On the 29th-30th November 2013 artist Sarah Gillett and curator Rebecca Heald travelled to Bucharest to deliver a series of creative workshops for musem staff and educators in the region, hoping to engage students of all ages with the contemporary artworks presented from the British Council Collection. 

Out of Britian, originally concieved for the Middle East, has previously toured to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman and is currently at the National Museum of Art in Bucharest until January 2014. It takes landscape as its theme and spans painting, photography and sculpture to unpick the varied approach to an ever changing environment, made by British artists including Richard Long, Matthew Smith, LS Lowry, Paul Nash, George Shaw and Conrad Shawcross.

The workshops employed a range of methods including gathering first impressions, developing a language around the work through poetry excercises and producing pop-up response drawings in order to offer ways in to discussion and appraisal of the works. Below, Sarah and Rebecca give us an insight into their method...

Meet the Artwork

Art offers great starting points for work on a range of topics including history, geography, literature, industry, science and politics, as well as providing a catalyst for independent thinking and doing. Every work of art suggests a different idea, issue or point of view, but for artworks to have any relevance, they quite literally need to be looked at and for their value to be determined by a viewer.

We always start our workshops from the perspective that 'meeting' real artwork face-to-face is a very different experience to seeing it in a book or on a computer screen. For this reason, whenever possible we work in front of artworks, drawing on the unique experience of engaging with original pieces.

In Bucharest, where we were working with museum educators and teachers, our approach was aimed at encouraging ‘conversations’ with and about a selection of artworks in the 'Out of Britain' exhibition, beautifully installed in the National Museum of Romania. From archaeologists, artists, art historians, zoologists, curators, museum volunteers, printmaking technicians and press officers, everyone taking part in our workshops was involved with fantastic education programmes already, but this was a chance for them to take a step back into being an active participant. We think that creative learning through making and kinetic experience can stimulate new ideas quickly, in a collaborative process.

From generating poems, soundscapes and pop-up landscapes, all the activities in our workshops were aimed at encouraging participants to expand the ideas presented and relate them back to art and objects in their own museum collections. What we underestimated was the opportunity the workshops offered for peer-to-peer learning and discussion. We were humbled by the journey times museum staff had made  - up to 12 hours for some - and by the commitment of busy teachers who had given up their Saturday mornings to come and take part.

Should everyone be entitled to their own subjective reading of a piece of art, or should we stick to framing the work only by the artist's original intentions? We argue that every artwork can be read on many levels, and sometimes slowing down and really looking at an artwork can offer  insights into more than just the piece in front of us. Spending time looking can be especially valuable for those artworks we just don't like or have no immediate connection with.

We firmly believe that art is for everyone. By trying to encourage open, strong debate in the museum space, we hope to give more children and adults the tools to talk about artworks from a better informed standpoint. In Bucharest we were lucky enough to be supported by smart, open-minded people who are as passionate as us about the value of education for all.

We both felt we made some new connections with art in the exhibition through the workshop participants' observations and perspectives. We really hope this was a two-way street. If we managed to plant a nugget of a new idea, inspired a fresh way of looking at an artwork, or just offered a new route to the same ends, then that's good enough for us.

Sarah Gillett

Rebecca Heald

Visit our image gallery above for more on this project...

Thanks to Rebecca and Sarah for divising such a though provoking session!