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Session one:

‘Making Sculpture – View from the Studio’

A conversation between studio assistants and collaborators chaired by Jenny Dunseath, feat. Olivia Bax, Neil Ayling, Hamish Black and John Wallbank.

(I didn’t take notes until Session 2. However, I am still digesting the gist of what was discussed and will add to this when I have time. It won’t be attributed to any one speaker, however, but will be an overall impression that I was able to glean from the conversations being had on the platform and in the audience about Tony Caro’s working methods in his studio. Very interesting stuff.)

 

Session two:

‘Teaching the New Sculpture – Saint Martins in the 60s’

A presentation by Elena Crippa based on her research of the CSM Frank Martin Archive. Followed by a discussion panel including former students and teachers at St Martin’s in the early days: Bill Tucker and Tim Scott – sadly, Phillip King couldn’t make it for health reasons.

Points I found interesting: The first Sculpture class only had 6 full time students – there were a lot more part time students though.

‘The New Generation’ Exhibition 1965 (@ the Whitechapel Gallery)
showed 6 artists, only 3 of whom were from St Martins (and not necessarily students there at the same time as one another), and others who went on to teach there. (I think they said 2 were RCA students and one from the Slade).

Pedagogy of the Sculpture course at St Martin’s at the time:

A fresh perspective on Materials: found objects, industrial and natural, and a leap towards abstraction, but with figuration as it’s basis (not abstraction for the sake of the abstract). Figure drawing lessons continued, but there were also Bauhaus lessons relating to architecture. Armatures, assemblage, welding were commonly used there for making sculpture at St Martin’s, but you had to earn the right to use the basement workshops by making work in clay and plaster from the figure in the upstairs classrooms.

David Smith’s abstract work in NY in the 50s was a huge influence on everyone, especially Caro, but his work was both abstract and figurative.

Performance was used in the sculpture department as a sculpture teaching tool. Situational projects were initiated by Caro and other teachers to stimulate the interaction and communication between the students, to open up their conception about sculpture. Dynamic attempts to find gestures for their sculpture. Breaking with past procedures and function of lectures and studio practices. A lesson might entail students’ making a sculpture using people as elements – sometimes dubbed ‘sculptural phys ed’ – in an attempt to stimulate people’s creativity, help them feel what it was like from the inside of a gesture, but was never intended to make the performative exercises stand in for the work itself. (However, students began to do just that). The point was to reconstruct themselves as objects and relate to each other as objects. Using bodies to define, measure and mark space in relation to one’s body or other bodies. And where movement occurred around and within the space, the idea was that they were Human Mobiles, rather than a performance for the sake of performance. But for Barry Flanagan, Bruce McLean, and Gilbert and George, performance was the thing.

Michael Fried in 1969 talked about Caro’s sculpture being more akin to Rodin figurative gesture rather than pure abstract or decorative works – his sculptures were surrogates of the human figure.

Phillip King, former student of Caro’s, who later taught with him and Edward Paolozzi at St Martin’s, agreed that the sculpture was a substitute for the human presence.

(Apologies if my note taking of the presentation isn’t that thorough or enlightening. More can be researched via CSM documentation in the Frank Martin Archive)

Onto the panel discussion with William (Bill) Tucker & Tim Scott.

Tim was one of the part time students – he took a life class while an architecture student (round the corner at AA), then he went to the sculpture department and he joined in Tony’s classes. These were early days when Tony was still doing figurative work at the time, but trying to transform his own work (influenced by the David Smith show he saw in NY). Caro brought that desire for transformation in his own work into the class/studio, and that ethos about change and experimentation was transferred to the students. He added on a more characterful note that Caro could be quite jolly, but he also could be rather aggressive, trying to cajole students into transforming their conventional ways of looking at figurative models.

Evening classes were mainly taken up by the part timers (who worked during the day), but they developed into ‘experimentation evenings’, to stimulate people into making things differently, using unusual materials, found objects, but also new ways of using the more traditional clay, wax, plaster. But stressed that found objects were very much the fashion in sculpture at the time.

Bill read History at Oxford first, but was also interested in contemporary art, and started going to life classes at the Ruskin (along with Americans on the GI bill). He remembers John Updike was there. Bill would often hitch-hike to London from Oxford to visit the galleries. Holland Park sculpture show ‘1950s/1850s’ (Sculpture 1857-1957) in particular was a big influence – he says he was knocked out by Henry Moore’s ‘Seated Warrior’ (Warrior with Shield, 1953-4) and Liz Frink’s ‘Standing Warrior’ (Warrior, 1957). Back at Oxford, he made figures with clay. He worked from his drawings of the figure rather than live models.

