Let's meet the artists!
Refreshing rain and cool conditions, this means that the studio will be a pleasure to work in. Normally the large skylight allows the sun to shine directly on my studio area and it gets pretty warm and the sweat just rolls down my face. I had to begin working on the first block of clay today, marking the guidelines and carving into the surface to create the relief surface. While I did that Yu finished packing the second wood form, makes his hands sore because you basically punch the clay with your fist like a ram. I created a template out of foam core, which will hold the curve of the relief that I will use as a guide. It works out b-e-a-utiful, Chun Hua is really taken by this animated way that I showed her, so much so that she does a little dance every time she says it, she is quite the bundle of energy and has a natural ability with language and a love for it, I think.
I finish the day designing and making some clay tools.
Today all the artists were taken on a site seeing tour of Changchun, good thing for me because I was beat. I didn’t sleep well and just felt bad, burned out, so the bus ride worked to my favor. On the way to a large “famous” park I nodded off, I must have looked bad because two or three different folks said I looked “out of it”. The day was over cast and cool, really enjoyable. At the park lots of people flying kites and there were sculptures at all four entrances with the themes of Bounty, Motherly Love, Welcome and the last one was two large figurative works that were male and female nudes. It’s nice to see that there are no hang-ups over having nudes in public spaces here. Another observation…sculpture depicting mother and child seem to almost always show the child as male.
Stopped at the side of the road in the middle of a “famous” bridge that crossed a lake, so that we could take pictures. All I wanted to do was sleep at lunch back at the hotel, but I knew that was the wrong strategy, because then I would be awake all night, a vicious circle, so after lunch, off to the studio to construct the third plywood form and begin filling it with clay. I got my second wind and made good progress and was thankful when the announcement went out that the bus had arrived, it was thirty minutes early. I couldn’t decide if I was more tired or hungry, so after reaching the hotel I fed myself and fell into bed.
Thursday, August 7, 2008
First thing this morning all the artists gathered in a room on the 16th floor for a medical check-up, this didn’t set well with a few of the artists. We had no idea what was to be done and I felt a little on edge because we learn blood would be drawn and blood pressure taken and an EKG, given my passed bad medical experience during the past two years That was enough to boost the old blood pressure. This was all done for blood typing and for an insurance coverage for the group, when you think about it this is really a first class organization.
It is a beautiful sunny morning, crisp, after the day before having rained. We have 500 pounds of work ahead of us, as we continue to pack large balls of clay into the form of the first section of the sculpture. We managed to get one quarter filled the day before and it won’t be until before lunch that the form is filled. At 11:30 it’s time for a clothes change and some lunch, a ride on the bus gets all the artists back to the hotel in 10 minutes and we have until 2:00pm to eat and rest, today I really enjoyed the rest and shower at lunch.
Back at the studio Yu and I begin disassembling the form…the moment of truth…it looks good, minimal clean up and we wrap it in plastic and move on to rebuild the form again and begin packing the clay for the next section. When all four sections are stacked the sculpture will be just over 3 meters tall (120 inches or 10 feet). I need 2 ½ inch wood screws and there are none to be found…oh wait some are found in an old wood construction and removed for me…oh wait a screw drive must be located first, with a + head, that can wait and we move on. There is at least another 500-600 pounds of clay to be packed into the form and I have the longest arms to reach the bottom of the form, so I’m up on the table laying the first 75 pounds. The bus is here, thank goodness. Shower then dinner, looks like squid and other delights, there are large bottle beer, but I refrain, don’t get me wrong a cold one wood be good and I can taste it, but tomorrow is a long one and I want to be at my best for Yu and Chan Hua. It’s not all work, they both have been exposed to the poetic farewell “See you later alligator, after while crocodile” and I now can ask for water please, thank you, hello, good job.
The picture above is me packing clay into the form, what a great workout and all the while chatting with Chun Hua and her interested friend with the bag. This is difficult work, and in no time I’m dripping with sweat. Yu and I get a rhythm going and we have made great progress this morning. The clay is inconsistent, some old used clay which is firm and then the next batch is newer soft and sticky, not really ideal, I fear that after the wood form is removed on this block it could slump or sag. That being the case I opt to stop filling the form at ¾ full and reinforce the top of the form after lunch.
This afternoon Michael Warrick and myself and our trusted interpreters Chun Hua and Angela, decide to walk into the enormous sculpture park, it’s so pleasant strolling down the wide sidewalks with a cool breeze with a wonderful variety of summer flowers blooming and birds flitting about. We walk stopping and viewing the sculptures from artists from all over the world. It wasn’t long before we came across an elderly couple very interested in us, obviously we looked not from around these parts, they told us in broken English, that they had visited the U.S.A. and that their son was living in Las Vegas. We parted with smiles and continued down the path, and Wow I found a sculpture from an artist from Belau, too cool, the path forks many times and before we know it, over an hour had passed. We made it as far as the lake and this was barely quarter of the park, we will be doing this again, but for now we cut across so we don’t miss the bus back to the hotel.
