Art School: Semester 6, Week 2

Hello everyone! This post was partly written earlier in the week — before the onset of homework, particularly from Cultural Theory — so I am going to wrap it up and publish it quickly and get to the things I really have to do this weekend. I suspect it’s going to be a long semester.

Advanced Ceramics

The first meeting of this class went well, though the first project is on the wheel. We’re throwing a series of five small bowls to use for glaze tests. We’re using a white, stoneware, cone 06 clay, probably so we can see the glaze colours well once the firing is done. I think I understand we’ll be firing them in a gas kiln, rather than an electric one, which changes the atmosphere in which the glazes form their colours. (Can you tell I have almost no knowledge of clay at this point? It’s true.)

Wheel throwing, as it happens, is not something I am good at. In my defence, I have had almost no experience at it, and I know practice is needed. I have thrown several bowls in my first attempts, and initially I thought I was doing OK. Then I went to photograph them and was appalled. They were terrible. Here’s what I had as of Tuesday afternoon:

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The plan is for all of these to get to leather hard state, and then I will flip them over on the wheel and trim them down to reasonably thick walls, and add a foot to each. But as I look at them now I am still not impressed. These are the best ones I have managed so far, but there is a long way to go. I discarded (recycled) several other attempts, as you might imagine.

I did another round of throwing on Friday morning. In the process a few of the above were discarded and new ones took their place. Here’s what I will have on Monday as class arrives:

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With luck I can trim them into nice things, and I hope I got rid of the worst of the first batch. In total I probably threw somewhere between 15 and 20 to get these 10. My understanding is that these will be whittled down to no more than five for the firing and glaze testing. So, progress is being made. I just have to get to them to leather hard state for trimming on Monday afternoon, which means checking on them twice over the weekend.

Public Art

Class this week consisted of a lecture about the collective artist group General Idea, a group of three Canadian artists who made a big splash back in the 1960s and continued to work until 1994. They started out working in many directions, often creating (in my mind, anyway) kind of deliberately silly stuff, along with some parody, but towards the end the AIDS crisis was a major theme. Two of the group members died of AIDS, so it was clearly something they were personally dealing with.

The discussion about General Idea happened because our class is forming a collective for two of our projects: the vinyl window treatment and the large installation at the local SkyTrain station. Thus, we should know a bit about what collectives are and how they can operate.

In addition, we had a lecture/demo about basic welding tools in the shop (which I have used and am up to speed on), and we met with the instructor to go over our ideas for our own, personal public art piece that we will install on campus. I brought her two ideas:

  1. A hanging piece to introduce colour and some more natural curves into the library, a building built of concrete and glass, the interior of which feels kind of Brutalist in style. I think some colour and more flowing shapes would be interesting in there, and I am contemplating ways to make that happen.
  2. A kinetic metal sculpture that would stand in a particular place outside the library.

It turns out the instructor likes option 1 because it is something I am less familiar with, and thus a chance to stretch my wings some more.

On Friday morning I met with the art librarian to discuss the location, the concept, get input and ideas from her, and take down dimensions of the site. That was an entertaining conversation, but it didn’t go in a great direction from the perspective of getting on with the development of the piece. Instead it opened up new ideas and pointed out concerns or limits with the initial concept. She’s very concerned about light in that space, and wants to be sure that nothing I do makes to darker in the stacks there. And she pointed out that the tops of the stacks are available to put things on, and they are steel, so simple magnets will hold things in place without any long term impact.

Thus, this weekend will involve more ideation and sketching. Whee.

Cultural Theory

Cultural theory was more amusing and interesting than I expected. The instructor lectured about our readings from last week — Ferdinand de Saussure and Roland Barthes — and then there was a discussion about the readings.

