At Walker Technology College we worked with the year 8 Geography class and teacher Louise. We had an entire day with them to explore their worlds with two artists: Jessica Dolby and Ben Jones.
Jessica talked about her walks in Budapest and her process of leaving abstract artworks Blu-tacked to walls, left to their fate and weather. Ben described his work in Bensham, Gateshead, including local children’s views on where they lived. Geography suddenly seemed very different to the usual official maps pinned to the classroom walls.
The Walker Tech year 8s were an endearing lot. At first they were uncertain about scribbling on maps or the importance of their own geography but they warmed to it. As the maps started to be drawn out and brought to life we are taken into a very local geography of home, computer games, McDonalds, graveyards, bus stops, pets and Facebook. The work was highly personal. At times we felt we were intruding although the students seem more matter of fact. Much of Tyneside beyond Walker did not exist except the occasional far flung friend’s house.
The contents of maps are beautiful, intimate but not worldly, or much beyond the threshold of home and family. Half of them write that they want to leave for California or South Africa. Parts of Walker (and Newcastle) are portrayed as dirty, rubbish strewn, smelly and noisy. On the other hand Newcastle is very friendly, the maps say. Walker was their safe world, often a simple circle around the whole area: Planet Walker. One boy scribbles out all of Gateshead as not liked because of being shouted out when he was fishing there aged 4.
Their trudge to school lines are dog legged, seldom straight or direct routes. One girls explains her route goes via a friends, her brother’s and Martins (a shop, it turns out. She assumes I know, but it is several maps later that the ubiquity of Martins is made clear). One boy’s route goes from home, via a friend’s house and his nana and another nana. Another girl’s from home via her dad’s. There is a strong sense of close knit families and fine grained disruption.