Engaging with the local community is one of the key parts of the Mosses and Marshes project that gives it meaning and brings it to life. I teamed up with artists Kate Johnston and Dr Sue Challis, who have both worked with Wem Youth Club for some time, and we were all delighted that the Arts Council funding would enable us to deliver a project at Whixall Moss for the young Club members. Some of the young people had visited the Moss previously with Shropshire Wildlife Trust, and it was great to work in partnership with Anna Martin of the Wildlife Trust for the project.
We wanted to bring the arts, science and the landscape together in an exciting way so that the young people could become more curious about the natural environment and feel more connected to nature. By taking part in a wide range of activities, the young people would learn about the ecology of the peatbog and the importance of the Mosses and other wetlands across the globe in addressing biodiversity and climate change.
“The collaborative project is bigger than the sum of its parts, it becomes something unique…
…The group came having been here before, so we could explore in a different way. We were looking at the sensory elements of the site… all experiencing the peat, digging into it, painting the banners with it”Anna
After much careful planning, we organised two site visits to the Moss along with a number of evening sessions at the Youth Club. It was important that we allowed enough time in the visits for an immersive experience in which the children could explore the landscape at their own pace and build confidence within it. So rather than the usual Youth Club evening sessions, we arranged full day weekend visits.
“The project breaks down gender roles, everyone has enjoyed poetry, arts and science. They are getting to know kids across age groups and outside friendship groups …
…it creates a really interesting shared experience; a community”Sue
We needed to ensure that we worked closely with Natural England, as managers of the National Nature Reserve, so that the project did not cause any significant disturbance to wildlife. It was through these discussions that it became necessary to adapt original plans for the collaborative artworks. Kate and Sue’s proposals evolved into three 7m long x 1.2m wide banners that could be created and worked on throughout the project and then these could be displayed in public venues and brought back to the Moss to be displayed temporarily at the Mammoth Tower viewing platform. Each banner has three sections for bog, land and sky.
“Its creating a quality piece of artwork they can all be proud of… they have all taken part, in their community. They will understand why they created it… connection with the landscape”Kate
First visit: Sunday 9th May 2021
Thankfully we were lucky with the weather for both trips, although we were well prepared, and something tells me the kids would still have enjoyed themselves in the rain.
This first visit was about discovery and experimentation with a mix of learning about the Moss, trying out new art skills and free time to explore. We walked to the Mammoth Tower viewing platform, where we made a base.
Activities included foraging for plants for cyanotype printing and ecoprinting, observational drawing, listening, looking and collecting words to use in the banners, pond dipping, carbon collecting game and lots of mucking about.
“permission to play, permission to get muddy, permission to jump…”Kate
There were some lovely drawings, and in the time that we walked to the viewing platform, Gertie wrote a fabulous poem “Lost on the Moss”. We recorded her perform this and you will be able to hear the poem in the upcoming sound trail.
“I was just amazed, I didn’t realise it was so big!”
“I feel really small, because there’s so much space around you”
“Its glorious! its so beautiful!”
“I loved learning all about it”Youth Club members
Both visits and the youth club sessions were very well supported by Becca and Emma youth workers and adult volunteer assistants Nev, Mandy and Mia in addition to the artists. Big thanks to them for making sure everything ran so well.
MediaActive Projects is working with me to document the project, and Max Allwood joined us on both trips and one of the Club sessions to record video that we can edit into a short film as a lasting record.
Youth Club Sessions 11th/12th and 25th/26th May
Over the course of the project, over 20 young people took part in the site visits and in the evening sessions at the club. It was important that even if members were not able to go on the visits, they could still take part in creating the artwork.
The Club is for the young people to meet socially and take part in activities on offer, So these were quite informal sessions. While there were artists Kate, Sue and myself on hand to lead and provide guidance with art activities, there was no pressure to join in, children could come and go and were free to choose whether to take part or not – there were plenty of other games and refreshments. As it turned out, just about everyone had a go at the art activities in small groups, which made for a nice, relaxed and engaged environment.
There was more cyanotype printing onto fabric, drawings as studies to make monoprints, and the banners were painted with peat and then printed with stamps and stencils using the words gathered from the site visit.
Anna came into the Club for a couple of the evenings to present and talk about some of the artefacts from the “Bog Box” including bog bodies and dragonfly exuvia.
Second visit: Sunday 6th June 2021
The second visit was more about deeper exploration and learning, and we were joined by ecologist Phil Playford. We took a different route to base ourselves near pools where we could do more pond dipping, find sundews and test out the bouncy bog. We were privileged to find huge raft spiders and all sorts of creatures in the ponds. I was impressed with the team work, enthusiasm and attentiveness of all the young people.
“We’ve really been inspired by this environment. The project has been quite rich in time. Its been a layered project”Sue
I talked about the Mosses and Marshes project and the connections between the Mosses and the Macquarie Marshes of Australia. I was also able to introduce small groups to the new sound trail I have been installing at the Moss, and some of the children tried out some sound and video recording.
The banners are progressing well and have reached the sky sections, so the group were able to splash paint/dye on to the canvas to create them.
There’s still some work to do to complete the banners and prepare them for display. Everyone is looking forward to returning to the Moss and to see the artwork we have created – look out for a follow up post.
“Whenever I go back there again, I get this sort of calm, freedom, peaceful feeling and its actually quite nice”John