Throughout 2018, artist Anne-Marie Jean is undertaking a year-long residency at Lanyon Historic Homestead with her two-year-old daughter Camille. Throughout the year, Jean will also be hosting a series of workshops with local children’s groups. The results of Jean’s work will form the basis of an interactive exhibition for toddlers at Tuggeranong Arts Centre in October.
We sat down with Jean to discuss her experiences of creating art with toddlers.
You’re currently undertaking a residency at Lanyon Historic Homestead with your 2-year-old daughter, Camille. What was the inspiration behind this approach?
When I had Camille… I wondered how I could continue my art practice at the same time as caring for her and working part time. I realised how wonderfully creative and unbounded small children are and how much I could learn about creativity, nature and children through simply being present with her and creating with her in the landscape. She loved being outdoors.
I had a vision of spending a whole year in a garden, getting to know it through the seasons. I realised Camille and I could do this at Lanyon, which is such a wonderful space and so close to home. So I applied for a year-long residency with a 2 year old as one of the artists and we were delighted to be accepted.
Can you describe the approach that you take to working collaboratively with toddlers in your art practice?
The best approach is just to let go. Don’t have any agenda about what we will do or what the outcomes will be. Trying to control a toddler is no fun for them and no fun for me. So we lay our paper and paints and pencils out on the lawn and just go for it. I respond to Camille’s colours and marks on the paper with her and we talk about what we are doing and the colours and the marks.
What have you observed about the way toddlers engage in art-making? And how does this differ from adults?
Even before Camille came along I was questioning the way I responded to landscape in my often semi abstract painting. I wanted to paint how it felt to experience nature and not just what it looked like but I was still very much wedded to more traditional perspectival format to the paintings. It’s a really Western way of painting, from a single point perspective, looking out on the landscape with me, the artist as the central point. Working with a toddler who has no training in Western style painting and simply responds to the materials with joyful and interested and exploratory abandon [helped me] to really understand that the way I was painting the landscape was based on my training.
Has working with children changed your own art-making processes and if so, in what ways?
I have been trying to move from painting to sculpture for some time and somehow working with Camille releases all my inhibitions and I’ve shifted my painting practice to include sculptural works now. Her openness to all ideas and her voracious learning challenges me to open up my mind. Sometimes when we go to Lanyon and I think we are going to paint, she just wants to run around then crouch for ages just looking in the cracks of a wall or collecting sticks and so I let go of my agenda and see what I can get from just looking and touching. I think this has been the core of my shift from painting to sculpture.
Do you think there are lessons that adults could learn from the way children process the world around them?
I am learning so much about language and the things we teach, the frameworks we give children as they grow. I’m learning that it’s not about right and wrong, it’s just the framework we are choosing to teach to children because that’s what fits with our society and culture. I watch Camille process and learn things and I stop and ask myself, why am I asking her to do things my way? Could I try them her way, or let her find her own way? Don’t assume and take your time to look and explore are probably the biggest teachings she is bringing to me.
How has the environment of southern Canberra that surrounds Lanyon Homestead informed your work during this residency?
Even more important than the leaps I have made in my art marking is the shift I have had around my awareness and acknowledgement of the Indigenous ownership of this land and their history and presence in this area. The area around Lanyon is Ngunnawal land and I have been privileged to connect with some wonderful Ngunnawal people and learn a little about their history in this place. For many many years I had a sense of unease that tinged my love of the Australian bush because of the enforced colonisation of Australia and the impact this has had on the traditional owners of the land. It was like there was an elephant in the room of each painting. What I have found is that by acknowledging what has happened and learning more about the history and rich culture of the Ngunnawal people, I am able to reconcile the past and present and really connect to this place with love, and respect its people.
In October, the outcome of your residency Playing with Colour and Nature: an interactive exhibition for toddlers, inspired by Lanyon Historic Homestead will be presented at Tuggeranong Arts Centre. What can visitors expect to find for themselves and their young ones?
The exhibition will be a culmination of paintings/drawings and sculptures inspired by the year’s residency. All the floor-based sculptures are designed to be touched, moved, squashed, reconfigured, categorised by toddlers who can explore the coloured, textured sculptures in the same way they do with anything they find in nature. It’s an art exhibition where kids are not only welcome, but they can take part. The premise of the exhibition is to show viewers that there are many ways in which we can respond to nature creatively. For me colour, texture, shape, sound and even smell are the building blocks for artworks that describe what it feels like to explore nature, not just what it looks like when we stand still and look to the horizon. Everyone is welcome.
Playing with Colour and Nature will be on display at Tuggeranong Arts Centre from 4 – 27 October.
If you would like more information about Anne-Marie Jean’s project or how you and your toddler can get involved, contact Tuggeranong Arts Centre via email@example.com