Galleries, Photography and Field Weeks

At least twice a term the art dept. hired a bus to take us to London to Museums, Art Galleries and Exhibitions. We usually split up once we got there, we would all know where we were going to take our students. I had taken mine to the V and A and somewhere along the line, (I can’t remember exactly where) we came across Stewart Brisley doing a performance piece. The students were interested and enthralled and asked if they could spend a day collectively making a performance piece to be held in a public place. Stewart Brisley is a Marxist and his pieces reflect his thinking. We had a group discussion and they decided they wanted to do something about the boredom and greyness of unfulfilling jobs and the effect it might have on peoples psyche. We allowed one morning for making the set and clothes and the afternoon for the performance. It was summer and  they decided to perform it on the lawn outside the main entrance door.

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Textile students building the performance space with bamboo poles and plastic sheeting that they had covered with graffiti, it also had plastic sheeting on the floor.

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The floor was covered with detritus. the table with unwashed plates and cups, empty milk bottle etc.

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In the morning they had ‘distressed and spray painted old clothes and smeared their faces with ash. Here they are in ‘performance’ Each student did the same menial task over and over again. One person was endlessly chopping onions into smaller and smaller pieces. Lyn was carrying a jug of water emptying it. refilling it and carrying it back,over and over again, Brian was tearing up newspaper into small squares drawing a circle on them and dropping them into a bin. etc, Nine of them had defined the repetitive task they would do. They managed to do it continually with expressionless faces for an hour. They didn’t laugh and took it very seriously trying to show the soul destroying nature of some menial work. They did that in spite of onlookers trying to distract them or laughing at them. I felt very proud that they had understood what Stewart Brisley was doing and fully committed to making a piece themselves collectively.

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          Cyril Mount, head of dept and his painting students looking in bemused!

At about this time photography was coming into art schools, not in it’s own right (unless it was a dedicated photography course) but as a tool for visual research alongside sketch books. I bought six SLR cameras, two basic but good Pentax 1000 and four, rather horrible to handle, but reasonable effective Russian Zeniths. I also had an ultra violet lamp. This meant that we could make photographic silk screens. The photography opened up all sorts of new opportunities.

One of the best and most productive things that the art dept did was to take all third year students away for a field week two weeks into the autumn term. We used the week as a way of generating ideas that could possibly lead to a body of work for their final exam exhibition. Some already knew what they would be doing. We all understood, staff as well as students, that we would be try to be  receptive to the sense of place and we would all sketch, make notes and take photographs. In the evening we had a session discussing our work, then off to the pub (or bed). We alternated between north and south, one year our base would be Ilkley and Yorkshire the next year Weymouth and Dorset. We got cheap out of season hotels. The hotel in Ilkley was like something out of the Munsters complete with clanking pipes. In Weymouth the landlady crammed six two tier bunk beds in her normal rooms. It’s hard to believe now but the students didn’t have to pay anything (except for the evening visit to the pub)

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On one of our Dorset trips I got interested in growth and decay with all it’s implications of time passing. It provided enough ideas for a years of my work too.

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Below. Black and white photo, turned into a transparency ready to put on a silk screen for printing and over printing.Oct29 wormwood                    oct29hi contrast

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Students walking to Gordale Scar. I have vertigo and couldn’t climb up the waterfall the first year. The next time I was hauled up but I can’t say that I enjoyed the climb, but it’s worth it when you get to the top and see the clints above Malham Cove.

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Below…it was not all natural things and landscape. We used to go to the old railway museum in a big shed next to Yok railway station. It wasn’t posh and elegant like the present one but a glorious hotch potch of every time of machine you could think of, great for drawing. One student based her whole years work on observations made in the museum

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Screen print based on drawings made in the railway museum

One boarding house we stayed was full of knick knacks in both the house and the garden. Another student spent her year exploring ‘kitsch’ and trying to define it. She then consciously tried to make work that lived up to her definition.

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I really missed the field week when I came to work at Christchurch apart from anything else it was a good way to bond together. On the last day we asked them to leave something in the landscape. Part of a poem by Thomas Traherne has always meant a lot to me

You never enjoy the earth aright,  till the sea itself floweth in your veins

oct29youI walked from Durdle Door back to Lulworth Cove leaving that quotation behind meoct29never

oct29enjoy                                      The world is a flint stone in a chalk cave.

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