Jon David Welland - Author
The entire project was the result of a chance meeting with Bruce Barber at a local mall. I knew him from the Intermedia program at the Nova Scotia Collage of Art and Design. At the time he was involved in an exhibit at the Khyber gallery taking place in the "Closet" gallery space.
He had colourfully titled the project "The Squat". It involved setting up a living space/work space at the gallery itself, where I could live and work as a resident author for the space of a month.
The project received press in Coast magazine and on CBC radio.
While I lived and worked in the small room at the third floor of the heritage building, I received at least a dozen visitors and had many interesting discussions. I would write and leave my work on a table for visitors to read and comment upon.
At the end of the interesting and eventful month, I performed a public reading of my work as part of the opening of the Khyber bar. I spoke to a small crowd and was well received.
My Mission Statement
Rather than seeing art as an object, an end to itself and separate from the time and space it occupies, I wanted to explore the notion of including a life history of the artwork, from its original ideation ,through the craft involved in its creation, to the audiences reactions to the piece. My work tends to be constantly in the process of creating itself. Rather than existing as a frozen moment in time, it interacts with my life and my entire body of work, always evolving into new and more interesting methods.
As both a writer and an artist chose to explore these possibilities through the use of documentation. The actual writing that was part of the exhibit was a documentation of the work I had done as a student at NSCAD, which I had approached with the same theory.
The work itself was a venture into the totality of creative expression as I have described. It included not only the narrative of its own construction, but was repeatable as well. They were a collection of usual objects in unusual combinations and arrangements, and can be reconstructed by anyone with ease.
Like a song, it cannot be diminished by any subsequent performance, it still carries the message its creator intended. The creation of art work as easily repeated techniques brings the work beyond the category of an individual art-object and into that of an art-concept, culturally programmed to repeat itself through the narrative of its own creation.
It is said that you can only make a good first impression once, the same principle applies to making a first expression. I had my chance when I started the foundation term, straight off the street with my head full of Dada, Dali and science fiction. Maybe I had unrealistic expectations as to the amount of latitude the school would give my freedom of expression, but at the time I was oblivious to the sheer strangeness of my own ideas.
Straight out of the gate,after my first colour class,I sat pondering on the ideas I had encountered that day. It was my first encounter with art theory, and it seemed to me that much of the definitions presented that day named things that were self-evident and had nothing to do with learning how to paint. I was struck by the idea to follow suit and label every object in the classroom in chalk.
So the lockers were each labelled "locker",the chairs were labelled "chair"and so forth. The walls of the school were quickly being covered in bizarre graffiti, so I had no reservations about adding some of my own, especially since my markings were in chalk and could easily be washed off.
The only response I received for my efforts came in the class the next day, when the instructor asked if anyone knew who the "idiot" was. It seems I had inadvertently labelled myself as well.
Not daunted by the hostile response to my first efforts, I continued with my weird head games. Having some materials to carry home with me, I borrowed the lost and found box in the lobby, which was empty at the time. Then I waited until they set out a new box, and returned the old box in the new one.
During my term in foundation art, we visited a local artist- run gallery. The exhibit demonstrated how the positioning of various objects could transform the entire gallery space into a strange, dreamlike environment.
Having not yet considered how such projects interact with the physical surroundings in which they were displayed, I became aware of how art interacted with space as well as with time.
Given an assignment to create a project that changed the nature of the environment in which it was presented, I collected and designed the piece that follows.
I started by glueing the contents of an ashtray to sheets of acetate,so as to hang them on the wall ,seemingly defying gravity. Earlier, I had acquired a set of trashy, department store art reproductions. They were in glass frames, one of which had been carelessly broken a few weeks earlier. The work in the frame was of a female tango dancer performing with a guitarist. I positioned the shards of glass on the image with glue, creating two sets of shattered glass one radiating from the dancer, the other around the musician. I placed this image on a portable, fold-up easel.
Earlier that week a friend had traded me an old, home recorded cassette of his for a package of cigarettes. It was a copy of a bizarre album by Doctor Hook. It was so poorly recorded that the songs were unintelligible, just a strange throbbing rythmn and a slow whining melody. I decided that I would play this tape when the work was presented.
With all the other musical elements, and the fact it was the early spring, inspired me to incorporate all these elements as a surreal maypole dance. It was the early eighties and eight track tapes were being phased out in favour of cassettes,so there were many old eight tracks on sale in local stores. They were usually of very low quality and most of them wouldn't play at all. So I decided to destroy some of the defective tapes and dangle them from the top of my easel.
My fellow students didn't know what to think of all this, they understood the reasoning behind it but most of them were concerned as to whether it was "art". None of them felt like dancing. The instructors only comment was that it seemed "threatening".In a way I was sure it was.
The projects I was being assigned always challenged me, and some I was inclined to regard with a smart- ass sense of humour. One such assignment asked us to repeat a single action until it achieved archetypal significance. I proposed to beat my head against the wall until I fell unconscious. Luckily I wasn't asked to actually carry out this plan, and some of the other students found this very disappointing.
Another project asked us to do something on the theme of absence. What I did was cut a sheet of masonite into a set of ten irregular pieces. My intention was to scatter the segments throughout the city, and write on each piece the location of the next. I began to do so behind a local mall, and was approached by a policeman who told me to stop doing "whatever I was doing". I didn't want to be arrested for the sake of an art project, and couldn't count on much support if I was, so I decided on using a bit of deception.