He applied to St Martin’s after finishing Oxford. Principal Morse and Frank Martin were the heads of the school at the time, and Bill says they had a very difficult relationship. Basically, Morse didn’t take him on as a student. He went to Central School instead, but it was at Central that he found out about Caro’s class at St Martin’s and decided to check it out. He found Caro too aggressive and obnoxious, so he stomped out. But then he decided to come back to St Martin’s because he preferred the free access they gave to the welding workshop there, as opposed to Central where you couldn’t use the equipment without going through this whole pain in the neck procedure with getting the key. So this time, Frank Martin took him on. He avoided Caro as much as possible, and stayed downstairs in the welding room with the Israelis (he mentions Buky Schwartz as an example).

Tim had finished his studentship in ’59 and worked in Paris, then came back in ’61. He said when he came back that Basement space was very active with stone carving and welding, etc. He was also very influenced by David Smith’s work, having discovered him at the USI in Paris.

50s & 60s American Paintings were a huge hit in Europe. The European Expressionist modelling was still big at the time, but American Abstract Expressionism changed everything. There was a freeform approach to making work at St Martin’s – a messy aesthetic – found objects, taking a leaf from Picasso’s inventiveness. Caro encouraged that.

Bill:
Phillip (King) who had worked for Henry Moore, was very private about his work. His sculptures were made and stored in his attic studio of his house in W. Hampstead. Rosebud, & Drift, were completely new experiences of sculpture for the viewer. They were confrontational, due to their human scale,  stood on ground, creating an enveloping and intimate experience.

Tim admits that he was influenced by Phillip’s use of wood, and fibreglass rather than metal/steel. (Phillip had discovered fibreglass as a material through boat building – working from the attic meant that weight may have been a factor in deciding to use this material.)

Tim also says: There were no ‘skills’ taught at St Martin’s. If you wanted to do something you had to figure it out for yourself by just doing it.

 

Session 3:

‘Returning to Early One Morning’

(I didn’t take notes for this so I’ll quote from the booklet)

“Ian Dawson will introduce and discuss a project he led with students from Winchester School of Art (Southampton University) to make a full-size facsimile of Caro’s seminal 1962 sculpture Early One Morning.”

 

Session 4:

‘The Triangle Workshops’

Chaired by Rebecca Fortnum, who read out from a transcript a conversation between Caro & Robert Loder, within which they talked pedagogy.

Rebecca than said that Caro is often painted as an authoritarian teacher at St Martin’s, but he was very different in the case of the Triangle. Very loose structure – artists representing the US, Canada, UK (making up the triangle of English speaking countries) sharing ideas and techniques, generally having a shot of doing something new artistically. Learning a lot by being alongside someone, in terms of skills, pace, etc, and being more collaborative and communal – most artists complain that after art school, they experience isolation in their separate studios, closed off from one another, behind shut doors – hence the idea for Triangle – they were all makers, together. They felt it was important to have artists talking to other artists, and also to the public –
the exposure to the public and critics was through shows at the end of the workshop period (fortnight) but the purpose was not to network as we do today, but for encouraging/enabling dialogue and testing/measuring the work. http://www.trianglenetwork.org/about

Frances Richardson then talked about her experience of doing the workshops with Triangle. She feels that everyone who attended art school in the UK system will have been influenced by Caro. She personally worked under an African master, making his work as an apprentice/assistant. She met Caro through Robert Loder, who bought a piece of traditional African work that she had a hand in making.

She attended the Mozambique workshop. There were 30 artists, no walls, artists working on top of each other the way Caro believed was best: “Stumbling over each other’s work”.

She found that being in her studio back in London was very isolating, so Robert put her in touch with visiting African artists and she worked with them. She said she had a confrontational (in a good way) relationship with Loder who came right out and asked her, “Why don’t you have a better studio?” She asked him back, “Why don’t you buy a building?” (Triangle didn’t have a permanent building/base at the time) Frances advises artists not to be afraid of the confrontation. “Don’t shy away,” she says. Loder answered, “Go out and find one.” And so she did. And that was the start of Gasworks Studios.

She participated in the Zimbabwe workshop. She said that the dialogues that were happening in S Africa were different than in Mozambique – they were more to do with leadership artists. (I don’t know what she meant by this – I didn’t write it down if she explained further. Sorry. My bad.)

