Saturday, September 29. Have two weeks really passed that quickly? Crazy.
What an incredible week it turned out to be. Folks from setba foundation arrived for the first afternoon workshop ( 4-7pm Mediterranean time) People are tired from the journey, settling in to the accommodation they will be staying at, but never the less very bright eyed and excited to meet me and begin the project. It is slow going at first-adjusting to an interpreter having to translate everything-and I quickly realize the level of trust that is required on my part that Carla can get the nuances of what I say- art and environment both have their own language that was not a part of Carla’s 10 months English emersion experience in Scotland. My favourite phrase to Carla after expounding on some finer point of my work philosophy re: harvesting, making, and involving others becomes “good luck” as I see her rapidly processing how to explain… my vocabulary is lousy with metaphor and English slang that I am suddenly aware of and begin to try and edit for simplicity sake.
We have a round of introductions to learn names and interests, and see if there is commonground we share- I quickly realize I am surrounded by fellow artists- three of whom speak English ( Nuria speaks English incredibly well).
This is going to be ok.
Juan, who came the following week for the meeting with Fina and was thrilled to meet David and I has now brought some of his work to show us ( I should have taken pictures) incredible complex cutwork sculptural human forms in various woods, beads, bone, metal and reclaimed ivory- his skill level is awesome- the work in progress is fantastic- and I am saddened when he says he has never had a show. I see influence from Miro, Gaudi and Picasso- yet the work is truly original.
I take the group for the first walk in the forest, Albert-who does not go outside much- is tentative, perhaps a bit nervous- but everyone is thrilled to look closely at the grasses and seed heads that grow, we talk about decay and growth from decay, and the life cycle in balance having both birth and death in tandem. I have explained to the group that the project is different than first thought- we are not making work outdoors with invasives- but that I am creating a gallery exhibition- I tell them my ideas so far, and say this week is an invitation to participate with me in that process of seeing how it begins to come together- our goal is to connect the indoors and outdoors of the gallery space via an air vent that is simply a open pvc tube.
It all felt great as first classes go until it was time to teach how to make cordage with the cattails: everyone needs help at once, the air crackles with calls for “Sharon!, Carla! Carla! Sharon!” I feel completely useless with my English words, “ twist up, away, turn down, repeat…” at least forsight had served me well- and I had taught Carla when we first met this technique- so she knows- but I kick myself for not getting the Catala words as descriptions from her and learning them, and once more chastise myself for being so lousy at language… These are the moments when I am acutely aware of my inability to communicate. Somehow, half the group gets it in what was likely only about 15 minutes of panic, and they begin to show the others,
Antonia and Albert struggle, I keep holding their hands in mine, so they can follow my rhythm, and I feel their hands wanting to make more steps then there are- their brains want to make the technique more difficult than it really is- I understand this, as I was the same when I learned. At end of the session, Albert says that he is frustrated that he did not get it, he really wants to learn the technique, and is disappointed he has not got it. I promise him we will work on it more manana, and ask both Antonia and Albert to be patient with themselves, and say that with more time and practice they will get it.
And I hope that this is true.
Day 2: morning sessions now (10.30-1.30pm Mediterranean time) we have a great time walking in the “wet-zone”, now dry. I commit what must be botanical name crimes, by explaining that this plant in English is commonly called bulrush, and translate that to torro rapido—there are now people in Barcelona that call a plant “running bull”- this is how language adapts! Yikes. Please forgive me, my science-botany friends. Roundtable time with brainstorming life cycle words such as growth, germination, decay is time well spent- finding the common ground. This group likes to talk, and we have to edit ourselves so there is time yet for the making- I suggest we might try and make some of the words out of cordage- a steep task skill wise, yet we try. We settle in to more studio making time, it is very apparent that there is a wide level of skill range in the group, and I need to find ways of connecting everyone- hand detail work is not everyone’s cup of tea (an example of a language idiom that would flummox Carla). Juan was intrigued by the window in the gallery and is eager to find large branches to use indoors and out as connecting points. He is a true artistic collaborator- having strong ideas and visions that he tries to describe to me through Carla, and I in turn, answer with what his ideas conjure in my mind. I suspect much is lost of the subtlety of what we each see- yet we agree, find a common point to continue direction-wise and shake hands as a method of agreement that all is well and we are both happy with the process and aesthetic.
Some folks are completely taken with cordage making- and a frenzy of activity continues, others wander off to smoke more cigarettes. Antonia and Albert keep struggling to learn the key to making rope, we find different methods for them to try, and they keep at it. I am struck by the openness of the group to work in a completely new way from anything they have ever seen or experienced, the total trust in trying what I suggest is amazing, and the willingness to go along; not knowing what the outcome will be is impressive- this is not like any other adult group I have ever encountered- usually folks want the road map to follow.
