TOPOGRAPHER has just been awarded a VICTORIAN CREATORS FUND grant. This means that I can engage in a research project towards its development. The 4-month-long program will generate new participative art frameworks which involve children and position their perspectives in compelling ways within the adult world. It will develop in relationship with the Boon Wurrung Foundation, Aboriginal anthropologist Suzi Hutchings and senior University of Melbourne anthropologist Monica Minnegal. It is supported by partnerships with the Royal Botanic Gardens and Artplay.
TOPOGRAPHER activates children’s innate love of treasure hunts and magical thinking, to reimagine built and natural landscapes, then frame their perspective for an adult audience.
Picture a tree with a history, stones that speak, and buildings with feelings. Topographer invites a ‘tuning in’ to a particular place and to the the unique poetic logic of children. It empowers kids with permission to connect on their own terms with public spaces, which have been deeply modified by adults and adult logical thinking.
Artist Jessica Wilson works with up to 24 children (6 – 12 years old) in 5 x 5 hour sessions to develop unique stories and map them onto the chosen site. Each site will hold up to 10 different story paths to be experienced simultaneously by audience members each armed with a child created map and a RFID swipe card specific to one path.
This ‘performance of place’ works by audience members locating the 6 to 8 art-directed control stands that make up their individual path. For example, I am an audience member given Harry’s journey. Harry’s map directs me to each control station where I wave my card to hear a new section of his recorded narrative. The audio is specific to the location and is heard via directional speakers attached to the station.
The landscape becomes a theatre, the children are its performers and the audience is active in a process of listening whilst simultaneously seeing the relevant physical elements - both micro and massive - from the child-chosen vantage point.
Topographer engages children in a process of ‘listening’ through walking the land, at the beginning of each project. This stage will be led by a traditional elder or guest representative in each location and it consciously avoids eduating kids on existing stories of that place, rather focuses on ‘tuning in’ in a particular way.
The participant makers then undergo a process of finding faces and creatures and considering the personalities of existing formations and structures. They build a bank of actions and characters and are guided in the shaping of stories from this material. They each create physical maps of the sites, construct control stand icons which connect to symbols on their maps, and play with the positioning of their story journey on the maps. Lastly they record voice segments, and assist with assembling those segments into the playback system. They have fun testing each other’s journey’s prior to the public seasons.
The public outcome is run from a standard box office or outside marquee similar to an orienteering event. Six to eight new audience individuals or groups can set off every 5 minutes each following a different path, some with shared control stands. Up to 100 audience can experience Topographer per hour and the project can be realised as a permanent or semi-permanent offering.