This course is taught by Contemporary maker Prof. Elisabeth Holder.

It involves the exploration of materials via an approach which deconstructs a traditional methods. Instead of engaging with a material with the intent of controlling the form which it will finally take, we are encouraged to engage in a dialogue with the material, Allowing the material to determine it’s own form, through it’s own inherent qualities.

First class: Elisabeth enters the room and places 20-odd A4 kraft envelopes on the desk, each numbered. Then she proceeds to pass around a hat full of folded papers, also numbered. Each of us draws a number, and takes the corresponding envelope. Some envelopes are light, flat, empty looking, others have strange protrusions creasing their surface.
My envelope, number 18, is relatively flat and slightly weighty – a bit nondescript.
When all the recipients claim their envelopes, (there are six or so unclaimed. Excess secrets.) we all begin to tear them open. It is like christmas, preparing myself to react adequately, regardless of my impression.

On first impressions:
– Tasteless, odourless, no distinct sound on manipulation (except throwing it against a hard surface)
– amorphous, reformable
– opaque, except when in very, very thin layers, becomes semi-translucent.- oily residue
– leaves traces of itself behind on skin, paper
– Also holds traces of its surrounding.
– affected by temperature, heat makes it more pliable, cold more stiff

Now, we are instructed to remember and consider our first experiences of the material.

*   *   *

I am young, perhaps six or seven years of age. I am in a cubby house made of timber in my back yard, built by my dad. I spent hours in that place, drawing, painting, making potions and perfumes and tea and toys and figurines. Tiny imaginary machines, homes for creatures and toys.
I have a box of coloured plasticine, eight colours or maybe more. I am always careful to keep the colours separate – only ever pressing different colour lightly together, so as it return them to their separate wads of colour when I was finished. it only takes one mistake, for the piece to be forever changed. It wasn’t as though the colours mixed, like my paints did, but rather swirled into an impossible chaos of multiple colours. 
It was summer, and I became distracted by the flowers and sun and insects, so I abandoned my workshop for a few weeks to the heady rhythms of the outside world. Returning to my bench, I found my box of plasticine, transformed by the sun’s glass-house effect on the plastic container from neat wads of colour to one great colourful mass, cast to the interior shape of the box.
I was disappointed, but also mesmerised by this incidental artwork – I stuck a heart-shaped piece of soap in the centre and kept it in my bedroom, in its box, for years. I never touched it again.

*   *   *

Next, we are to take the material, and consider what we might like to do with it. Think about the form we want it to take. I want to see how fine I can make it, stretch it out into one long, striated ribbon, fold it back onto itself, so the light filters through the surface, finding places to hide inside the curves.

And then, we are instructed to make it.

I try stretching the plasticine out – it is surprisingly unpredictable, highly elastic, but not uniform. It tears and ripples. It is at first kind of disappointing, because I know immediately I won’t be able to do what I wanted. Or at least, the material doesn’t want to be controlled as such. So I resolve to let go of my vision and let the material decide on a form. I begin to gently stretch and tear pieces of the material away from the lump, prying it between my fingers. As it gets thin, it warms and changes immediately under the heat of my fingertips. The torn pieces are very fine around the edges, rippled and glassine, like a carnation petal or internal issue. I start placing pieces onto the table surface, layering them, letting them curve and gently bend, finding their own forms. Even after I place them, the pieces continue to change and fall over time, slowly evolving.

The form I make is incredibly voluminous and intricate, like seaweed or some organic material. There is no symmetry or geometry, but there are forces at work – the piece is not static, but rather in a constant, slow flux. Collecting materials from the air around it. Not resisting heat or pressure or time, but gently accepting it.It can never be returned to its original state. Or perhaps, it’s original state doesn’t matter. It is flux, embodied.  

I find myself attributing a kind of poeticism to the material, and feeling a kind of kinship. Like it is teaching me something about experience and acceptance.

After reflecting on our objects, we have a mini exhibition of our explorations. Everyone is given a dozen or so small strips of paper. We are to make a small evaluative statement about everyone else’s works – anonymous, placing the paper face-down next to the work. I have included them below. 

 

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