On the day I was to present my project, I tossed one of the pieces off the ferry, half-way across the harbor, and told the class that it was that piece which had the directions to find the rest. One of the students didn't believe me, he wanted to rent some scuba gear and search the harbor for the offending fragment.
The other students all agreed that the single remaining fragment, which I had brought with me that day, should be presented in a more deliberate manner, like in a frame, or mounted on the wall.
In compliance to their wishes, I marked out a square the size of the original masonite board on the floor and placed the remaining segment inside.
Every day, for the rest of the term, I would arrive to find that the janitor had swept the studio floor and left my work lying in a corner covered in dust, and everyday I would redo the presentation, to be ruined again and again.
Meanwhile, back in my colour class, after spending the entire term in the centre of a whirlwind of acrylic paint, teaching myself as I went along, it came time for my final project.
Once again, I was off collecting and arranging a set of found objects. Central to the piece was a steering column from an old Honda, found lying amidst other junk in a small wooded area behind a bottle aching used a set of brackets set half way up the column to display another composition of broken glass.
On either side of this a placed a couple simple paintings, both were collages using sheets of newspaper with my flame motif in green and red..
Above the whole monstrosity I dangled another destroyed eight track tape. I called the composition "Along Came a Spider" and displayed it on a very wide window ledge in the foundation classroom.
During the final week of classes, I was approached by two students who wanted to have the steering column. The said they were building a car as part of an exhibit. It was probably worth something but I gave it to them anyway.
During my evaluation I spoke of my interest in surrealism and dada, and my newly discovered interest in Zen meditation and Japanese inkbrush painting. He in turn advised me to focus on more traditional methods. I passed the course with a provisional grade of fifty percent.
My final work for my term as my foundation art term project. It was another found object composition, but this one was on a smaller scalade was also more aesteticly pleasing,to me at least.
There were a dozen or so strips of masonite lying around the classroom, all painted red. Outside near the entrance to the promenade, there lay a pile of bricks. I absconded two of them. Then I found a discarded paper napkin and wrote a hakui on it in pen. I painted an envelope purple and sealed the napkin within. I sandwiched the envelope vertically between the bricks, and wrapped the piece in a sheet of red construction paper. This had a diamond cut in the centre, leaving the bricks and the edge of the envelope exposed. Then I skewered the entire thing with one of the red slats
,through the holes in each brick. To complete the image I placed a red slat on each side of the bricks..
I named the composition "Hot Rails to Hell". It was named after a song by an acid rock band known as the Blue Oyster Cult, reflecting my interest in rock music, which I believed to be rich in symbolic meaning.
During my evaluation, my instructor spoke of the need for more durable and permanent materials to be used in my work, suggesting the work would be much more impressive if it was done in steel. He also said that the design of the piece denoted mysticism, which I believed to be a good thing.
The next term, in intro sculpture, I had the chance to work in metal. We were instructed to find an object, render it in clay, cast the clay model in plaster, carve the object in a block of plaster and finally to render it in metal.
It was all going well until I suddenly was confronted by a welding torch. I knew in theory what I was doing, but the reality of the task was far more difficult. I heated the metal red hot, but the flux would not melt, as promised. Instead the rod stuck to the metal, and in the process of trying to remove it from the steel, I must have melted several holes in the work.
Then came the time for the classroom critiques. When we arrived at the class metal projects, all I had to present was a mangled and torched chunk of sheet metal that bore no resemblance to the object I had chosen. The other students were very polite, talked about its subtle nuances, until one spoke up and said it looked like ship to her. I agreed wholeheartedly.
When asked to design a sculpture that would illustrate a particular concept, the term piece for the class, I turned once more to my friends, the bricks. What I wanted to do was stack a column of bricks and place each brick at a slight angle to the last,creating the effect of an upward spiral. I intended to find several pictures of a bird in flight and attach one photograph to each brick. The concept being represented was "time".
My search for such photos through many old magazines didn't produce any results, and I couldn't find a photographer would could help. So I decided to go with the simple brick spiral.
The work was fairly well received, but the assistant instructor commented that he wouldn't want me building a wall for his house.
For my term piece in intermediate sculpture, I though I should redo my brick spiral. This time I wanted to use better materials to create a better general impression. I used newer bricks, and I tried to mix the mortar so it wouldn't easily crumble. However, crumble it did.
I returned to the studio after lunch to find the sculpture in pieces on the floor. It appeared to be deliberately smashed. Naturally I was upset, but after a few moments of thought, I decided to use the bricks to illustrate another concept.
I placed the bricks on end and placed one after the other, so that if one fell, the rest would too. It was like a set of dominos and tried to demonstrate cause and effect. I left it alone in the studio for a few minutes and came back to find That half the bricks had been toppled, the last fallen piece was resting against an upright brick, freezing the motion in time.
Finding I could repeat this effect somehow, I waited for the class discussion and offered them the choice of the original arrangement, that could be toppled then replaced, or the half fallen arrangement.
Most of them agreed that the second version was the best, probably because it was too much effort to knock the bricks down and then to set them up again. The instructor jokingly compared it to Rodins sculptures of figures in motion, lightening the mood tremendously.
Writing is very much like design. The author must pay attention to negative space, what they choose to include in narrative and what they leave out. Writing can only have meaning if it is placed in a context, a context includes and changes with the audience.
This narrative can be placed in many such contexts, as a description of the creation of art, as a written piece and as part of a performance piece, each of which refer to and define the others.
All of them can include the others, art which uses itself as its subject.