I haven’t taught very much in life and now find myself in the position of teaching creative techniques to scientists and engineers. I felt strongly at the start of this residency that I didn’t want to just come, experience and make my own art but rather have a dialogue between art and science with the people who work here.
A couple of days back, on Saturday, we had a ‘family creative break’ where spouses and relatives of people who work at Gemini came by to try out some of the exercises. My translator didn’t show up for the first hour and so I just winged it in my beginner Spanish. I had excellent scripts which a native Mexican friend in Vancouver had helped me prepare (thank you Melania!), so although it was a bit ponderous to read from the scripts, everyone told me that everything was ‘claro’ or clear.
We started with cyanotype printing — using the largest star in our own solar system to make art. I asked everyone to bring small, flat personal items which worked well in the prints. (Engineers have an edge on this one as most of them are walking around with tiny wrenches in their pockets or bits of wire or other interesting tools.)
The children, as children will do, just waded in and tried things — as a child, that is pretty much your modus operandi — learning new stuff all the time. The adults were more tentative but as the afternoon wore on, everyone tackled one or more of the four exercises on offer — sumi-e, which is Japanese calligraphy — we created visual poems using the Japanese characters for stars, astronomy, outer space, planets and other Gemini-themed ideas. Shodo– the ‘way of writing’ is actually a martial art practised competitively in Japan between rival monasteries in the Kyoto area. It requires the participant to adopt an uncomfortable bent-kneed position over a large swath of paper, a large broom is dipped into a bucket of ink and the shodo-iste must paint their large Japanese characters on the paper, walking backwards. Although it takes years of work to become good, even a beginner can achieve some interesting effects and well, heck, it is just fun to slosh around a gallon of ink in a bucket with
The fourth exercise was texture mapping of an environment — which doesn’t sound inspiring but is actually rather fun. The artist takes a piece of paper which has been divided by folding into about sixteen rectangles. They then take soft graphite and rub each small rectangle against a different texture in the room. In this manner, they map the entire environment via textures only. The result is a lovely, silvery abstraction of a large piece of paper covered with rectangles of different textures rendered in graphite.