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By: Rob Turner
'Community', undoubtedly the singularly most important aspect of my work!
# 25 [16 March 2010]
I don't really feel like making art. I really don't feel like making art with other people either. But as a professional with obligations and agreements in place you can't just have 'an off day' or two, you have to carry on and complete what you said you would.
Actually I am feeling shite, I have been for three interviews for various jobs recently and have come away with none of them! It made me parallel my work with Beckham's achilles injury which beckons the end of a career! An over reaction I'm sure, but not a good a good place to be.
I want to rant off because I'm CROSS with bureaucrats unwilling to make a move until all the goals, procedures and desired results for a policy have been mapped out in advance. As a craftsman and artist I think I can problem solve as I go, confident in my abilities to create things as yet unknown, which allows for other people's ideas and influences to take me places I can't see yet. You know just be inspired by interesting new stuff.
But this is a risk averse culture we live in and there is less and less space for reckless folk like me to spend public money on whims and unthought through daydreams. My frustration and bitterness makes me see only Public Art that reminds me of dolphins? Smooth, curvey and easy on the eye, made from stainless steel, sometimes with a bit of colour or lights in. A bit cataloguey, but stylishly so.
I shall put my handbag away now and be quiet. I find myself looking at Jean-Michel Basquiat paintings, they are kind of angry and I love them. Here some very young people painting portraits of them selves in the replica school.
# 24 [5 March 2010]
I'm Joining the Resistance?
I am returning to my Discovering Malawi project again now and I walked into the class room after the holiday, and the moment I walked in, one boy walked straight up to me and asked me if I was going to join the resistance?
Who against I asked, 'the Chinese capitalists, KGB, American troops in Afghanistan or the FBI? Yeh I hate the feds what if'..........................
'No No No, the sausage factory! 'They are going to build one in the 3 meadows in our village.
Now I am party to the secret plans, it appears my role is crucial if the resistance is to have any impact. I have been shown pictures from a book about sea going ships and the one of particular relevance was a large battleship. As a designer I have to draw up our own plans to build something similar, but on a smaller scale. I also have to design explosive bombs to destroy any construction work should things start happening on the site. I am unsure how long I've got to do this a few months at least, we also need a skilled welder on the team! I've have to attend a meeting next Monday to report the progress and get updated with any further developments.
Another episode from the same day was probably the most powerful on this project so far:
When we were assembling this replica school building we are creating, I was thinking this was a little too heavy for four children because they could not lift this section off the floor, (it was awkward shape rather than a dead weight). I begun thinking I would have to man-handle it into position myself, which was a daunting and formidable task. Then I saw four little finger tips creep under the board and grip, then I saw a pair of shoes...and the boards went as high as a pair of knees, and this kid was lifting and carrying it. Together we aligned it and pushed into place. This is a task I would have really struggled with on my own. The relief I felt was immense, for a sickening moment I thought I had created something that was beyond their abilities.
My doubts unfounded. It was so great when a previous ‘school refuser’ turns out to be a total hero and does one of those Rocky Film moments of true grit.
# 23 [3 March 2010]
The Garden of Dreams.
Pupils suspended, staff commitment questioned, my fellow artist partner on this project has urgent family issues to resolve and a change of co-ordinator.
I am going to let the dust settle as everyone is doing their own thing, emails flying around in almost random directions.
I am going to make sure the group has top soil and wheel barrows, rakes and forks and spades, they will be happy all day just gardening. Thats all they want to do right now. We grown ups can have crisis meetings and stuff.
My role is to up the positive, because we have done great work and no one is seeing that yet.
I love this model with the elements placed inside. I am walking around in there, it is a calmer magical place.
Grow and cultivate, thats what you do in gardens and I'm enjoying this model and I hope it will help me while I'm in there. The others hav'nt found it yet and I have it all to myself.
# 22 [27 February 2010]
Sometimes its not about art at all!