She then told of an encounter with Caro (I don’t know if this was in Zim or Australia – sorry again) She had made a horizontal work that was partly submerged in the ground, and utilised a lot of clay but it wasn’t available to the viewer above ground, and so Caro asked her, “What are you doing? What questions are you asking?” and implied that he was also asking “Why aren’t you asking the same questions as me?”  – this questioning of “What are you doing, what are you making, why are you doing it” was echoed in the first session discussion with Caro’s former assistants and collaborators – who were keen to point out that none of them ever wanted to leave his workshop.  They did only when they thought they ‘should’ but they always came back if they could! They wanted to work for him forever, so he couldn’t have been as aggressive as all that. They spoke of him with affection and respect – guess he mellowed quite a bit by then, and shook off his Mr Meanie persona of the 60s!)

Excuse the digression. So, after a workshop in Australia, Rebecca realised that she needed a more permanent conversation with other artists than the fortnight model, and in London, rather than abroad, which happened at Gasworks – she says Caro was supportive of her decision to leave Triangle.

She showed us some images of her work, influenced by Caro: something she called ‘sculptural cartoons’ of ibeams (in mdf) that she considers to be drawings – “the object being an idea rather than a thing”. She is interested in the essence of 2D-3D conflict and has also worked in draped concrete canvas.

Anna Best then talked about her own experience of the workshops and later how she used the workshop model and developed it in different ways.

1st workshop was in 91. 2 weeks in NY. She commented on the confrontational and collaborative ethos, or if not collaborative, ‘together atmosphere’, which she found inspiring.

Back in London she was involved in setting up a Bermondsey artist studios,
but it didn’t work because of the long corridor, closed doors and isolation of the artists from one another’s actual practice.

She started (? – or was instrumental in starting?) Shave International, Sommerset. Robert always told her, “The model has to be followed.”
So there were 15 artists for 2 weeks. In the first weekend visitors (artists and art professionals) would be invited to act as a catalyst for people’s work, to provide a bit of distance for crits, and then at end of fortnight, there would be a showing, which was always contested. Not all wanted to show.

Shave International in Somerset happened 4 years in a row, and then with ACE funding & Anna Gibbs in ’97 there was a move to take the workshops elsewhere.

But the emphasis was there, on not having an individual studio, on conversation as integral to the making of work, the social, ‘up-for-grabs-ness’ of everybody’s processes is still very prevalent. Her own practice is a more dematerialised one now, working with people & events, more time-based, incorporating moving image, and relating to place/context – wanting to relate to the site. The preferred model for her is a more sustainable and longer term one. The 2 week bubble of the workshop format was quite frustrating for her practice in the long run.

(And my notes end there. I hope it’s been accurate, and that I haven’t misrepresented or misquoted anything anybody said.)

 

Session 5

‘Steel Sculpture After Caro’

(Didn’t take notes for this, so again, I will quote from the booklet)

“Peter Hide, David Evison, Robin Greenwood, three steel sculptors who studied at St. Martin’s, will give short presentations on different sculptures by Caro. Sam Cornish will then chair a discussion on the continuing legacy of his sculpture.”


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I’ve enrolled!!

A friend lent me some money (0% interest) to start the course, and now I am trying to raise the rest of the 1st year fees in a tiny bit over 2 weeks time – the grace period for cancelling a contract if need be is 21 days from date of online enrolment. For some reason it took 5 days from when I submitted my fundraiser to when they approved it to go live, but LIVE IT IS!

The crowdfunding story so far c/o the brilliant hubbub http://spsr.me/1v6ws55

Must add that even though I have enrolled, I’ve not been able to participate much due to the course timetable and my daughter’s school schedule and chocka diary of secondary school open day/evening visits! This week on the course, 100 or so MA students are giving 5 minute presentations on their work and practice. I got to see only a few on the day I enrolled, which was 3 days into the start of the course. I also got to see 3 impressive, inspiring, fun and very diverse presentations by former MA students: Alkiste Papadoupoulou, Francesca Ulivi and Alan Henry Gardiner.

Their degree show catalogue for reference.

But that’s it. I haven’t been back this week and won’t be able to attend ’til next.

But I think without a childminder pick up after school and look after my child for a couple of hours, even just a couple of days a week, I will struggle with being able to attend lectures and tutorials. I’m sure I’ll find a way around it somehow. At least the commute is fairly straightforward and not too long or far.

We’ll see if I can raise the minimum fees for this year so I can continue… Trying to relax into the unknown, but my bitten nails give it away that I’m not as relaxed as I’d like to be about the not knowing!


