Last week, I ditched the weather in Wellington and headed off for Whanganui to attend their annual Summer School of The Arts . My good friend and fellow artist, Adele Jackson had been there on previous occasions and I was keen to give it a go myself. The timing was perfect, almost… I had a workshop to run at Te Papa for the Pompeii exhibition, making snake bands with kids, take down my velvet exhibition, throw it in the car and drive up to Whanganui- just in time for the evening BBQ after the first full day of the Michel Tuffery sculpture workshop.
I’ve found it doesn’t pay to arrive a day late- it wasn’t that everyone had already bonded, it was just that I found all the best spots in the studio had gone and I was left with just a chair in the middle of the floor. Luckily I’m not shy and daunted by being at the centre of everything. Besides I had Michel right beside me to help me wrestle with the large fish template we were all asked to make up. And what a nice man he is. Full of good humour, organised studio practice and flat whites for everyone, Michel took us through the art of sculpture with cardboard scavenged from home appliance stores, reinterpretation of the form, stencil making, graffing (not graphing which would be the accounting course), tagging (and obliterating tagging) and a high tea. Yes, cup cakes and sculpture were combined for a public event in the atrium and everyone enjoyed the fruits of our labour. I can’t say I did any cooking myself though there was a sugar craft course on offer at Ucol too which looked delectable.
The media is interesting though… word got out that some of the course participants would burn their sculptures as part of their artistic expression- an act that is explained in Thaw Nang’s blog post about burning sketchbooks. This prompted reports that effigy burning would take place as a mandatory part of the course. We had a small trail of students from felting and mezzotinting workshops asking when the burning would take place and did we have to and how did we feel about that? ‘I’m not burning mine’ I said, ‘it took too bloody long to make and look at the glue gun burns I have sustained’. Mind you, there were times when it all sprang apart that I could have cheerfully flicked a zippo under it right there in the building.
When the burning did take place, it was a private affair for the students. We all took off to Kai-iwi beach with fish and chips, sculptures, petrol cans and cameras. It was one of those nights and landscapes that makes you deeply grateful to be in New Zealand. Four fish were lit and blazed in the dimming light and I suddenly got why people do this. It is about the temporary nature of existence, the absence of ego and the completion of an idea. Think it, make it, let it go.
As for me, well I stuffed my fish into the boot of the car to bring it home to my studio. I’m not quite ready to give it up yet, but when I do, I’ll let you know. In the meantime I’ve started writing some non-fiction about creativity, and in it I will be encouraging anyone, artist or not, to try taking themselves off to a summer school of art. You have no idea what you might discover.