Intergenerational Sculpture Workshops

Stadtwerk Lehen, Salzburg, Austria is a fantastic area for teens and children to gather in a safe environment and create together.  By providing a framework of sculpture workshops we gave them the opportunity to explore and co-investigate. 
    We began by giving several introductory presentations in Stadtwerk Lehen community rooms in collaboration with Spektrum youth centre, Kinderhilfewerk at the spring and autumn festivals. We provided a special info-afternoon just for the children in Stadtwerk Lehen, as well. Here children and teenagers in Lehen, Salzburg had the possibility to ask questions to HartwigMülleitner, who was the professional sculptor that would be teaching them, so that they could see what their possibilities were.
   We had many discussions with Spektrum youth center, who ran the spiel-bus (play-bus) there.  Vera who is a social worker at Spektrum, who works closely with the children in Stadtwerk Lehen area, told us about the lack of spaces in which the kids could play and sit.  She showed us the area  under the concrete housing where some table tennis tables had been placed.  The area looked bare and in need of some colour.  So we talked about how we could design, together with teens and children from Lehen, colourful sculptures that would brighten up the area and that they could sit and play upon. 
    At first we recruited a group of teenagers from 15-17 from Lehen.  In Fotohof`s extensive library we looked at sculpture books, particularly from the traditional figurative, sculptural cannon.  We explored those sculptors that were concerned with the human form such as Auguste Rodin but also those that had a mannerist style such as Michaelangelo. 
         We explained to the teenagers what the children in Stadtwerk Lehen needed: sculptures that they could identify with as well as play and sit on. These sculptures needed to be colourful and cheerful in such a bare area consumed by concrete.  Without hesitation the teens bounced ideas off each other, making pen sketches of their ideas. Jake Street and I facilitated the process by asking questions so that they could explore and expand further.  Knowing that the sculptures were mostly for children aged from 3-12 that made up the largest demographic in that area, they decided on an big elephant, like in Fantasia or Dumbo that they could play and sit upon.  Influenced by Rodin and Michelangeo, the teens thought of the diverse community in Stadtwerk Lehen. Small international families from different parts of Eastern and South East Europe, live in one space at Stadtwerk Lehen, Salzburg. They thought, like Rodin, how they could carve these diverse people into the Ytong and have them stand there as a lasting representation of themselves, created by this new generation full of hope and promise.  The mother in their sketches reminded me of the Venus of Willendorf, a pregnant and earthy a symbol of a spiritual gardner bringing fresh hope and promise.  It was clear that the teens had captured the spirit and essence of the community and were ready to begin putting their sketches into form. 
         Our plan was, as facilitators to guide the older teenagers to start the process and the younger teens to join once the sculptures had taken shape.  This is a process that allows greater intergenerational learning and sharing of skills. The older teens gain more responsibility and become teachers themselves, so that they can learn their own learning and teaching strategies.  The younger teens generally have more respect for those older teenagers that are closer to their age and feel important and included into their world, which gives them a greater sense of motivation and responsibility as well. This kind of learning bridges responsibilities and community between the generations where, without this, there is usually conflict.
teenagers kissing/Stadtwerk Lehen
Brancusi "The Kiss" 

The difficult part was moving large blocks of Ytong, which is like a soft concrete, into the space where the sculpture was to stand and to start chiseling from scratch, forming the elephant seat that the children would be able to sit and play on.  They had to form the firgures that would be representing the Stadtwerk Lehen community as well.  Hartwig guided the teens to mix some concrete paste, so that the block could be stuck together and set to stay in place.  In order to start shaping the sculptures, the teenagers drew on the Ytong blocks. They sketched the outline of an elephant on one the blocks of Ytong and on another they drew figures, representing the community.  What was interesting that the teenagers stuck to their concept of bringing out the diversity of the people living in Stadtwerk Lehen.  For instance, there was a young boy, a couple kissing-just like the teenagers themselves and I noted how similar this looked to the sculpture of Brancusi entitled The Kiss-an old man, some young people and a mother. 
As the teenagers began to chisel away, the younger teens that had been playing football came curiously over to the sculptures that were in the making.  The older teenagers responded to their curiosity and showed them how to chisel away at the Ytong.  Seeing that they were keen to try, we fitted them with safety glasses and they joined in at first tentatively, and then confidently, shaping the very characters that were representing the community that they were a part of.
          Meanwhile, the older teenagers were discussing with the other block of Ytong how they should carve an elephant.  At first they thought about having the face at the front, but then they changed to having the face at the side and a cut away seat at the front, that would be carved into the elephant`s body.  This is so that there could be a proper seat for the children.  In doing so, they were making the actual construction of the sculpture harder for them to do, but nevertheless, they wanted to maximize the comfort and safety for the children in Stadtwerk Lehen that would be sitting and playing on it for years to come.
         More of the younger teens began wandering over from playing football. We fuelled their curiosity by giving them camera to film and take pictures of their neighbours and friends who were joining in, making the sculptures.  The sense of community began to grow stronger, boys and girls and young and older teens mixed.  Without parental supervision, there were often conflicts, with little to focus upon except each other.  Now that the teens and children had something to focus upon, a common goal to work towards that was indeed a representation of the community that they belonged to, there was less conflict and instead curiosity, unification and a sense of belonging.  More and more children and teenagers joined, sensing this spirit, knowing that by joining in, they would be part of building something together of which they were an integral part.
         In order to set the forms that they had created and so that we could paint the sculptures in many different colours we had to cover Ytong material with paste and leave it over night.  As we took pictures of the white sculptures, elegant and minimalistic before the painting workshops begun, we were reminded of Greek Sculptures that we see in museums and books today: white, cream and neutral.  However, we forget that there was a time when these Greek sculptures were colourful as well.  Bright, garish colours, often in primary colours, a far cry from those classic and refined cream surfaces we see displayed today.  When we had begun the sculpture workshops, we had given the older teens pictures of Michelangelo colourless sculptures for their inspiration.  Looking at what they had created out of the Ytong, I could see these influences being brought out through their own creativity.  At first it seemed a shame to cover over these creations that seemed so pure without a speck of colour, but we were reminded that in the tradition of the Ancient Greek sculptures, they too were enlivened with colour.
         The following day, we started mixing the paints and the younger teenagers excitedly skipped over to join us.  As both the older teens and facilitators guided them through the process, there was less careful craft work and more exploratory efforts coming from the younger teens.  Our first reaction was to slow down the process, but then as we allowed the younger ones to take a more central role than they had done during the actual sculpting process, then, we saw that they were taking ownership of the artwork.  We realized that this multi-focus of the older teenagers in the first, more difficult part and the younger teens in the second part, was what brought them and the artwork into a more collaborative effort.  The painting upon the sculptures was not as polished as it would have been if the older generation had continued to take the major role, but we realized that this is what gave the sculptors their charm.  Furthermore, the younger children would be the ones that would be playing and sitting upon the sculptures the most and so, giving them almost complete free reign over the painting helped them to identify with more with the sculptures being an integral part of their creation and community.
It is important, whenever working with these kinds of workshops, to allow the process to show you the way and not to control the process too much.  Teens and children need guidance and structure so that their creativity be facilitated to a concrete form, however, it is important to allow flexibility within that process so that not only the target group learns, but also the facilitators explore and learn as well, so that everyone becomes co-investigators in the project and in the process everyone is transformed for the better.