Crossing Into Yesterday brought together three Tower Hamlets schools – Beatrice Tate, Stephen Hawkins and Halley – and three arts organisations – Kazzum, Drake Music and Furtherfield – to inspire SEND and primary school pupils to find creative ways of connecting with the borough's history. One artist worked in each of the schools towards a shared performance that took place at Rich Mix in May 2012.
+ See images of this project on Flickr
Olga P Massanet (Furtherfield) was artist in residence at Halley and developed – together with Phoebe Osborne (music trainee, Drake Music) and 30 year five children – an audio visual installation. Using a range of different media, participants translated old photographs of children from the Ragged Schools into a constellation of smells, sounds and drawings.
Crossing Into Yesterday installation of 'extended portraits' by Halley students, all images by Steve Brown
Aided by these photographs and a great deal of imagination each pupil crossed into yesterday and met a child from the past. They all worked from a different photograph and started by carefully analysing the facial expressions and the body postures of these children trying to figure out how they must have felt like.
Then they looked at the setting and the objects appearing in the pictures in search for clues on who these children were and what they liked doing.
"The sisters have dirty clothes, short hair and matching boots. They look like they are poor and homeless. They are really sad and abandoned. They would like a nice home with good food and a family that will care for them." - Kipbriya Alom, Halley student
Based on the feelings they had associated to their characters they chose three colours to draw portraits that freely interpreted what the pictures expressed. The next step was to think what kind of sounds could go with their images. They wrote short sound scenes for each of their characters and drew a graphic score in which they represented each sound with an icon and placed them on a timeline. Aided by these scores and using all sorts of objects they performed and recorded the sound scenes. These provided an atmosphere in which the images started to come to life.
To complete these atmospheric portraits they introduced scent. First they trained their noses with a mystery smell exercise in which they had to guess what was in the bag just by smelling it. Once they guessed it they had to try and describe the smell and list the feelings and memories it evoked. Finally they had to find a scent for their characters that evoked the right feelings and explain why they had chosen it.
“My smell [the smell of perfume] makes me feel kind of weird and is really strong. It reminds me of night time. The smell is a little sweet. The smell reminds me of my character (Patrick) because he looks scared and night time is a little scary for me.” - Mahreen Chaiwalla, Halley student
Halley students exploring each other's extended portraits
This was all put together as a collection of 30 “extended portraits” that invited the audience to meet, listen to and smell these half historical half imaginary characters. Each portrait comprised a historical photograph of a child from the Ragged Schools, a free style portrait drawing based on that photograph, a plastic bag containing the selected smell for the character with a note that read “Smell me”, a graphic score for the sound scene associated to that character printed on a greeting card with a sign that read “Listen to me”, and a small audio playback device that was activated when visitors opened the cards. The result was a multi-sensorial experience that expressed what it must have felt like to be in the shoes of those children.
Crossing Into Yesterday extended portrait by Afrin Ismat
The installation helped the audience establish that connection between the past and the present and it set the scene for the performance.The performance was based around three of the scenes these pupils had written and it incorporated music, narration, acting and a colourful visualisation made using galvanic skin response sensors.
Crossing Into Yesterday performance at Rich Mix
The Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) sensors measured the changes in electrical resistance of participants and translated that into different colours that were projected during the performance. The initial idea was to use this biofeedback system to reveal the intimate experience of the performers and some time was spent during the workshops in exploring this technology. For the performance however, it was decided to use the technology as a VJing tool. Participants manipulated the sensors to trigger changes in colour that punctuated the action that was taking place on stage.
The project is funded by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and developed in partnership with THAMES, Kazzum, Drake Music, Furtherfield, The Ragged School Museum and three local schools.