Heather and Ivan Morison’s exhibition documents their 2013-15 project Shadow Curriculum, initiated as part of SLG Local. Over the two year period the artists worked in close partnership with teachers and students at Highshore School, a mixed needs special secondary school in south London, to transform a Douglas fir tree into a permanent work for the school’s new premises, which opened in June 2014.
The central preoccupations of Heather and Ivan Morison’s practice are how we navigate catastrophe and the essential struggle with change, from a wider social view to how individuals transcend moments of personal calamity. The period of transition for Highshore School presented the opportunity for the artists to investigate ideas around rootedness and transformation further, as well as to engage explicitly in a dialogue about redefining the limitations of where, and how, it is possible for artists to work.
Shadow Curriculum launched in June 2013 with the felling of a 34m-high Douglas fir tree in a forest in Sussex. The tree was transported to Highshore School in Peckham, where it was installed in the school playground and played a central role in the school arts programme. Heather Morison ran a series of workshops with the pupils to explore ways in which the tree might be transformed, what kind of object it could become, and what meaning it could have in advance of the school’s re-location to a new building in Camberwell.
Whilst at the school in Peckham, the tree went through several stages of change. The tree was stripped of its bark, the entire trunk was then carved by-hand with a geometric diamond pattern reminiscent of the wooden roof tiles on Norwegian stave churches, and finally it was protected and preserved with a natural pine tar giving it a dark, matt finish.
In May 2014 a special celebration marked the transportation of the tree to the school’s new premises in Camberwell. To reach the site, the tree was drawn on wooden carts by six Friesian horses through the streets of south London, decorated with colourful flags and banners made by the Highshore students. The project culminated with the tree being raised into a vertical position in the new playground, towering above the school building, and acting as a permanent symbol of Highshore’s unique spirit.
The exhibition in the first floor galleries features a filmed documentary of the work and process of Shadow Curriculum, shot and edited by Pete Telfer. Also on display are specific objects which document the two-year-long project and the range of materials and outcomes created with the pupils at Highshore School.
Sponsored by Bloomberg as part of SLG Local. With thanks to Highshore School and Frances Williams.