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This PDF is an extract from engage publication:
• engage review
  Promoting greater understanding and enjoyment of the visual arts
• Imagination
• Issue 16 – Winter 2005
• 72 pages
• ISSN 1365-9383

The original publication is available from engage as below, subject to stocks.

This text is copyright, and is made available for personal/educational use
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Planes, Trains and Rocking Horses
Clare van Loenen
Head of Public Programmes, Hayward Gallery, London

Word count: 1249 Pages: 4

In the build-up to Museums and Galleries Month (2004) a number of ideas
based on its theme of ‘Travel’ and the ‘Art of Travelling’ came together for a
Public Programmes commission at the Hayward Gallery. The project was
inspired by the Jacques Henri Lartigue (1894-1986) photographic exhibition
running at the gallery and drew on the skills of artist Hiraki Sawa and the
imaginations of eight Year 3 pupils from St. Stephen’s Church of England
School, Lambeth.

Many of Jacques Henri Lartigue’s early photographs portrayed scenes from
his seemingly idyllic childhood. His older brother, Zissou, featured in many of
these, constructing flying machines and racing cars. In one image a train set
can be seen high above on a mantelpiece, clearly observed from a child’s
point of view. These early photographs are reminiscent of children’s carefully
constructed miniature worlds of model planes, railways and the odd toy car
crash.

Lartigue’s obsessive recording of a life full of flying machines and family
games recalled an installation at EAST International (2002), where the artist
Hiraki Sawa had integrated slowed-down footage of planes landing and
taking off within a film of his own apartment. Lifting off, a plane neatly
missed the pillow edge, its engine droning in the distance, while another one


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gently came in to land on the kitchen table. Others circled the light fittings
or emerged through half- opened doors. There were no crashes here, just a
mesmeric sense of a dreamy dislocation from the world outside. The
experience of the artist’s migration translated into the passage of these
scaled-down jumbo jets through his home.

Hiraki’s work had often been likened to children’s dreams, but the artist
himself had spent little time with young people. The hope was that this
collaborative commission with eight Year 3 pupils might provide some insight
into those journeys of imagination we all make, but often lose sight of in
adult life.

The key point in the collaborative process centred on a day-long session for
the artist and pupils. The venue for this was Waterloo Sunset, the Hayward
Gallery’s new glass pavilion that houses the touch screens that would
eventually profile the finished animated film. Experiencing Hiraki’s film
Dwelling (2002), part of the Arts Council Collection, drew each child into a
world where the artist was a magician who could shrink planes into small
apartments. It was done on a computer, but still felt like magic.

The school children’s creation of fantasy flying machines began with sketches
and led to discussion where the children quietly revealed their dream
destinations and these were carefully recorded. Some stalled, but under the
artist’s spell each child in turn came up with a dream location. As an adult, I
was concerned that mere balsa wood and paper might not fulfil their
ambitions for these machines, but Hiraki trained as a sculptor, and the
progression of the children’s ideas from drawing, to structure, to animated
sequence inherently made sense, in relation to his own practice.

Like Lartigue and his brother, it would take hard work and test runs to find
solutions to the inevitable technical challenges. How do you get a cardboard
skateboard’s wheels to turn, or attach wings to a shimmering orange bus, or
house an alien family within something that was still a box even after two
hours’ work? Solutions were found and the objects meticulously documented
before everyone dispersed from the intimate fantasy world we had created
in the glass fishbowl of the Hayward’s pavilion. Dreams were still thick in the
air.

Was all this relevant to the issues those children might face at home or in
school? Had it addressed their sense of identity and would it tick a
curriculum box? The school’s Headmaster refreshingly assumed it would do
all those things by virtue of being a chance for their imaginations to roam
free for a day and their creativity to be released. The narrative of the
resulting film, In here, may primarily have been about where imagination
leads, but it was not necessarily removed from everyday reality because of
this. The hard-to-swallow aspects of life, sometimes so starkly and painfully
realised in postmodernist contemporary practice, were present but less
overtly expressed.

