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River of Voices

Community Art Installation for Warranwood Primary School

  Office entrance near the beginning of the mural.

Office entrance near the beginning of the mural.

  Group shot of myself with the kids and teachers in front of the mural for the newspaper.

Group shot of myself with the kids and teachers in front of the mural for the newspaper.

> Click here to view Herald Sun Leader article on this project.

River of Voices was a fitting name for this huge art installation that ran across several walls in the school, spanning over 40m in length, made in conjunction with Creative Learning Partnerships and Warranwood Primary School. The result was an amazing collaboration between myself, students, staff and the larger community to create a stunning series of installations that together create a wonderful display of the local history, shared stories and personal ideas.  

The main concept behind the River of Voices Project was to focus on the local history of the area, stretching back to aboriginal beginnings and European settlement, through to urbanisation, modern times and the future. In doing so, it was to aid people in understanding their own community, the people before them, as well as the impact they can have on the future of the community. Questions we posed the students were: What was life like? What is life like? What might it be like in the future? 

History was recreated and presented along the wall in a linear fashion, in the form of a river. We viewed idea history itself as a series of smaller individual stories bound together by overall events and time, and so a river seemed the right metaphor as an image to link this particular description of history. Also, the Warrandyte River was an important landmark of the area, which added to the overall meaning.

 

  The green area of the mural represented present times, the blue the future.

The green area of the mural represented present times, the blue the future.

We are not makers of history. We are made by history.
— Martin Luther King, Jr.

Structure

The wall was divided by defined historical periods - aboriginal beginnings, agricultural settlement, urbanisation, modern times (present) and future - with the viewer to walk along and experience it in chronological order. This art installation consisted of three main types of art - art tiles, panel paintings, and murals - that all merged to create a greater expression overall. 

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Focus On: Art Tiles

Each person was asked to contribute at least one tile to this project. This tile had to be a response to one of the historical periods, and was placed in that are of the wall. One of the most fun parts of the River of Voices experience is to just walk along it and enjoy looking at so many different ideas and styles. 

Logistically, if you see their were 440 students, plus teachers, replacement teachers, other workers in the school, parents, local community members - well, it added up to a lot of tiles! We used wooden tiles and attached them to wall with a lot of help from volunteers. So many people contributed to this artwork, from every single student (all 440 of them) as well as the teachers and local community. Even Japanese exchange students and teachers were able to contribute.

  Art tiles in the future section.

Art tiles in the future section.

  Working hard to put the art tiles up!

Working hard to put the art tiles up!

  Art tiles in the indigenous era section.

Art tiles in the indigenous era section.

  The tiles in production. All tiles had an undercoat. After they were painted they were each coated three times with varnish. You can also see some of the pictures spanned across multiple tiles - creativity was encouraged!

The tiles in production. All tiles had an undercoat. After they were painted they were each coated three times with varnish. You can also see some of the pictures spanned across multiple tiles - creativity was encouraged!

Focus On: Panel Painting

From the senior school, select groups were chosen to paint the large panel paintings. Essentially, there was one panel painting per historical period, with the aim to illustrate that era. Not only were the group members to research and create imagery for that period, but they had to work as a team and fit that imagery into the overall composition of the picture.

  Panel painting for the modern present times section.

Panel painting for the modern present times section.

  Panel painting for the indigenous era section.

Panel painting for the indigenous era section.

  Panel painting for the Agriculture section.

Panel painting for the Agriculture section.

We did several concentrated classes with each group. These started with idea development and research, and then moving onto painting the wooden panels.

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Focus On: Mural

The background of the wall was vital to the overall experience, but also the least noticed. I designed a background pattern which was inspired by the local forest trees of the area. More importantly, the wall colour range slowly shifts in correspondence with the historical period it's in, going through the whole colour wheel in the process.

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  Close up detail of the mural painting with the river and background before we put the tiles in.

Close up detail of the mural painting with the river and background before we put the tiles in.

  Close up detail of the mural painting.

Close up detail of the mural painting.

  Close up detail of the mural painting.

Close up detail of the mural painting.

Progress

This project took a month from start to finish, working 3-4 days per week. Many people were involved, and all contributed to the final success of the project. There were so many stages to the completion of this project, and here's a selection of images from the development.

  The wall with the very first drawing with blue spraypaint.

The wall with the very first drawing with blue spraypaint.

  The wooden panels after I cut them and just started the undercoats.

The wooden panels after I cut them and just started the undercoats.

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A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.
— Marcus Garvey

Presentation

The artwork was presented at a special unveiling night. As part of the celebration, the kids made special performances in front of each panel painting / historical period.

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