Our first day to work at the studio at the sculpture park. But first, I had a surprise, I learned while visiting the studio a few days earlier that instead of creating my sculpture out of stainless steel mysteriously, it was listed on the banner above my studio work space, that I was going to be using the medium of bronze. Shocked, I thought about all the work in previous weeks before leaving Saipan, that was spent in preparation for stainless steel. I inquired, and even while doing so, I kind of like the idea of working with bronze again, bronze casting and sculpture was my main focus in college. In fact a friend Mike Egbert and I had a 100 pound foundry in Boise ID after college. Anyway I had been told that while working in stainless steel I would be separated from the rest of the other artists, at a near by sheet metal factory, that was not real appealing to me, so working with the clay for the later bronzes, in the same studio with the other artists was preferred. So, I kind of kept quite thinking about how I could use what I had prepared as cut sheets for stainless, and still use them for cast bronze. For the next couple of days I began solving this problem in my mind, during the festivities and ceremonies always in the back of my mind I’m thinking how to change the medium. Well I worked it out and decided it was all for the better, and it was something that some of the other artists were experiencing also.
All the artists gathered at the studio with interpreters to meet the artist’s assistance, my assistant is a university art student named Yu, a very nice young man who was eager to help obtain materials. I made a list and inquired about what might be possible and little by little began to get an understanding of the situation and availability tools and materials, in the mean time, Yu moved about 500 pounds of clay to my work site inside the studio area, and we hit it off rather well, I think.
First real day of work and accomplishment. Materials were delivered to the studio area, Plywood, nails and steel for the armature. We began right away cutting the plywood for the form and then the large timbers for the platform or base that will hold the clay sculpture. Measuring is a bit of a chore because I have the only inches tape measure in China and all my calculations for the sculpture were done in inches, China is metric and so we have established that all work must be measured with my unique tape and I guard it well because it’s so difficult to replace. I’m sure that the tape measure I’m using is made in China but you can’t buy one here. There is a great deal of waiting for the use of a tool like hand saws and hammers and if a piece of steel needs to be cut well you must wait for that as well. All the assistants communicate and scurry around hunting down the tool or arranging for the welders to become available and only the hired men that weld can run the welding machine and only them (even though I can weld). The project would go much faster because, if I weld, there is no need to have the translation process, but then I suppose someone would not have a job. The real thing is that all that needs to get done does get done, just going with the flow makes for a better day in the long run. The spirit between everyone is great and having to wait for something gives me time to wonder around and chat with fellow artists and share ideas, lend a helping hand or suggestion.
The weather was overcast and cool. It is fascinating to walk in to the studio in the morning and have our assistant and interpreter there ready and as eager to get started as you are. The studio reaches full speed in about a 30 minutes as the artist’s and their assistants go over the plan for the day. The plan for the Wonenberg studio niche was to create the four platforms that the four sections of the sculpture will sit on while modeling and to make it easier to move the sections around once completed. Having assembled the plywood form for the first section (the bottom most) of the sculpture and lined it with plastic to keep the clay from sticking to the plywood, we moved on to getting the metal armatures welded so we can begin loading the form with clay. Wow, now we are working, Yu is handing the clay to me as I place it in the form in all the corners to begin the process of filling the form. Slowly at first, then we find our rhythm and soon even Chun Hua my interpreter is even helping, chattering away in her bubbly fashion, asking questions and translating my instruction to Yu my assistant.
Soon the day is at an end and the bus is here to give the group a ride back to the hotel for dinner at 6:30 and much needed rest.
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
Opening ceremony at the Sculpture Park Museum, the artists were introduced and dignitaries gave speeches and Rodin’s sculpture the “Thinker” was unveiled for the first time, a recent purchase from the Rodin Foundation by the city of Changchun. The event was well attended and very well done, after all the pomp, guests ate at a buffet style dinner. Then photographs were taken and we all had a great time. You notice I wore the tie. The young lady I’m standing with in front of the “Thinker” is Chun Hua my interpreter. Even though she was working I believe the evening was quite a special event for her. The other image is a group shot of just a few fellow artists, a good time had by all.
A day of rest before the Welcoming ceremony at the hotel, most of the artists have arrived, I decided to begin my Blog/journal having the day to myself. We (the artists) received a gift from the mayor of Changchun or the equivalent, a nice work vest, booklets, and a silk tie (was that a hint). I don’t even own one myself and have not put one on for over twenty years. It seems that many of the other artists felt the same way. Great food, the usual speeches with translation and a wonderful toast with a very warm Chinese wine with quite a kick to it.