As I mentioned last week, Saussure is the founder of Linguistics, and basically created the idea of Semiotics, or the understanding of signs. I find his take on things a bit subtle and hard to grasp, but the general idea is that there are concepts in our brains and words that go with those concepts — respectively the signified and the signifier. Collectively those items create a “sign”, which is a thing that can be studied in some ways. The rules about signs and how they are created and used must be agreed upon for language to work. And specific signs have “value” in relation to other signs used to discuss the same (or similar) things. The example that came up is “big.” There are many other words that mean almost the same thing: large, huge, massive, and so on. See any thesaurus for a long list. In many — and perhaps most — cases, you can swap one of those for another, and so the relative value of those words is diminished in Saussure’s conception. If there was only one word that meant big, it would be have more value. As it happens, though, this is context dependent. When discussing t-shirt sizes, there is a size “large,” but there is no size “huge” or “massive.” In the context of the language of t-shirt sizes, “large” has a lot of value because there aren’t other terms to describe that particular size.

Barthes — a staunch Marxist — took Saussure’s concepts and stretched them to include more stuff, particularly visual media, I think. Our introduction to Barthes was reading an extract of one of his Mythologies, which were magazine articles published in France discussing the various myths of modern culture as he saw them, using Linguistics as a supporting framework. The primary example from our reading was about a photo exhibit that was called The Great Family of Man in France. It used photos of humans being born, dying, and working to make the claim that humanity is united. Barthes tore that down, claiming the exhibit — and the claimed unified humanity — was a myth used to cover up the massive injustices done by the system, and thus attempting to make major class distinctions appear natural. (After all, we’re all united and one, so the way things are must be right and normal. Don’t question it!)

It was an interesting discussion, but now we are moving on. Next week we’re discussing Marx himself, and I have some (probably thick and difficult) reading to do in preparation. My wife actually used the phrase “dense and pretentious” to describe this kind of reading, and she’s right. Huge, long paragraphs full of words I have to look up. Sentences that ramble on and on and on. You get the idea. Very sleep inducing. But I am working on it.

Other School Stuff

I went to an opening last night with artworks by two friends of mine from school, Atheana and Kelsey. Both are of Coast Sailish descent, and both are wonderful people and artists.

On the left, in front of Atheana’s work. On the right in front of Kelsey’s.

It was wonderful to get out and see them, and to see their artwork out “in the wild.”

Other Non-School Stuff

It’s been all school all the time this past week, so no news here.

Harbour News

Last week I mentioned a ship that was going to arrive to be retrofitted, and the hotel ship that had been brought in to house the crew for two or three weeks while they worked on it. Well, the target ship has arrived:

Hotel ship on the left, ship to be worked on on the right, in the dry dock. And since those photos were taken I have seen tarps over windows on the ship being worked upon (it has rained here), and as you can see it is well out of the water. So that is really happening. I will be interested to see if they can really get it done as quickly as the article said it would be.

And we had another busy day in the harbour. Tuesday saw two more cruise ships playing chase on their way out. I saw the first one — much farther away in the photos — early on. Shortly thereafter I discovered we were catching up to the closer (and larger) ship that had just left port before us. We were perhaps 30 metres from its stern at closest approach. I didn’t see it right away because I was sitting in the back of the SeaBus and my view of it was blocked until it started coming into view as we passed it.

Wednesday saw at least three large ships moving around in the harbour as the SeaBus took me home, but I didn’t catch any photos of those. Still, it was unusual to see so many ships in motion at once, at least in my experience.

And in later-in-the-week news:

That’s right, the two behemoth cruise ships that can barely fit under the Lions Gate Bridge are coming back. Regularly, it seems, at least this fall. I have no interest in cruises at this point in my life, but seeing these huge things move around is always interesting from a physics perspective.

And In Conclusion…

I have nothing else to add, sadly, and nothing humorous to share here. I need to get cracking on reading some extracts from Marx, and I am not looking forward to it. Maybe I can find some more avoidant behaviour to engage in. Cheers all!

Written by

Sculptor/Artist. Former programmer. Former volunteer firefighter. Former fencer. Weirdest resume on the planet, I suspect.

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