At the end of the session there are all these little bits: evidence of trial and learning- I have repeated to the group that this is all a part of learning about new materials, what something can do- and that somehow all these components will come together into a singular whole. It is now my job to figure out how the hell to do that before everyone returns in the morning- somehow I have an installation to build from all these threads. And I need for this group to see how that happens and be a part of that success. About 15 minutes before the sun has completely set, I go outside and look at the wall- and can picture the seeds we have gathered and cordage bits we have made becoming a matrix that connects from one side of the gallery to the other. I can see a way to build that circle from inside to outside- I quickly pick up some of our flower/seed husks and start stuffing them into the brick imagining branching patterns flowing from one side to the other.
At Juan’s window I push seed heads through the screening in a simple branch formation. OK, I have direction again, and can see the group dividing off into cordage makers, “wall stuffers” and gatherers- among other things to be made. I sleep easy this night feeling it is going to be fine.
Day 3: The best day yet- an easy day for me as an instructor of this project. I take the group to the side of the gallery and show them the bit I did last night at days end- there is a collective gasp of excitement- I can tell they all get it right away, and we talk about a flow from the pipe- pieces emerging and submerging- but everything feeling connected and moving towards the window. A day is spent merrily working on various components- everyone finding a spot to add in, Juan gran ( the elder of 3 Juans in the group) is happy working on the wall most of the day, and by days end is excited to write “polinazar” in the dirt- the catala opposite to germinar ( and not pollinate, as one would expect) We decide the lime (calc) from the old kilns beside us is a great source for white substance that speaks of the land and can be used as a chalk. This will be Fridays work. Juan, Raul, Rosa, Nuria concentrate on indoors- and call me everyone once and a while to check in on progress, what they are discovering, making and installing, edits happen, and excitement over some of the “sculptural moments” of beauty they have created. Rosa and Raul collaborate intently on cordage, they have the technique down pat, and work on forming letters. Antonia and Albert have both dialed in cordage making, and keep their heads down, happily twisting away- calling Carla when assistance is needed. Yes, a good day indeed.
Friday- day 4: A somber mood when everyone arrives. Raul expresses they must go home today, and he doesn’t want to- he wants to stay forever. I know what he means, I feel that way about this place too…
We go for a walk up a trail with a beautiful view of the ravine/wet land. We find a snake skin- how perfect for decaure/decay and rebirth as a symbol. We collect it for the installation. People are stretched out along the path, shouts of happy exclamation are heard as people enjoy what they are seeing at their feet- I ask about if they look differently now than when they arrived 4 days ago- they all say yes! They look at the land; the colours, textures and patterns much more closely and feel a connection now that was not there just a short time ago. Amazing how little it takes for us to begin relearning what we have lost as city dwellers. Later, Juan takes Albert and Jordi on a “hunting trip” for the perfect dead wood trunk it is decided we need. They return triumphant, with the log across their collective shoulders, as they set it down I see ants are crawling all over its surface frantically- I look at Albert’s back and see he is covered in ants, and they are on his neck and scalp- remember, this is the same man who said day 1 he did not go outdoors much, and was hesitant about nature- just 3 days ago! Wow. I squish ants on his neck and calmly commend him on his rapid transition to being a country man. Who could have guessed…
Juan gran works on polinazar in calc, using a stick as a scratching tool, others help me fill the spaces with chunks of lime. We are rushing against the clock now and almost out of time. As we are finishing rain begins, as if Juan gran has conjured the much needed rain by scratching in the dirt.
We finish off with a closing circle. I am moved by how deeply touched these people seem with the work we have done and their time in the countryside. I thank them for their patience and trust- in me, the process and the project, and commend Antonia and Albert for how incredibly well they did sticking to something until they got it. We all applaud Carla on the wonderful job she has done on behalf of all of us. They tell me how much they admire my lifestyle, and what I do in my art- I remind them that I too am a city dweller, living in an apartment- very different from this landscape, yet I find ways to do all these things within a city. I make suggestions on how they can find the green-waste pile in a Barcelona park near them, use debris from community gardens, pick up leaves on city streets. I tell them “close your eyes, breathe deeply, remember this air, the view, and take it home with you” for this is what I do myself. I hope more than anything that they each find ways to continue this connection; with each other, and with nature wherever they find it. Saying adios is difficult. What a week. .. and now I have 3 days to process where to go from here for the next group. It has been raining for 3 hours straight as I type. Hard rain, not the light patter of the other day. This will actually do something. A shift is taking place.