Wednesday 12th: Yesterday, I was thinking about how much has changed across Foundation – I am so thankful for the opportunity to make that journey and to develop. To do in fact, what I hoped when I took the year out to ‘refresh’ my Art Practice. Two thoughts recur. One; the comment made to me last August by an artist acquaintance, just before I started the course
“Whatever you do, don’t let them turn you into an installation artist”
… look what happened. ?
What will I say to him when I next pop into his shop and give him some work to sell like he asked me for? Perhaps I will talk about how my visual language has expanded, my critical judgement has improved and in many ways, my confidence has grown. I have worked with unfamiliar materials and new modes of expressing ideas while also enjoying familiar processes like drawing, painting, and printing. I have encountered an enormous array of artists’ work that I would not have come upon without having done the course and among it, I have found a locus around which I find I am developing new ‘tastes’. I have thoroughly enjoyed having my eyes opened to experimental film makers for example – Menken seems to follow me around – here inspiring a playful session in Barcelona.
I have long held an interest in sculpture and installation art – particularly outdoors – Gormley, Ai Weiei, Eliasson and Long having been familiar to me; it has been a joy, throughout the course to discover the work of people like Penone, Yakamatsu, Gallaccio, Boyce etc. of whom I was formerly, barely aware.
Second: “Whatever happens …. Not another ‘Holy Island’ “
‘Holy Island’ flashbacks started a couple of weeks ago. Something PT said in the studio about counting down to studio prep and hang show weeks….. and woah! a flashback to that disassociative state I experienced hanging my PGCE show on Holy Island in June 1996. The stress! Not the show itself but the circumstances prevailing in life at the time and how it was the start of the descent into a completely broken-down condition.
PT was addressing the course cohort with advice about planning the last couple of weeks to deadline… in particular he said ‘you know from other deadlines, how things can go wrong at the last minute so, don’t leave things to the last minute – you know the printers will break you know x and y can go wrong – but there will not be ANY excuses, 4 p.m. Thursday IS THE DEADLINE and if you don’t meet it it’s a referral and after that you can only pass so be aware people…. keep on top of things.’
So why a flashback? Just that chat about deadline stress I guess…….. how even if you are completely well prepared, things can still go wrong? (As they had for me on Holy Island day). While I was listening to PT and getting palpitations, I wondered how other people were reacting to the impending deadline. The word ‘stressed’ was being used quite a bit by quite a few course colleagues but not much change in activity levels seemed to be motivated by that. It seems to be a word people use incorrectly A LOT – ‘stress’.
During 1995 – 1996, I undertook an in-service Art PGCE. It was an awesome developmental process – I loved it. The PGCE course lead us all over the country for workshop weekends and half term residentials where we engaged in studio practice and had lectures and tutorials delivered by the great and the good in the world of Art Education. There were three strands to the course – the obvious Level 7 research methodology component, a personal artistic development project – sort of like an FMP, and a context based research project. I threw myself into it. CPD-wise it was a great opportunity but a second benefit was the distraction it provided from the nightmarish circumstances prevailing in school at that time, with a Headteacher bullying the staff, the children and any parents or governors that might dare to stand up against her. As I approached the end of my course there were mutterings among the senior staff about getting the Unions in and invoking a grievance procedure – not a happy situation.
For our PGCE assessment, we were to mount double exhibitions – one, our own artistic development and secondly, an exposition of the professional practice research project we had each conducted throughout the year. Friday evening deadline to hang show – 8pm. Saturday morning assessment before opening the show at noon. Saturday afternoon vivas. This would all take place on Holy Island. Thursday, I left school with all the exhibition stuff packed and ready, came home to organise my personal project things and print off my dissertation. I remember all this quite well. Friday: early doors, I departed from Alston, planning to reach the Lindisfarne causeway in plenty of time. Deadline stress wasn’t so much about hanging the show by 8pm as getting across to the island before the tide – it was safe to cross until about 13:00. If you missed that, it would be after 18:00 before you’d get across (not enough time to hang a show) – I remember all those details quite clearly.
En route, the headteacher phoned me from school and demanded that I call into work on the way (I didn’t really have time for that!) …. something urgent apparently, that when I detoured and got there, she decided was not important anymore but then found 10 other trivial jobs for me to do for her before allowing me to leave. Later, her incessant bullying and berating of the staff would lose her her job but on that day it I lost my mind.
The water was above my wheel hubs as I drove across the causeway – I was in a panic, a sweat, palpitating….. having a panic attack? All my hard work: a great personal project, eloquent dissertation and a wonderful exhibition of work from school …… all going to be LATE for the show deadline if I didn’t cross…. or worse, washed away in the North Sea. I got there. I put up the exhibition, in the nick of time apparently, but to this day, I have absolutely no recollection of doing so or what it was like at all. By the time I finished and went to the lodgings, (I would learn later in therapy; describing the qualities of my experience across the rest of the weekend;) I was in a disassociative state. I finished the last few weeks of term. Then it was the Summer holiday. In September I returned to work – the LA was investigating the HT’s competence and conduct. One by one we would all have to sit in investigative interviews and describe the abuse we had suffered and witnessed. One by one the staff collapsed and ended-up, off, sick. My interview eventually reached the description of her delaying tactics on Holy Island day …… It was four years before I was well enough to work again. As I say …… for FMP, I was determined NOT TO ALLOW MYSELF ANY LAST MINUTE CALAMITIES! Thankfully, I succeeded.