View Ian Dawson’s project briefing notes here:
Raft of the Medusa Brief
Reflection on The Raft of Medusa,
by Sharon Harvey, Level 2 Fine Art
I think that the 3 days spent working on this project have been the most extraordinary of my time so far at Winchester School of Art. In fact if I had been able to imagine what going to Art School would be about I would have described something similar to this experience. It has been so enlightening on so many different levels that it is extremely hard to break it down in to relevant components to discuss and analyise. In essence I think that this is the point, it was an event in its own time and place and I am so pleased that I was able to be a participant.
For the purpose of this reflection I will attempt to work my way through the components. I have already provided a timeline of my experience of the event in my collaborative sketchbook.
The gathering together of the whole Fine Art Student group across all 3 years had not happened in my previous year at WSA . In addition we had pretty much a full complement of both tutors and technicians. The anticipation was palpable and you could sense that something was about to happen that would be extraordinary and possibly exciting. Ian gave us a comprehensive briefing on both the event of the raft of Medusa and the painting itself, he also had provided us with a comprehensive written appraisal.
The event was broken in to sub groups of The Painting, Building the raft, The experience of the individuals on the raft, The recording of the journey.
In the story of the Medusa what most struck me was horror of mankind and how mercenary and cruel we as a race can be. In addition how we as humans act as a pack and how the weak are eliminated, that ultimately this is a primeval goal – To survive. That some people will do anything if there is a chance this may lead to survival. Through out history we have seen so many instances of this behavior. Something that interests me is our culpability and how over generations we make it ok to have committed these atrocities in the name of survival. In addition it is the aspect of well “I just looked the other way and so therefore cannot be held responsible, it wasn’t me that pulled the trigger” “even if I knew it was happening I am not guilty because I couldn’t do anything to stop it”.
One of the groups seemed to be exploring this by asking individuals whether they would have survived on the raft or died. An interesting question and not one that I think in all honesty people can answer unless they are actually in the situation. For instance if we asked someone today whether they would continue to work in the factory that produced the Zyklon B gas that was being used to exterminate 6000000 people I am quite sure most people would answer of course not. But, until we are in that situation, faced with that dilemma of staying alive ourselves is it really fair to judge them? Or maybe we should judge them, maybe we are actually all to willing to look the other way? Fundamentally it seems that mankind is incredibly selfish and this is inherent in our nature. Is it what it is to be human? It is a question I have examined myself through my work on the Holocaust and I really don’t have the answer other than to say I can not imagine killing another person. However, if it were to protect my children I would not hesitate!
Following more debate we split further in to smaller groups. I was keen to follow the experience and I liked the idea that a group of level 3 students had about making a documentary. We went to the New Media studio and I was immediately told that actually they were not going to make a documentary but rather that they wanted to disrupt the event that was happening now. Initially I was concerned however I spoke out and we all examined and debated our motives and what we as a group wanted to achieve. It was an incredibly democratic process and although there was occasionally differences of opinion, I was so impressed at the willingness of everyone to take on board and listen to every ones point of view. We collectively came to the opinion that we wanted our experience to be a contemporary version of “The raft of Medusa” We wanted to divert a course of action and we wanted to influence people to act on something giving them only the barest of information. It felt as if we were creating a piece of work to be experienced rather than viewed and I started to see the whole project in this vein. Our first intention was very much to disrupt peoples journeys but then it became clear that this was going to result in a per formative piece.
On Thursday we finalized how we were going to approach students and get them to leave what they were doing and come to the New Media Studio. We set up the studio as an interview room, purposely to derive a sense of intimidation. We sorted out a script and who was going to say what. We took all of this in turns so that everyone in the group had an opportunity. In 2 hours we had persuaded over 40 students to get up and leave the room when they saw a photo of themselves. If we had had more time we would have liked to have got everyone apart from those who had declined to be influenced. However it was the impact of the overall piece that we were seeking and therefore we had to be realistic and work with in our timeframe. In the afternoon I got chatting to a student from year 1. This really is where something interesting had started to happen. We no longer saw ourselves as separate year groups but more as a Fine Art community, so conversation and ideas were flowing freely. It was as if some creative super highway had developed, linking us all up and taking away the normal conventions of behavior. Samantha explained that she was working alone and that she had been working on a sound piece, she also mentioned that she might sing. I felt really strongly 2 things. The first being that she should not be working alone, that if she was to get the benefit and impact from the project she should be in a collaboration. The second was that what we needed was a sound piece and that if Samantha could be persuaded to sing Amazing Grace in front of the whole student body while our film was being played and the students were leaving the room one by one the effect could be poignant. It was agreed that Samantha would practice and Ejaz and Samantha went to a local church where they recorded her singing. