The workshop ran from Saturday 15 to Friday 21 October 2011.
Workshop participants arrived in time for dinner on Saturday 15 October and the workshop began on Sunday 16 with a field trip on the Lizard peninsula, devised by FIELDCLUB and led by folklorist Steve Patterson and Dr Robin Shail, Senior Lecturer in Geology at Camborne School of Mines. The field trip offered two parallel and contrasting narratives, one relating to the folk history of the area, the other to its geological formation.
At one point during our Sunday field trip I found myself on Nare Point, staring across the water at my home town, Falmouth. It was a strange feeling to be standing for the first time somewhere I had seen, from a distance, hundreds of times from Gyllyngvase beach or Pendennis point. Yet before that day I hadn’t even known its name. It was a small revelation to discover I knew so little about an area I felt I knew so well.
This moment solidified in me something I had long since suspected; that a local perspective will not always give the most honest or revealing insight into a particular place.
Other points on our walk unveiled yet more revelations, about the centuries of Spanish immigrants, or the origins of the rocks below our feet. The very idea of being ‘Cornish’ became an abstract concept. I silently thought how silly I had been to hold such comfort in the idea of being indigenous to an area that had, as our geologist tour guide explained, only existed for a relatively short period of time (in terms of rocks, that is).
These thoughts, although personal, are symbolic of some of our discussions during the week. They represent how important it is to look outward, as well as inward, when discussing Cornwall. Otherwise we can become weighed down with the history and the culture of the place, never producing anything new.
On Monday 17 October Mark Dion introduced his postcard game:
This was another example of how common objects can be an excuse to get to know personalities and temperaments of a group of people. The introduction to the workshop by Mark Dion was a game with strange and curious postcards from his collection. The group was divided in two halves. One had to propose an abstract category and the other had to answer by picking up a matching postcard. If the juries had any doubts why individual card was fitting the category, they could ask for explanation. Easy to follow rules, a strange collection of images and a sense of humor became the main ingredients of the game. Soon the participants learned that the game can be more complicated than it appeared at the first glance and that it allows even a certain strategy to be developed. Relaxing and amusing, it was also an experience of a certain procedure with a trivial starting point but uncertain and illuminating effects on the meaning of being in a certain place with certain people.
Mark Dion went on to talk about his experiences of art education as both student and tutor, and about the development of Mildred’s Lane in Pennsylvania. The day concluded with brief presentations by each of the workshop participants.
On Monday evening sixty artists, curators and other members of the arts community in Cornwall attended a curry supper and evening of presentations and discussions at Porthallow Villlage Hall near St Keverne on the Lizard peninsula.
Artists, curators and producers were invited to give presentations about recent art initiatives in Cornwall:
Andy Harper talked about the artist residency programme at Assembly in St Just, and the recent programme of Slow Time events
Curators Maria Christoforidou and Laura Smith talked about the exhibition Decalcomania at the Exchange in Penzance.
Rupert White described the work of the online journal www.artcornwall.org
Kate Southworth provided a paper describing the project Electronic Village Galleries.
Ian Whitford, Rebecca Weeks and Andy Whall described the ongoing programme of screenings and events organised by CAZ in the basement of the Exchange.
Robin Mackay talked about the work of Urbanomic and the field trip Hydroplutonic Kernow organised for The Falmouth Convention.
Hadrian Pigott reflected on his work as an artist and as Chair of Penzance Seafront Forum
Sara Black of ProjectBase introduced The Cornwall Programme.
On Tuesday 18 October Lori Waxman’s Reading session invited each workshop participant to select and introduce a short text about art, or about the act of looking. In the second half of the day, participants broke into small groups for a Writing workshop in response to the field trip.
I was struck by how useful restricted time slots are as a working structure. Due to the large number of participants and the need to find a format that allowed for all of us to speak about our practice or a project we wanted feedback on, we were allotted five minutes each for our presentation and another five for questions. Five minutes being such a short amount of time, the impossibility to talk about one’s work in depth and its complexity was obvious, but it also forced us to be clear, precise and selective. Also during the writing workshop we were allotted a limited amount of time – one hour – to write a 250-word text. Again it seemed too small a period of time for the task set, but it also took the pressure off to deliver something finished, sleek, perfect.
My post-workshop enthusiasm to use these strategies for myself has not been able to instill in me with the necessary discipline as yet. My latest text was again written on the last days, pushing up to the deadline, in long and break-less periods of writing and editing. But the first draft of this text here has been written in a ten minute slot when I just wanted to jot down a quick aide memoire before getting myself some lunch.
On Tuesday evening Mark Dion gave a public lecture in the Woodlane Lecture Theatre at University College Falmouth. The lecture attracted a capacity audience, described by Daro Montag as the largest he had seen in ten years of teaching at UCF.
On Wednesday 19 October there was a session devoted to exploration of social context and to thinking about audience. Ten young people associated with the learning departments of Tate St Ives, Plymouth Arts Centre and The Exchange in Penzance visited Kestle Barton with members of the learning teams of these institutions and met with workshop participants to talk about their experience of living in Cornwall and the cultural opportunities on offer to young people.
