Students at Tsinghua University Sculpture workshop.
Having sat for four sessions this week for clay sculpture class of Prof Pan Yiqun at Tsinghua, it was a good exercise for me to learn to sit still for a change. My friend Pan Yiqun has been a long time participating artist with the annual Irish Wave exhibitions, even before I joined many years ago.
The class was a mixture of first year painting and printing students. Once the class started, within the first hour all I could see was a room full of Pinocchio clays. The students were transforming an old sculpture paring it back from the Chinese model of the previous week to a western one (yours truly). Of course the nose was the first thing to be worked on. I tried not to laugh to myself as I continued to sit. I’m not sure why I found it funny but I did and I was glad of it. The students at break chatted and practiced their English using words like high nose bridge, another student also pointed out the eyelid folds.
It was a happy productive silence for hours with patting using small wooden boards, pushing and pulling with hands and fingers, the silence broken with a muted occasional joke. I also enjoyed watching other people seeing and studying what is in front of them. How they walked the room and caught the model and their own work in the same field from different perspectives. At one point one student was almost on the ground looking up. Of course the old snapshots by phone were inevitable but only for a few students.
I was trying to be as professional as possible holding the tilt of the head using fixed points of vision of the line of my cheek with the edge of the chair so I could easily recalibrate my position. Alas towards the end of one session I let myself down. Even though I successfully fought it off for a few times I felt myself nod off. I woke up with a start nearly jumping off the chair and off the platform. I had been doing so well up to that point. The down side to being relaxed is that the mouth becomes more downturned and now all the clays were big noses with growling mouths.
The next morning I set out to amend this anomaly and started out with a deliberate smile but it somehow faded back to the growl again.
Throughout the sessions the Pan Yiqun would walk through the room to advise and direct. Paring a piece here adding a piece there or explaining some observation. Most of the time I could only understand from the hand movements as he spoke.
The fourth and final session ended very lively with the destruction of the clays as all the models were to be taken apart and armature stripped bare. There was such joy in the destruction it made me think of the frequent desire the artist has to destroy work and how it becomes so compelling and the release in letting it go.
This goes far beyond simply getting rid of something you made. I began to wonder about why it felt empowering. Maybe it involves the notion of ownership, having constructed and destructed, the ownership stays with the artists.
After the last class Pan Yiqun treated a group of the students and myself to a delicious lunch at one of the campus restaurants. All that construct/destruct is hungry work.
On a final note,
I was invited to have a look Pan Yiqun’s studio. Here is Pan Yiqun’s clay model before going to foundry. This is part of a project that addresses the issues of the so named “comfort women” . He brought the final cast to Korea for a project there recently. A couple of months earlier the Korean artist came to his studio to work side by side with him on smaller maqettes showing here in the centre of the photo.