At the end of our week long residency in the ‘school holiday time’ art department of Huish Episcopi Academy, Natalie put forward some questions to provide a structure for reflection. So I’ll use them.
1) What have you learnt?
How good it is to have time for learning, for making, for being around other artists making. It made me miss Dartington College of Arts again, and all those immersive environments where everyone around you, everyone you encounter in the day, is thinking about, reading about, and making, art. Brilliant.
About the practices, processes and approaches used by each of the artists in the group – each of the sessions run by each member of the group was different in structure and approach, and I really benefited from the diversity, from the sharing of knowledge and experience.
About how visual artists think about and work with materials, and how that might influence and be integrated my work which is mainly live, social or moving image.
How to make a lithoprint from a colour photocopy from Jenny Graham – this was really an exceptionally interesting process.
How to make a cyanotype.
About erractic rocks.
2) What has surprised you?
I’ve been reminded about how incredibly diverse and unique each person’s responses are to any trigger or task that they are given. For example, after talking about her practice around geology, performance and duration, Isobel invited us to undertake any activity or task that we wanted to for around an hour. That was the gist of the trigger – it was simple and completely open. After a brief moment, everyone set off on their exploration, with Issy’s proposal whirring in their heads, with commitment, with enquiry. When we returned, the diversity of the things that people had chosen to do and make was really something: the systems and actions, the range and diversity of responses – it was great to be reminded that there’s no telling what can happen. I need more of that.
3) What would you do differently?
Prepare the space so that it’s not covered with student artwork – I found that quite oppressive, and never quite settled into the space. I loved the big tables to work on and the sense of materials and artwork being around us, but the images were too dominating. I never knew where to put my things down in the space.
More time sharing making processes and allowing for experimentation and exchange – these were the most valuable sessions to me.
Have a very different kind of artist give a presentation and trigger to us during the week – something that would have really rattled and challenged us as artists in this context – about politics, diversity, activism perhaps.
A session about how we work in relation to Somerset – what does this context mean and do for us?.
4) Who have you particularly enjoyed working with/listening to, and why?
Working with all the other artists in the group – I so appreciated learning about their work, their ideas and how they make, and why. That felt very good and will stay with me – it energised me. What binds us together is that we all live in Somerset, and it was good to have that sense of connection as a result of physical geography, even though our practices are distinctively different.
I enjoyed the car journeys with Issy from Frome to Langport during that week. It was interesting to talk about stuff on the way there, and reflect on the way back too. And to listen to the CDs/ podcasts that people had made.
5) What have you personally gained in participating in these five days? Or is there one particular session that has had an impact?
The session on the second day with Mary Caddick was interesting for me. Mary ran the session really well, but somehow I didn’t take to it. But it had an impact, even so. I’m not fond of immediately connecting making with meaning – to analyse work as I’m making or to look for meaning in literal ways, like symbolism and representation; I can feel myself backing away, I feel too under the spotlight, too aware of reading into it – I want the doing to make meaning, not my head. I felt discomfort at the feeling of being seen and read while making visual work, so it wasn’t open for me. Was I trying too hard? To what degree did I censor what I made?
Mary also said one very very useful thing for me that affected me the rest of the week, and I think others too: feel free to copy someone else’s work – that was great. It unlocked some unspoken rule in us as artists, that everything we make had to be ‘ours’, and come from our individuality. Something changed in our group when Mary said that.
That I want to make visual work too. And that I think and feel differently when I work with images physically rather than digitally.
Sometimes I gained most from the things that I didn’t think I would. Jenny brought in some automated piano music rolls as a trigger. At the start, it was already so ladened with what it was that I couldn’t get outside of it. Then suddenly I took it to the photocopier and a whole world opened up. Again, it’s hard to predict when something will occur, when something ‘works’. This is so interesting! This reiterates the need for time to play so that materials and processes reveal themselves.
6) How do you feel this week has been a successful ‘model’ for a potential art school OR what would you have done differently if you were to run this same activity again?
The week itself was great for me and I really looked forward to every day. It was a good model for an ‘art school’ as a place of learning and exchange.
Hold it in a barn, a shed, an industrial estate, a shipping container – somewhere rough, practical, and not connected to an existing educational establishment.
Perhaps a block of 2 days, then 2 days off and then 3 days. 4 days in a row was intense (I’m glad we had the weekend after the first day).
Stronger coordination of the basic structure surrounding the residency so that we didn’t need to spend so much time talking and planning (especially around things like the website). This would have created more time for us as participants to share practice in the run up to the residency.
More time to share ideas about what it is to learn as an artist – what are we each looking for?
7) What frustrated you and why?
The idea that we could make consensus decisions as a group in the planning process, but without the time, full knowledge of the resources and the holding framework to make those decisions.
Too much time spent talking and planning, and not enough focus on art and making.
8) How did you respond to the context of the school? If at all.
The idea of being in an art department in a school appealed to me in a kind of ironic ‘back at school but not at school’ kind of way. I like the strange formality of it somehow. But when we were there, I found it a distracting space. It made me think about doing art at secondary school, and Miss Garland not recommending I continue at 13 because I couldn’t draw very well, and what an abject failure that whole time had been for me, how many years it set me back. What a tight class, such a rigid narrow structure – I would have loved to have studied art and art history. A door closed when I was 13. These stories are all over many peoples lives. Somehow being at Huish allowed me to reflect on that, and to notice my real enthusiasm for learning a new process, for seeing how a process unfolds, how an image appears through your hands. But as for the school? – every day I wake up glad I don’t have to go to school …
Finally. Prospectus was a contributing factor in me starting an Art Club in Frome, Somerset.