The morning session
During the latter half of last week students have been doing inductions into different workshop areas, such as ceramics, plaster, wood and metal, they now return to the studio and are asked to carry on with the transformation brief.
I give them a talk and performance as a kick off for the day. This is designed to get them to change focus and give them a very simple example of how everyday experiences can lead to deeply relevant principles of making and construction.
I stand at the front holding my coffee cup. I explain that what I am going to do is expound a principle to work to that will be derived from me standing in front of them holding said coffee cup. The first thing I do is point out how the top of the cup is a very neat rolled edge, it operates structurally, as a rolled edge of card is more robust than a simple edge and it is aesthetically satisfying because it forms a visual full stop to the way the eye works around the form. A similar thing is going on with the base, this time it is inset and typography runs round the inside edge, thus reinforcing an awareness of another visual ‘ending’.
I then examine myself. I’m wearing a cardigan, the cuffs, waist and neck areas are all transition points and the direction of knit changes to accommodate this. I examine my shoes, and point out how the stitching makes us aware of the edges and gives an indication of jointing structure. I look at seams from the inside as well as from the outside and explain how important they are to an understanding of form.
Finally I look at my body, how my hair (what’s left of it) indicates that movement upwards is coming to an end, my fingernails indicate that the arm experience is coming to a full stop etc. I then turn to the students and point out how they instinctively elaborate these things. Painted nails, hair styles etc. These become moments of focus and direct us to certain areas of a form.
Comparisons are made between the way students decorate themselves and the way form could be treated. Is the equivalence of painting toes blue the dipping of the edge of your sculptural form in blue paint? The thin blue edge can be read as visually stopping the form and at the same time turning the edge into a focal point.
Students are asked to focus therefore on edge quality, joints and changes in visual focus that can become apparent as they themselves decide to heighten an awareness of differing aspects of the forms they are working with. For instance one student is sticking wire to the wall with tape, how many different tapes can she use, should it be torn or cut, how big should the tape surface be, should the wire go straight into the wall, using a fine drill to make this, are there other fixings available from elsewhere that would do the job? It’s all about precision of decision making.
One new material is added to the stock they have to work from. It is a huge roll of corrugated cardboard. This will enable more 3D orientated students to extend scale, construction and surface. Students working in 2D are asked to consider how mark-surface meets mark-surface. Butting, overlapping, blending, hard to soft, sharp to broken, sudden transition, blended transition etc.
Transformations continue through the morning and students are spoken to on a one to one basis in order to indentify how well they are responding to the process and to check how their own sensibilities are coming through.
During the morning session (as a thought for breakout) a short talk on paper is given, how it is made and why its manufactured, how whiteness and purity is related to modernism, how deckle v cut edges are made, what the difference between rag and wood fibre papers is and how material ‘histories’ provide different possible wider contexts because of where the materials for papers comes from. For instance paper made from old clothes carries a different meaning to paper made from decaying vegetable matter. The issue being that changes in the direction a student might take a piece of work may come from following the implication of a conceptual understanding rather than a formal one.
Students are given a talk by a photography technician. Told where cameras are available, when they will get photography inductions and that both black and white (chemical) and digital modes are supported. There will be workshops on lighting, working with differing film stocks etc.
The studio session starts with a talk on scale and documentation. Students are reminded of how important scale is to us and how we react to it. Then they are reminded of the need to keep documenting the process, and that by careful selection they can make things appear massive or tiny, it’s all about point of view.
One to one studio floor tutorials continue to take place all afternoon and we stop and clear every now and again and redisplay what has been achieved during the day. More students are now using the floor and ceiling spaces to engage with the work. A short walk and talk finishes the session whereby before students clear up the various incidental products of working processes are picked up. How charcoal dust spreads around someone’s working area and how shapes are being made within the dust shapes by furniture operating as a form of stencil, how bits of discarded torn paper are collecting to make an informal backbone, how the edges of a piece of paper that had once been used to make a painted straight line with, are now a fascinating combination of precision and informality. We are always looking for things that have been overlooked or discarded as having possibility for development. This it is pointed out is something artists offer as a gift to the world. We see possibilities in things others dismiss as rubbish. Students are asked to make notes and carry on thinking about this overnight.