Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Artist in Residence

- Michael Hall Steiner School, Forest Row, East Sussex, UK

I was invited to be Artist in Residence at the Michael Hall Steiner School in Forest Row during the months September - December 2013. The residence was to include a two day workshop with the faculty of the School and the creation of an environmental community sculpture.

environmental sculpture workshop Sept. 2012
The workshop took place during the faculty workdays on the 2nd and 3rd of September. It was planned to be a follow-up of the workshop which I had conducted at Michael Hall School in September 2012. This had been a Environmental Sculpture workshop on the Kidbrook Estate (the beautiful landscape park into which Michael Hall School is built) which introduced the teachers to the Goetheanean scientific and artistic method of observing and creating in landscape. 

In the course of the year which followed, the faculty's landscape group continued the work and looked at various areas of the estate which needed artistic attention. It was decided to focus this years workshop on the area behind the theater, and the group did some preparation work which led to the proposal of a "theme" for an environmental artwork and the decision to ask me to help with the design process and guide the teachers in creating the artwork.

the site: the back of Michael Hall Theater

The workshop started with an exploration of the two main components of the design process:
  • the proposed "theme" 
  • the site with its limitations and potential

The theme
which the environment group had proposed was "gravity turning into levity". At the outset of the first session a short brainstorming session was conducted to clarify and further expand the theme by adding further qualities the group was looking for. Then I asked the participants to "embody" some of these qualities in a sculptural gesture (in clay).

some of the participants' clay sculptures
The site
was the focus of the second session. Participants were asked to divide into groups of 4-5 people and to embark on a detailed observation process of the site. The observation was to employ four consecutive "modes of inquiry":

participants exploring the site

1. detailed description of the physical, tangible, sensory fabric of the site, including:
  • forms, shapes, measurements
  • topography
  • directions, orientation (directions of the compass)
  • scale (compared to human scale)
  • different views (from inside out, from outside in ...)
  • all sense-impressions (sight, hearing, smell ...)
2. sensing relationships, movements, the life and history of the place, including:
  • relationship between the different elements
  • transitions
  • suggestion of movement
  • seasonal changes
  • the (everyday) life of the place: how do people use it, move in it?
3. an experience of the "mood" of the place and our "soul response" to the place, using:
  • synaesthetic descriptions (transference from one sense to another), using color, sound, smell ... to describe the experience of the place
  • thoughts, feelings and will-impulses which are called forth by the meeting with the place
rehearsal of the group "performance"
4.  taking everything together, we can come to an inkling of the "spirit of the place", its "motif".

As a conclusion of this observation process each group was asked to articulate in artistic form a "gesture", which they would like to contribute as a "gift" to the place. This could be in the form of a short performance or dance, the choreography of which should be the result of a communal effort.

present and future of the site
The third session started with a sharing of the groups' observations of the site, which created a vivid picture of both the present limitations and shortcomings of the place as well as the site's potential as a place of meeting between different qualities - and between people. These two aspects of the "spirit of the place" - its present shortcomings and its future potential were written on the blackboard and provided the basis for the design process which followed.

In the following exercise participants worked in groups of 2-3 people on the assignment to create the model of a "spatial intervention" which would address the shortcomings of the present site and its future potential. As possible elements it was suggested to use an arrangement of similar elements, for instance "sticks" (straight elements) or bent wire (rounded elements) or any other material (but only one material for one model).

participants working on a model for a "spatial intervention"

The second day began with a group observation of the results of the previous exercise and a characterization of different possible approaches. We identified three main aspects of the site which need our attention and which would have to become the objectives for the continuation of the design process:

  • to give the back view of the theater a sense of identity, a face, an expression of what it is about
  • to provide shelter for children waiting in the area to be collected by their parents 
  • to enliven the space and imbue it with a sense of mediation between movement and rest, between culture and nature and between inside and outside (and with a sense of "sympathetic" movement)
We continued in four groups of between 4 and five people. This time participants had to relate to the challenge of "scale", working on scale models of the space, relating to the building and including a scale model of a person. Groups could chose to employ one of three approaches: using linear elements, planar elements or voluminous elements.

participants working on a scale model

participants working on a scale model
participants working on a scale model

one of the scale models 

In the concluding session of the workshop the four models were discussed, common elements and different approaches were identified and the question of realization in different materials was discussed. It was decided that Axel finalize a suggestion, based on the group work, including a study of the feasibility of different materials and their suitability - taking into account that the artwork will be created with community participation.

here I am working on the "summary model"

In the week following the workshop I continued working on the model, trying to take into account the three objectives as well as the various solutions arrived at during the workshop. My final model was discussed and approved in a follow-up meeting with the environment group and workshop participants.

view of the "summary model"

view of the "summary model"

model giving an impression of the use of wooden logs
Following the achievements of the workshop, my design includes a suggestion for the use of the theater facade as a "noticeboard" for upcoming events, the addition of a pergola wrapping around the corner of the building, and an environmental sculpture consisting of 7 planar elements. I suggested  to use wooden logs as the main material for the construction of the artwork, having the advantage of being readily locally available and allowing ample community involvement in the creation.

The realization of the project is supposed to commence in the course of October 2013.

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