Monday, April 25, 2011
Lucy Sarneel Workshop: What's in an Image
Pratt recently hosted Dutch artist Lucy Sarneel (above, right), a jeweler known for her poetic work with fabricated zinc and historic textiles. I was on the fence about taking her 4-day master class, but since I've been struggling lately to find new approaches to my own work so I finally signed up.
Lucy started the "What's in an Image" workshop with a kind of card trick: holding out a fanned array of pale pink envelopes she had us each pick one at random. Inside was a vintage or found image that would be our starting point. Mine was a shot of what turned out to be two Dutch zoo employees taking some shackled birds for a stroll.
Without sharing our images with each other, we each spent some time examining them and jotting down notes--impressions, observations, and in some cases, full-blown narratives. Reconvening as a group, we took turns reading out our lists of words as everyone else sketched the shapes or images that the words brought to mind. Next, we revealed our source photos and compared them with the drawings; it was lovely and comforting to see the range of individual expressions, as well as spooky to see some strong similarities between photos and drawings. Each person got to keep the drawings done in response their reading as an additional layer of source materials.
Then we set about making things inspired by our pictures. Lucy encouraged us to start loose and wide, using bits of paper, thread, or wire to create a range of models and elements rather than a finalized piece. Drawn both to the birds' sweet expressions and the tidy buttons on the men's shirts, I played for a while with the idea of hybridizing the two.
Lucy also spoke with each of us about the kind of work we usually make and about new directions we might light to explore. I explained my interest in making work that reflects physical and emotional relationships, and my frustration with what I feel is an overdependence on symmetry and tidiness.
After our talk I went back to the picture and tried to imagine what it would be like to be one of the men or birds. I imagined that the heavy chains would bite into the men's shoulders and rap them on the knees. I imagined that the birds might feel like pampered prisoners; I noted how two of them turned towards each other, but with their faces slightly offset, as if they wanted to make contact but couldn't quite look each other in the eye. I tried to put all of that into my next model.
I recently broke my latest attempt at a wooden chain, so it was a comparative breeze to build a hollow, square-sectioned chain from butcher paper and white glue. I love the illusion of perspective and weight that graduated links can give, so I made each link smaller than the last. I fused the top three into a tense curve that's meant to sit on the top of the collarbone like a corsage (there's a pin glued to the back), with the smallest two links swinging free. I sliced the largest ring open and fixed it into an open position echoing the silhouettes of the two birds. I added little paper beaks, and curls of paper plumage with white-painted undersides.
I liked it but it felt somehow too familiar, too ordained. So next I made a piece that I couldn't actually make from wood. I used white glue and two-toned xerox paper to make a chain of feathers. I have no idea if it will go anywhere, but I find it a strangely appealing mix of fragility and structure.
And of course, one of the workshop's great pleasures was watching my fellow students generate an ingenious range of work. It always exasperates me to see a class full of identical objects, but that was far from the case here. Even starting with an image that meant nothing to them and materials no more advanced that those found in a kindergarten, each student left with pieces that were personal and unique--and a better idea of how to amplify those qualities in their "real" work.
Thank you, Lucy!