This project was fraught with confusion and challenges from the start as it went from being an online exercise to one to be carried out in real life. It also went from being ‘What is a Heterotopia?’ to (as we were informed last Friday, May 4th) ‘Is One Life Enough?’ and to now include reference to all 3 concepts of heterotopia, utopia and dystopia.
I did not feel inspired by either of the briefs for this project and indeed this whole experience has encapsulated the issues of studying on Sherkin. All my classmates live huge distances away from my home and studio. Our time on the island is very short and intense – indeed, this semester we have only been on the island 5 times. There is no permanent DIT space on the island, students see very little of each other at work in the studio. There is no relaxing on a weekday over a coffee in the canteen, discussing each others work. We tend to only communicate with each other, from our home studios, at times of stress which does not help in the forging of working relationships. Abilities and commitment to the course vary hugely, and with most of the practical work being executed individually and away from the Island, it can be hard to gauge strengths and weaknesses of fellow students.
The Tunisian Collaborative Painting alluded to by Mark Barry was particularly interesting, from its inception under a brutalist political regime to its ethos of being ‘An art form that celebrates the oneness of all human beings and the wonder of the creative process’ (Tunisian Collaborative Painting UK)
Unfortunately my own experience of Collaborative Painting would probably be described as illustrating ‘the separateness of all human beings and the perplexity of the creative block’ .
Our Group consisted of myself, Margaret Flynn and Denis McCarthy. We discussed the possibilities of engaging with ‘What is a Heterotopia?’ over the week, utilising Facebook and WhatsApp. Margaret suggested the use of the traditional willowware pattern in ceramics as a vehicle for investigation. I discovered the work of British ceramic artist, Paul Stott and his protest against the arrest of Chinese artist and dissident, Ai Weiwei in his piece, ‘A Willow for Ai Weiwei’
The British artist Paul Scott made a statement by placing his missing colleague on a porcelain platter − a material with deep Chinese roots. Scott has added several details pointing toward the Chinese artist in the platter, which is based on antique Willow-patterned porcelain. Thus, a dystopia within a utopia, illustrated on a heterotopia!
Unfortunately Denis was in the midst of a house move so unable to contribute to preparatory ideas.
We began the work on the Friday on Sherkin, utilizing my own and Margaret’s extensive research into the Willow ware pattern and designing a collaborative image for an A1 sheet and distributing jobs within our group. However, the best laid plans go astray and by Saturday it was clear that this was indeed the case. We were given (another!) brief that our painting was now to be on a large square of Fabriano (4ft x 4ft approx). To complicate matters further Margaret became very ill and had to leave before we started on our substantial redesign, unfortunately taking much of the preparatory work with her. Thus down a woman and with one very reluctant painter on-board, we set to work on a simplified version, still attempting to reference the original willowware idea. There is a certain naive charm to the finished piece and Denis’ newspaper ‘fiery’bird was particularly successful (although unpainted – leading me to question another aspect of the course – the oddly specific ((yet remarkably changeable!)) briefs that we get given for investigating the different modules. As the bird was not painted, is it ‘wrong’ even though it is visually successful?). My own dystopian contribution, the fiery house reminded me of painting a theatre backdrop.
The whole experience was so stressful that I feel very prejudiced against this work despite its successes and unfortunately increasingly questioning my ability to participate withing the DIT Sherkin Island Visual Art Degree course programme.
I will finish on the original inspiration, the old English poem that accompanies the willowware pattern –
Two birds flying high,
A Chinese vessel, sailing by.
A bridge with three men, sometimes four,
A willow tree, hanging o’er.
A Chinese temple, there it stands,
Built upon the river sands.
An apple tree, with apples on,
A crooked fence to end my song.