could show them not just what art could be but what the roll of tinfoil in the cupboard can be!

We started by wanting to encourage visitors to share their creativity with reference to their culture or sense of self, perhaps through symbols or language. The hope was that the exercise would involve an exchange where visitors would enjoy the space and materials provided, and in return gift their creation to Accumulative Mass, thus affirming their individual contribution as a part of a wider community. This idea of sharing their perspective and culture is a key aspect of the AICF and we wanted to represent this in a collaborative way.

One of the anticipated challenges for us was which materials appealed to kids and how they would likely use them. We found that the most helpful thing to do in this instance was to actually explore the possibilities of the materials ourselves in our own creative play environment in the studio, which also helped to start off Accumulative Mass.

An interesting trend we discovered on festival day was how some children found it challenging to see paper as nothing else but the usual flat surface they had been taught to see – our challenge was to steer their thinking away from the expected 2-D and into the unexpected 3-D. We tackled this by encouraging them to explore the physicality of the paper in a tactile way by scrunching, tearing, folding and cutting the paper into quirky 3-D creations. In some cases, where their creations remained as 2-D pictures, we explored attaching string to multiple corners, or even attaching opposite corners so the page became a cylindrical work when added to the Accumulative Mass. The kids really engaged in the idea of contributing to the sculpture and were excited to try something new.

All in all it was a wonderful day at the Auckland International Cultural Festival, which was a vibrant collage of Auckland’s cultural diversity through art, dance, music, sport and food. People of all ages and a wide range of countries gathered together to celebrate and share their unique culture with each other. We were very excited to be a part of the celebration this year and enjoyed creating our collaborative sculpture with each and every festival-goer that visited us – even if it did leave an accumulative mess.