After 8-9 weeks into the school garden project and the goal posts are still moving. The location for the garden has been moved 4 times and now there is a 5th unexpected movement of the target.
There is another garden project running within the school and we (the school) would like you to join the two together.......................................
How has this not been joined together before, cos I cant suggest it, if I dont know there is another garden project going on. (sounds like Emily Speeds latest blog entry)
How long can you keep a construction project open ended like this and not actually construct anything.
Answer: not much fkuicng longer.
We have agreed the project logo which feels like a major achievement at the moment.
Timetabling of specialist and fully qualified staff on this delicate project has been proving difficult. And I have saved the best bit till last. One of the members of staff especially allocated to this project went off crying because one of the pupils (MR. Unmediated ADHD) swore at her! She did not return plus another specialist teacher was off sick.
I am an artist but this has not got much to do with art. It feels more like a reality tv show. I had Wife Swap in mind when I wrote that.
# 21 [22 February 2010]
Little Johny's Spud Head.
I had forgotton all about little Johny's Spud Head untill it came up the other day.
This is a little storey from the mid 90's explaning exactly what Johny's Spud Head represents. It happened to my then business partner, and has happenened, or probably will happen to anyone working to a commission brief involving the community.
'encourage a sense of ownership in the local community,
the commission will involve close participation with users of the centre and the children,
that involves and engages students, staff and local communities, produces work of outstanding quality and provides an ongoing educational resource'.
All well worn phrases and hoops that artists have jumped through many many times. This included my former partner who had jumped with great agility and grace and had made a design which he was really pleased with and proudly presented it to the steering committe. Who were actually very impressed, and thought it would look very nice in their town square. Apart from the Head Teacher, the Centre Manager, or the Community Liason officer (I forget who it was now) who didn't like it at all because little Johny who had worked extremely hard during that workshop has not had his efforts included and could we re-design it to be more inclusive of the community it represented please.
We drove home from somewhere in the midlands after that presentation and my partner was unable to speak for much of drive home. Little Johny had not really tried very hard and had drawn the first and only thing that had come into his head!
I have included some examples from his portfolio here.
# 20 [17 February 2010]
I wont be making art together with my friend Charlie. We had an interview last week that went very well we thought, but rejection today! I've been walking around this afternoon in a numbed state saying 'how did we not get that?'
As a reaction to it, I have signed up for two days training which claims to focus on the basic phychology of communication, aimed at a healthy practioner-pupil relationship. I have also got an interview for further training exploring neuro-chemistry, trauma and challenging behaviour, I think this translates to mental health problems. I need to fill the gap with something positive, which is an investment for later, as I can't afford to miss out on another opportunity like that again, someone had some kind of edge which got them the job.
Anyway I did'nt really come on here to moan about it, I wanted to say that the 'Transition group' were keen to start work on their project again and visuals went very well in the first session. This time when their attention started to wane in that run in to lunch we (my fellow practitioner Pete is back now) took them off for a game of table football and pool in the hall. Got my own back and found myself really playing table football as competitively as I could against boys in their early teens and beating them (you sad old man). I just spent £256 on spades, forks, rakes gloves and stuff, as the actuall physical work starts after half term. The planning stages last too long for them and digging is what they are itching to do.
I wonder how long that will last?
We will putting up a display of our models and design work in the school for the wider school to see. Hopefully a gardening club will be formed as we know there are teachers willing to commit to it. The plan is to show the school this is real and use the display as a platform to recruit potential gardeners.
Incidentally the transition group are very keen to show the school what they have done, but their behaviour still descends into chaos even though they are commited to it? Fliers, logos and sheets for garden club members to write their names on are being produced by these pupils.
# 19 [6 February 2010]
I am switching to my garden project now. We (The Transition Group) spent half a morning making models of our garden which we will display to the wider school community.
While we worked I heard comments like 'this is the best lesson I have ever had'.
'I cant believe I am using a KNIFE in school'.
'Can we do this tommorrow as well'.
