The catalyst for this study tour is the River Voices project that was developed as a unit of work for Year 9 Visual Arts students. The unit of work is the based on the work of Campement Urbain in Penrith of the Future/ The Future of Penrith. It was built from the questions in Campement Urbain’s initial research. Before they drew and planned, they listened to the people of Penrith through a series of interviews. They asked the community what they valued and what they imagined for Penrith.
Overwhelmingly the Nepean River was nominated as the place that could and should define the identity of Penrith. As part of the Campement Urbain plan, there was a proposal for a river festival to highlight the significance of the River, identified by the public as being the best asset to the community. In 2012 and in 2014, students presented their responses to this idea in site-specific installation works at Tench Reserve on the Nepean. Their brief was to represent the voices of the community in their works.
In 2014, River Voices was a collaborative project across classes in both schools. Throughout the project, students from both Visual Arts classes and their teachers, Karen King from Caroline Chisholm College and Steve Lewis from St Dominic’s College, worked together to develop the work. Students exchanged ideas and images of their works as the project progressed.
The largest installation comprised 300 lino block printed flags attached to steel rods, creating a drift of patterns and designs towards the river. The flags were printed to reflect the colour and movement of the river and enabled the audience to interact with the artwork.
Using the symbolic reference to messages in a bottle, students created a collaborative photographic installation with hundreds of bottles suspended from a tree on the reserve. Students took a series of portrait photographs of family and friends that were placed inside the bottles representing the community of Penrith. One the back of each photo was a message stating the significance of the River to that person from the community. On the day of the installation the general public were invited to add their voice to the installation by filling in additional postcard images to contribute to the artwork.