Henry’s mother is ill and, for him, a shimmering home for an alien family
somewhere close to heaven seemed the perfect place to be, while James’


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introspection was broken by his clear statement of intent – to produce a
flying staircase, up which he would always be walking backwards. The
children emulated the artist’s concentration and attention to detail, and in
turn they found that he had respect for their ideas. Reminiscent of the
fantastical world of gaming programmes and more traditional fairy stories,
In here evolved under the pupils’ direction as a magical journey where, ‘the
door to the drum of the washing machine opens onto the dark stretches of
outer space; a funfair is set in the gravel at the bottom of a small fishbowl.’1

The elasticity of this virtual space allowed simple ideas to stretch and gain
substance with the artist remaining conscious of, but not overwhelmed by,
the power and significance of memory and imagination. Hiraki, ‘sees where
his imaginative meanderings lead him’2 and on this occasion opened himself
to the world of these younger voices, enriching their ideas through his
artistic practice of giving ‘meticulous attention to detail with the formal
illusion and composition of imagery, rendering effortlessly the imaginative
leap required to view them.’3 Later, at the first screening of In here,
the participating children began to murmur acknowledgments of individually
identified flying machines and their directions. However, as their voices rose,
they seemed to gather a powerful sense of how, together, they were
integrally part of creating something much more.

Hiraki’s work has since moved from the confines of his London flat to the
muted tones of a friend’s Georgian home in Bath, where a blue wooden
rocking horse has led him to his next commission for the Hayward Gallery. ‘A
child rides a stationary horse and travels to faraway places without ever
leaving the security of his room. The movement of a rocking horse is similar
to that of a cradle, or a swing or a lullaby. It’s about being quiet, it’s about
balance, it’s about being at home and thinking of elsewhere.’ Interactive
touch-screen technology means, ‘the sink leads to a lake, a shelf becomes a
forest, the bed a desert, the light switch a seesaw.’4

My quietly fading rocking horse that has sat at home for so many years
perhaps deserves a fresh lick of paint and a new tail, to replace the one that
was so harshly snipped off. Perhaps he may yet carry new riders to the not-
so-distant place where their imagination may roam. Like Bloomberg, the
sponsors of this latest installation, the commercial world knows that the
unlikely places where creativity can lead are often the places where problems
find their resolution. In realising children’s dreams, Hiraki Sawa has created
new realms of possibilities for our fantasies, whether we are just lying in bed
looking up at the light bulb or trying to see a way forward with our
ordinary, but often challenging, lives.

With thanks to Fiona Craig-Sharples,
Project Coordinator


Notes
1
  Sawa, Hiraki (2004) ‘Rocking Horse (going places sitting down)’, unpublished
proposal for Bloomberg/Hayward Commission, London
2
  Haq, Nav Ed. (2004) Spin Cycle, Spike island and Systemisch, Bristol


3
3
 Ibid.
4
 Sawa, Hiraki (2004) ‘Rocking Horse (going places sitting down)’,
unpublished proposal for Bloomberg/Hayward Commission, London

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

Clare van Loenen has been Head of Public Programmes at the Hayward
Gallery, part of the South Bank Centre, since 2003. The education
programme includes digital and new media projects through the Digital
Extensions (Arts & Business and Lambeth's Education Business Partnership's
‘Raising our Sights’ SRB6 programme) and ‘See Through’ (Paul Hamlyn
Foundation) schemes. The resulting films and animations are available to
view on screen in Dan Graham's Waterloo Sunset pavilion. Previously, she
developed an international, contemporary photography collection at
Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery as part of the Contemporary Arts
Society Special Collections Scheme with funds from the Arts Council Lottery.
The formation of this collection led to her realising the city's first
photography festival, Drawing with Light in 2002.

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

engage is a registered not-for-profit educational association which promotes
access to and understanding of the visual arts through gallery education and
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lifelong learning network in Europe – see www.collectandshare.eu.com),
professional development, advocacy (see www.engage.org).
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and library of relevant reports, evaluations, and research. engage welcomes
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To enquire about copyright, to subscribe to the engage journal or join
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engage is grateful to the Arts Councils of England, Scotland and Wales, to
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European Commission, and to the Esmee Fairbairn and Baring Foundations
for ongoing support.




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