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My Art Licks:
It’s been a busy time this past month, with singing rehearsals for Deptford X, daily secondary school viewings for next year – finding the ‘right’ fit for the next 7 years of her life is a big deal and I’m taking it very seriously, as her primary school, in retrospect, did not provide the best experience for her in terms of dealing with incidents of ongoing bullying…

And so I’ve not been able to attend the altMFA meetings to prepare for our Art Licks FEED tour, and have had to miss out on the assorted visits Bermondsey to test the route to our preferred sites. I had just the two early visit to go on, and those were months ago now. I was also so busy with those school visits that I didn’t get a chance to visit my site on my own, to make sure my site really was right for the performance I was mulling over in my mind, nor did I have time to rehearse anything, even at home. What I did on the day, I did on the fly; I improvised completely. A bit of it worked, and a bit of it was excruciatingly embarrassing! But I hope it was more entertaining for the cringe-factor, rather than depleted by it. I can’t say. I have no documentation to review.

Some of the feedback was enthusiastic and positive. Other feedback was more lukewarm. We haven’t had our debriefing crit yet, so I look forward to next week’s session where we can talk about the experience of presenting work and seeing each other’s work.

I didn’t get to see anyone else’s work that day (except a bit of Sadie Edginton’s whipped cream graffiti, which I loved), because I was setting up down on the beach, and invigilating my own and another artist’s work (Marion Tu). But I have been able to appreciate what they did/showed, vicariously, thanks to the really lovely images by Sadie Edginton and Mark Hayes on Facebook.

 

(Above: Map drawing by Alex Chalmers)
We knew the forecast was for disappointingly dodgy weather that day and so 10 umbrellas were budgeted for and bought in advance especially for such a contingency, so we would be able to supply our tour guests with a bit of semi-dry shelter.

None of us could believe how many people actually showed up! What an amazingly intrepid audience we had. Die hard art fans. That just blew me away!! People booked (for free) in advance on Eventbrite, and even though the weather was disgusting, they turned up, and stayed with us throughout the entire tour (bar a few who straggled off, but ended up meeting us in the pub – for some of the best chips I’ve ever tasted – afterwards). They didn’t pay anything for the tour, so they weren’t losing anything if they wanted to cancel. Yet, still, they did the tour in the pissing rain! Awesome!

My child was with me. She had just taken an entrance exam for one of the grammar schools just outside London, and her dad brought her back to me afterwards, dropping her off at the pub where we ate some very hot and very delicious chips! (Mmmmm, chips!!!!)

And then, while she did a bit of beach combing looking for interesting rocks, and general mud larking in the rain, and stone skipping on the Thames, I set up my ‘Divination Dolls TM Runic Doll Kit’ on a beach blanket down on the Bermondsey Shore next to a slimy green wall, and awaited ‘my public’, sat under a golf umbrella, sitting wetly in a growing puddle of rain.

I decided a couple of days before the event to call my piece ‘Beach Blanket Barbie Bullsh*t’ and intended to tell people’s fortunes using my runic doll kit and instruction manual, and either a clickety clackety typewriter, or cloaked in a character based on my New York-ian mother (who would never in a million years do such a thing, by the way, but the idea of her doing so amused me, and so that was my starting point). She’s a funny character, my mother, and one that I know pretty well (obviously), so the fact that I didn’t rehearse didn’t put me off. However, when I was dreaming up the performance, I was banking on the sun shining, dammit! So things changed slightly, but not by much.

In the end, the 12 (or 13) artists that made up the FEED performance/installation tour were allotted 5 minutes each for their work before the tour meandered onwards, ultimately finishing at the Angel Pub.

I had no idea who would be on the tour, or if anyone would be up for participating in a ‘reading’, or which dolls would be chosen by the participants, and therefore what kind of reading I’d give, or what I’d say, or how I’d end the performance, but the last doll in the ‘spread’ happened to be a perfect note to end on, because the corresponding text in the instruction manual for that doll talked about what bullsh*t the whole idea of divination actually is!

Playing my own mother meant that my daughter temporarily became my granddaughter. That was a bit weird, but we both found it funny. In the vainest corner of my mind, I was worried people in the audience would actually think she really was my granddaughter, but the rest of me couldn’t have cared less!

AltMFA were so lucky (and grateful) to have won the support of Arts Council funding AND Ideas Tap funding for our fees and expenses, and it was really thanks to the hard work and dedication of a few of our members: Maru Rojas, Natalie Sanders and George Major in particular, for the the ACE funding application and crowdfunder page, Rebecca Glover for putting together the promo film containing taster images and snatches of videos of our work, and Alex Chalmers for his map drawing for our promotional marketing. And of course everybody else did their parts, but these 5 stand out for me as the stars of this project. Thanks so much, you guys.

