Ageism can be defined as “any attitude, action, or institutional structure, which subordinates a person or group because of age or any assignment of roles in society purely on the basis of age” [Matteson & McConnell, 1988]. This statement formed part of the enlightened and exciting proposal presented by the artist Mat Hand, to Junction Arts.
Mat, is based in Berlin and graduated in Contemporary Arts [BA Hons] from Nottingham Trent University in 2001. His many commissions include work with a diversity of agencies, including local authorities, social initiatives, construction companies, public arts organisations and private individuals. His work often reflects the issues surrounding social and cultural separation and it is this integral aspect, which defined the essence of this project.
Working with the elder women of the community and the students provided an opportunity for the oral transferral of knowledge, and by sharing in the process, a new and rich aspect of engagement was developed.
On recognising the innovative and participatory potential of this work, Junction Arts proceeded, to find an appropriate site, and partner in Frederick Gent School, in South Normanton, Derbyshire. Previous collaborations between the school, community and organisation had formed an established relationship, providing the vital energy and trust required for such a large-scale project and installation.
The strength of the project lay firstly in the proposal, secondly in the response from the school, and thirdly, the generosity of the local community, and in particular Denis Denely, a highly respected local historian, who facilitated invitations to meet the elderly women, and literally, ‘opened doors’, providing to be an invaluable member of the team.
From the onset, Mike Ainsley, the Head Teacher, was enthusiastic and supportive of the proposal and assisted the Project Manager from Junction Arts at the presentation with the Board of Directors and staff. His belief in expanding the experience of the students by the interaction with a practicing professional artist was a key element in the project being able to proceed. The Art Department, lead by Simon Grey, offered inspiration to the artist and gave considerable support and advice at all levels. In the future, the department intends to advance the legacy of the work into the extended art curriculum, providing structure and thought provoking ideas for future visual exploration.
Three large photographic images were produced and installed in the courtyard of the school. The artist selected portraits, of Edna Iliffe, Jane Johnson and Helena Mary Andrews, but all participants received personal portraits of themselves.
A special ‘knowledge-sharing’ event took place at the end of the project, and this played a major role in the culmination and celebration of the work. This celebratory event included a coming together of all participants, music, refreshments and the giving of gifts to the women. As part of the special day, students within the humanities department developed a series of questions to discuss with the elderly guests that would become an extended language…a pedagogical tool for the future.
This work provided challenges to all concerned, but at no stage did enthusiasm and integrity falter. All participants and partners felt that they had been part of something really special that pushed personal and social boundaries. What this installation really represents runs much deeper than creating local celebratory. It brings many key social issues to the fore exploring individual identity and social isolation within communities. In essence, ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’ makes you stop and think again. One thing we learnt was that the legacy left from this project was far greater than we could have imagined.”