The Art Assignment is a YouTube channel that is cool. I’m working my way through the assignments. The first post is here and this is the second batch of projects. Here is what I did, and what it made me think.
The brief: find the quietest place you can within walking distance.
I set out in the evening, when the sky was turned pink, and attempted to find quiet. It was hard. At one stage, I was followed along by an old lady and her little black dog. The dog, in his blue knitted jumper, barked passionately and continuously, bouncing along with the force of his barks. He set off every other dog within a large radius. Every time I thought I was close, a siren would begin in the background or a truck would start loudly reversing. Part of the problem, I think, is that I live in a reasonably quiet suburb which set the precedent for silence rather high.
In some ways, I found this assignment really relaxing – paying attention to the sounds around you is a lovely way to walk and I think I’ll do it again – but on the other hand it was also quite stressful. Realising that whenever I leave the house I encounter the constant background hum of traffic was strange. I wasn’t really happy with the quiet I found – it was far from silent.
In this video, John articulates a lot of things I wanted to say about this assignment. Trying to find quiet made me homesick. I desperately missed places that I associate with quiet. Then, while I was thinking about one such place I realised something – it isn’t quiet at all. At the beach where I’ve been going on holidays all my life, there’s a headland. You can stand on this spit of land and below you are the waves and behind you is costal heath and above you is the sky. I go there when I want to feel alone. I associate it with quiet. But on reflection, it’s one of the loudest places I know. Sometimes, when I’m walking there, I have to pause my iPod because even at full volume I can’t hear the music over the pounding of the ocean.
This assignment made me think about what quiet actually means – maybe it isn’t really about silence at all.
The brief: create a ground on your picture plane. Populate the ground with figures, give them human characteristics.
I found this assignment really hard, primarily because it seems to lend itself to people with artistic talent. Everything about the task screams “draw a thing!” and that wasn’t something I really felt like doing. I had ideas, but I knew if I went down that path I’d quickly become frustrated at my total inability to draw filing cabinets.
Eventually, I tried thinking about it in other terms. I didn’t have to use coloured pencils to render my landscape. So I decided to make a surrealist landscape. We used to make these when I was at school. You find a background and then populate it with objects, just like this assignment asks.
It works best when you have a couple of thick fashion magazines to work with, complete with crazy exotic photo shoots to use as your base. All I had was a travel brochure about Japan and a Hello Kitty comic. It also helps if you have scissors which weren’t recently used for cutting up chicken and glue instead of sticky tape. But we work with what we have.
But in lots of ways my favourite part of creating these collages in embracing the limitations – covering up any text, using the imperfect image to guide you and mashing things together until they work.
This is the most fun I’ve had doing an assignment. I was sceptical at first, as I refreshed the website to find tasks that were within my means (I didn’t really want to go very far or have to interact with anyone) but once I started, I had a wonderful time. I put on my brown pirate coat because it felt like I was going on an expedition and I wore my boyfriend’s shoes because one of the tasks told me to. I went to the alley behind our house, via a hole I discovered in our neighbour’s fence. I balanced the camera on fence posts and turned on the timer. It made me feel like a kid. Of all the assignments I’ve done so far, this was the one that made me the happiest – clomping around in someone else’e shoes; running as far away as I could before the camera’s timer went off (like playing statues with yourself); spinning around and around and around in a puddle until I was so dizzy I could barely stand. It made me think about adventure and finding it close to home.
Blink really fast in an alley as soon as you can
Wear a funny hat, far away, badly
Pick a leaf in someone else’s shoes with your hand