I'm keeping this blog as a journal format, and I'm a bit behind but will catch up soon with the postings...as you will see, I've been pretty busy.
Leaving Saipan to anywhere for an international flight means that you are up in the early morning hours, what a great way to begin my seven week journey. I must say that the anticipation of the trip had pumped me up and I was really quite awake. Although I was going to miss my family terribly I knew that this is a very big deal fro any artist fortunate to be invited to attend and participate. One small thing was weighing on my mind, I had a ticket that had the Seoul Korea to Changchun China part missing, and I had been assured by Aimee, my China coordinator that the ticket would be at the China Southern ticket counter in Seoul. Other than that one small thing I was going to China and create a monumental Stainless Steel sculpture, which up until now was just too expensive for me to afford.
After landing in Seoul at around six in the morning, my immediate goal is to find a hotel and the Chinese embassy. My plan was to get a hotel close to the embassy to minimize the taxi travel to and from, with some wrangling at the Information counter and hotel counter I was sent to a hotel very close to the embassy and began the hour and twenty minute bus ride in to downtown soul. The Sejong is nice and I managed to talk down the price of the room from 149,000 to 111,000 Won, I felt pretty good about that and the room was comfortable. I had the morning to get the Visa, so I got directions and even though it was in walking distance I took a taxi just to make sure, five minutes later I’m there and can see the hotel just two to three blocks away in the skyline. Now here is where I made some good choices and avoided a whole lot of problems that got one of the African artists stuck in Seoul for three days with not enough money. First I checked the guard at the gate and he said “Visa go to travel agent” red flag goes up in my mind they are expecting me, I’m a guest of the Chinese government, so I try again, same thing happened. Down what seemed like an ally, lined up to help me get a Visa were the “Travel Agents”, this can’t be right but I’ll try it. It became clear this was not the route to take when the agent could only deliver a Visa in three days and no sooner, I gathered my papers and headed back to the Chinese embassy guard, to give it another shot. This time I pulled out the U.S. Passport and he nodded and waved me through, wow I thought, cool it does have its privileges. At the window inside, I presented all my documents (including my passport) and recalled that Aimee said she would contact the embassy notifying them of my arrival, and I also had in my hands some documents that had been sent DHL that looked pretty official, I hoped they would speed the process along. The woman behind the glass stood up and in very clear English said “ Please wait a moment, I’ll be right back”, taking the passport and all. At that moment I felt very vulnerable, in the foreign country without that passport on my person, well the feeling gets worse when she comes back and with just a receipt and asks me to return at 2:30 and bring 155,000 Won. I feel very uncomfortable at the notion of walking around Korea without that passport, but what to do? You have to just go with the flow and trust all will go well. Making the most of my lunch break, I recalled seeing an Outback Steak House on a corner street while riding in the taxi; if I’m going to be stranded I figured I was going to be well fed.
I returned to the embassy and presented the receipt, paid the money, and was given the blue little passport with the Chinese Visa inside and sent on my merry way. Like I said sometimes you have to trust that all will workout, and I slept very well.
Left Seoul Korea in the afternoon 1:30 with Chinese Visa (Visa story soon to come) in hand and everything went smoothly with the Hotel transport to the airport. Check-in at the airline (China Southern) was smooth. I had been a bit worried because I didn’t have but a printout of something that may or may not have been an E-ticket. After meeting with the ticket agent and checking in, I knew it would be smooth sailing from here, and that true to their word, this organization was taking care of everything.
Two hours later, I was landing in Changchun China. As we made the approach I could see oceans of farmland and a lush green of varying patterns.
As I waited to pick up my baggage I could see off in the distance outside the gate many people waiting and some signs held up above the crowd, one having my name printed out boldly held by a man obviously the driver and next to him, bouncing and darting back and forth between the breaks in the crowd, was a petite and very excited young Chinese girl, waving and bouncing up and down as if she were standing on hot pavement. I waved back assuming that she had a picture of me. I received a very warm welcome and was given a bouquet of flowers. I learned that her name was Chun Hua, and that she was to be my interpreter.
There was some down time at the hotel in China because all the artists were arriving at different times and days from all over the world, many island nations and some sister cities arrangements with Changchun. A fellow artist, Michael Warrick (he’s from Little Rock, AK) and I, along with our trusted interpreters decided we would travel into the city for some shopping and site seeing. We took a taxi ride into the city for shopping. The taxi ride was hair raising to say the least, even though I had be in a lot of countries that were the same sort of ride, darting, weaving and horn popping off as if to be a warning and not a caution. My foot hit the floor a few time as if I had a break peddle, not that I had been quick enough. We stopped into a large shopping mall, the sort of which you would see anywhere in the U.S., Michael and I were quite novel and attracted a lot of attention. We scored some goodies and at a great price and off we went in our urban roller coaster to the hotel.
More to come.