We were sitting on the picnic bench, just outside the kitchen at Kestle Barton eating a hearty homemade lunch – beetroot soup and vegetable lasagne. As happened at mealtimes, small groups were temporarily formed, with people coming and going as courses were introduced. The picnic bench was the circular kind at which maybe six or eight people can sit. We got talking about what our visitors were up to, what stage of their lives they were at, where they thought they were going or indeed where they were coming from (some in college, others trying to move on after finishing a degree in Falmouth, others having recently moved here, specifically to get away from London). The majority of them were involved in one particular art institution’s education programme, which for them meant organizing the workshops for other ‘young people’. The limited possibilities within the programme were of concern and there was a general lack of energy or enthusiasm. They weren’t particularly engaged with their subject and they described their peer group as pretty unconvinced by their efforts. What do people do these days, when they’re not at school, I asked? I told them that when I was growing up in Cornwall most people just wanted to drink and hang around not really doing anything. They agreed that this was still the case and that there is a stigma attached to doing pretty much anything. What could be done to try and change this? I asked. But there were only inconclusive answers. The lack of public transport was a major issue, its limitations on achieving ‘adult’ independence sorely felt. I realized that they weren’t really that young at all, one just three years younger than I. And, not for the first time I wondered, “why are we doing this, and whom are we doing it for?” I understood the perspectives of these ‘young people’ very clearly, having experienced the situation myself as I grew up in Cornwall and developed my own rather tangential relationship with the arts here. This kind of attitude isn’t particular to Cornwall, but the conversation made it clear that somehow, these smart and committed individuals weren’t fulfilled with what was on offer to them, despite the best efforts of the organizations with which they were working.
At the end of the morning Sally Tallant gave a talk about the Serpentine Gallery’s programme of education and outreach work.
On Wednesday afternoon the group visited St Ives to see the exhibition The Indiscipline of Painting: International Abstraction from the 1960s to Now at Tate St Ives.
At the Exchange in Penzance Lori Waxman gave a performance of her 60wrd/min art critic project. For this project she performs her role as art writer in public. Gallery visitors can follow the development of her reviews onscreen as she writes about work brought into the gallery by artists in the locale. This was the first time Lori Waxman had performed the project outside the United States. In collaboration with the Exchange, artists were approached through networks in Cornwall and invited to submit work to be reviewed. The online journal Axis also invited two artists to respond to Lori Waxman’s reviews by writing about the experience of having their work reviewed. The Cornishman published Lori Waxman’s reviews as a full-page spread on 3 November 2011 while the Axis feature ‘How was it for you?’ was published online at www.axisweb.org
Falmouth-based writer Jo Thomas supported Lori in the role of receptionist, receiving works of art brought in for review.
On Thursday morning Mark Dion visited Helston Community College, whose Head of Art selected students from her Year 12 and 13 BTEC groups to meet him. Dion talked about his work and about the experience of being an artist:
‘I liked the way Mark talked about his work, how he showed that an artist has to be really focused from the beginning idea to its completion’
‘It was good to meet an artist in real life, not just looking at their work’
‘It was good to see the huge scale and budgets you could work with as an artist’
‘His work seemed to have no creative boundaries’
‘The work was quite strange but I liked it because of the in-depth explanation’
‘I found it inspiring’.
The workshop programme concluded on Thursday 20 October with discussion about how best to represent the participants’ experiences at that evening’s meeting in Porthallow, advertised as an opportunity to share outcomes with members of the art community and other interested guests:
On the final evening of ‘The Cornwall Workshop’ an open (public) evening event had been scheduled, as a moment to share outcomes of the workshop and thoughts for the future, with invited members of the art community and other interested guests.
During the day leading up to the event, workshop participants spent several hours discussing how the evening might function. The group struggled with the idea of making a formal presentation or setting up a chaired discussion, both formats feeling too closed, restricted and limited. Instead the workshop participants unanimously agreed on the idea of a ‘cultural speed dating’ game.
Mark Dion eloquently identified how the game neatly mirrored and demonstrated some of the methodology behind the workshop itself, where our days had often begun with a game of some kind.
The game allowed us to highlight how important the process of getting to know each other had been and allowed us to share (in a small way), how the intensive experience of living in the same place, eating together and talking all day (and into the night) had allowed us to build meaningful relationships with each other very quickly.
Lori Waxman and I were nominated to introduce the speed-dating event to the large gathered crowd. Lori explained the rules of how to play and I tried to frame the game’s significance for the workshop participants.
I described how excited we all were by what the situation of ‘getting to know each other’, will breed. I explained how we hoped to expand and open up the group, so to increase the potential of what conversation, intensive encounters and the unexpected meeting of minds can activate.
Once everyone was clear on the rules (seven rounds, seven minutes each), I hit a saucepan lid with a wooden spoon and stood back and watched as everyone began to ‘date’. My lasting memory of this moment was that of being hit with a wall of noise, of everyone in the room talking eagerly, animatedly and enthusiastically at once. Seven rounds later the final ‘gong’ was hit and the crowd kept talking.