23 Feb. 2017
Clea van der Grijn’s Reconstructing Memory is the culmination of three years hard work. The exhibition is multi-disciplinary featuring paintings, installations, sculptures & photography. It’s the result of the artist’s stay in Sayulita, a jungle encased village in the heart of the Mexican jungle. Considering the prolific nature of the show at hand, it is interesting to wonder what a masterclass hosted by the artist would entail. In other words, what can a group learn in one day of an exhibition that took the artist over three years, multiple mediums and one heck of a move to create?
Quite a lot, as it turns out.
The class commences at 10.30 am in the education room at The Model. Van der Grijn begins with a short talk, explaining the conception and creation of Reconstructing Memory. Then comes a tour of Reconstructing Memory packed with lesser-known facts about the exhibition. After our tour, the real work begins. As an exercise in the art of beading skulls, a traditional folk art in Mexico, we are asked to pick symbols from a sheet that van der Grijn hands us. These symbols serve a dual purpose, they provide the intrinsic designs that adorn the skulls and tell the story of the person the individual the skull has been decorated for.
The symbols are not for the faint hearted. They are complex patterns that need to be beaded & glued to the skull with great care. Of course, half of us find this fact out after we have chosen the hardest, most detail heavy symbols. The skulls are polystyrene and the first step in the decoration process is to create a base. Seeing as the students in the master class had long since waved goodbye to childhood, it would be fair to presume that coating the skulls with crepe paper and P.V.A. would be a tedious chore. But far from it, creating the base with sticky, messy glue is more fun than you can imagine. Toddlers really do have the life of it.
After the bases are created the skulls are left to air dry, we pick from a mountain of supplies. There are tiny beads, shiny buttons, crepe papers, fake flowers & an abundance of markers to help us tell our stories. When the skulls are ready, so begins the challenge of decorating. Van der Grijn has brought along a real beaded skull as an example and your dear correspondent catches more then one nervous glance in its direction as the class unfolds.
Indeed, the Mexican skull is so skillfully and beautifully decorated that it feels more Fine Art than Folk Art. And ours are proving more difficult than we predicted, the beads are difficult to control and the glue is temperamental. Looking down and the cranium in my grasp is a sad affair, with its paper-Mache surface & drawn on nostrils, it feels less Fine Art & more Art Attack. But the Masterclass is enjoyable nonetheless. The shared mood is relaxed and the conversation careens naturally from topic to topic like the bends in a lazy river. “You must take yourself seriously as an artist,” van der Grijn tells us. It is not her only tit bit of advice but the one she says in her most vigor.
The rest of the class is spent finishing our skulls but only beginning our stories. I would highly recommend a master class to anyone interested in a particular exhibition. Not only will you learn a new skill, it is also a chance to get to know the artist behind the work, and perhaps learn to see the exhibition from their point of view.