Links: to the Art Licks/AltMFA FEED Tour page, the Ideas Tap crowdfunder page.

Also, thanks to Annamaria Kardos for setting up our new website 


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My Deptford X, 1:

Market Musical, Janette Parris, songs based on her conversations with Market stall holders and local shop-keepers. Janette wrote the songs based on that material (and she also created the Deptford X edition of her ARCH Comic based on some of those conversations – disclosures of secret dreams and worries, opinions with economic and social forecasts or harping back to better times, refreshing mustn’t grumble attitudes, and all that, mate.)

(Download your own free copy here http://archcomic.com/arch-sept14.html )

Janette wrote the lyrics & played the guitar, I sang, Hannah Jones played viola and Jess Davies played violin, Neal Tait played second guitar, and bass was played by Caroline…? – don’t know her last name (it isn’t in the email recipients lists). We started quite ropily, it must be said, in the square outside Deptford Lounge (Library), a little later than planned, thanks to engineering works on public transport, then moved on with our band of wandering minstrels, up and down the Market.

It was nerve-wracking and fun all in one go. We only had 2-3 rehearsals between us, and only just about learned the songs, but we never got a chance to practice them outdoors, and on the move. They sounded much better when there were walls around us to bounce the acoustics off of. The open air swallowed up our cues and we had to work much harder to hear each other and to be heard – me particularly, as a singer who hasn’t had to sing without a mic for some time, and have never sung en plein air before. We only had 3 songs, but we played 2 of them more than others because we were more comfortable with them and the crowds responded best to them.

Whenever I sang the Dance number, I struggled to keep time with the players’ pace (a song that was about rhythm, no less), and it was an insecure push at the highest end of my vocal range, near breaking point if I tried to belt it, which I had to try to do in the open air. But the songs about Fruit and Veg and living in South London were our faves and instant crowd-pleasers. Drunk people, cans of lager/cider in hand came over and danced with us, and even a few non-drunk people. One pensioner came and played air guitar on his walking stick in our midst. He was such fun! There were one or two negative comments from dissatisfied listeners who absolutely hated us and wanted us to disappear, but we knew there’d be some of that, and we carried on regardless. Most folk smiled and got into the spirit of it, or if not, they just ignored us and walked past with their shopping.

There was an opportunity to perform the following weekend at the closing party at HQ in the Faircharm on Creekside, but being a Sunday, impossible, as it took 3 hours to get home the Sunday before, and it usually takes 45 mins weekdays. Plus I had my child with me, and it would have been 6 hours travel just to go sing 3 songs and turn around and try to get home in time for the bedtime routine of a school night. So I didn’t participate in that one. Still, it was a fun experience, once I got over my nerves!

My Deptford X, 2:

Creekside Discovery Centre, next door to Deptford x HQ and Bob&Roberta Smith’s print workshop in the Faircharm (where my studios were when I’d made the concrete canvas sculpture which was being made into a Bug Hotel during the week of Deptford X). Spent the first day, pre-invigilation, cutting and stripping Buddleia that the Creekside volunteers partly prepared for me, and the whole weekend sourcing un-treated bamboo (non-pesticide treated – we wanted to encourage ‘pests’ for once), and cutting those fronds to size, and logs for the bottom tier. We were intent on making a home for caterpillars to transform themselves into butterflies and moths, for ladybirds to comfortably winter over in, spiders as well, and for wood-lice to live among the logs, and stag beetles, and to encourage leaf-cutter bees to move into the bamboo hollows… (I hope no wasps decide to make it theirs, though. I do discriminate against wasps, I must admit!)

My bf helped invigilate the first day while I sang for Janette’s moving troupe, and made it his mission to get all the bamboo in. We managed to be just short of full on the bamboo tier by the end of that first weekend. The Creekside promised to do the rest. Ditto for logs on the bottom tier. Can’t wait to see it finished, and transformed by mosses and plants growing up around it, and on it, and in it.

We were invigilating for another artist whose photographic work was hung on the brick walls of the perimeter. Mandy Williams, ‘Riverbed Stories’ series. Seen from afar, they were pleasant to look at, almost like chalk drawings on blackboards. But seen up close they were simply beautiful. Who would have thought a series of black and white photos of fly-tipped mattresses abandoned in the weeds on a riverbank could be so stunning to look at? Mandy made it so.

 


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