Half an hour after this the teachers are timetabled for other classes and I am left with only teaching assistants till lunch time.
Have you ever seen the riot scene in Porridge with Ronnie Barker? Well this was the same on a smaller scale. Total anarchy and clay, plastercine and balsa wood flying around. The head teacher was called to stop the riot. This arrested the riot, but disgruntalled and abusive behaviour continued for some while. Detentions at lunch and after school resulted.
One boy (unmedicated ADHD) has never reached the afternoon sessions. He is withdrawn from the project every week at lunch time. Every time after school he comes up to me and appologises for disrupting my lessons and holds his head down in shame. Its like listening to an alchoholic saying 'I'm off the sauce'.
# 18 [2 February 2010]
We had 10 sheets 8x4 plywood delivered to the school!
Some 2x2 and corrugated sheeting and the artist brought some power tools.
We are making a replica school about the size of a garden shed.
In groups of four we cut our boards to size. We had to work outside because we have no room inside.
We measured and cut using a circular saw and a jig saw.
And then we used cordless drills and power screw drivers to fix the boards together.
In lessons we have been writing our own stories based on stories from Malawi.
I was surprised when my friend who hates literacy made a book at home of a story from Malawi.
The artist says that if we all write a story and a make a book for it he will make a book shelf inside the replica school for all the books.
He also says that the drums and the musical instruments we are going to make can have a rack hanging from the ceiling like the ones in kitchens and we can hang our instruments from them as well.
He says he will buy some blackboard paint and make a blackboard inside.
We are going to paint bricks on the outside and stories and landscapes on the inside.
We are making some batik on material to make some curtains.
My teacher says 3 people in my class who can’t write very well have written Malawi stories well above the standards they usually reach.
Next week we will make the other side of the replica school and prime the boards ready for painting with 3 in 1 primer. We may even start making the roof as well.
The artist says that the paints we have are rubbish. He says that blue and yellow make green. But our paints make brown. He says don’t worry about that he will buy some proper paint for us.
We have people in our class with ADHD who keep interrupting and getting up and going off to do stupid stuff.
And I left my gloves out there.
# 17 [28 January 2010]
This has turned out to be the title for my project with the Primary School Children. We made models of a school in Malawi which was ambitious and a challenge for many of them.
The rewards for perseveranceare are paying off. The bricks are being drawn on, the interiors are developing with stuff on the walls, people are being modeled and the roofs have tiles or corrugated sheeting on. These model schools are just fab. I watch the kids looking in through the windows into their creations and the stories are coming out and, the animals and the people are doing thing things.
Working like this is a flexible thing and its a bit like riding the rapids. One week its all gone off track, and the things you planned are swept asside. The following week its found a momentum and dosent need steering much! The results are inspiring.
Our next step is to construct not a model, but a small replica school out of plywood. Kind of like a garden shed size?
# 16 [19 January 2010]
I have decided to change the title of this blog, because I am struggling with ways to present the content for it. Shifting it around a little untill I find a way that I'm happy with.
In the mean time I may as well show you my mosaic which is now crated up ready for installation. There is no sign of any subase preparation from the commissioner, but how could there be with the weather the way it has been.
Did you watch Kevin McClouds 'Slumming it' ........totally fab. Utopia amongst squaller, recycling, to put our token attempts to shame and bizzarely a real lesson on comminuity living. All nescessities within minutes of your living spaces.
Mumbi city architects plans mimic western thoughts and aim raise these slums to the ground and rebuild high rise living spaces in a photoshop Gugenhiem, Gerkin, Gateshead Sage brochure world of phased developments, rebuilding most of the city. As Kevin points out we tried high rise flats 40 years ago, with poor results.
Are there no disciples of Hundertwasser out there who could put in sanitation and modify what already works so well, without smashing and alienating yet another set of people? Well done Kevin McCloud I was getting bored with the formulaic Grand Designs (though I really enjoyed it at first) but this moves onto much more impactfull social and architectural issues.
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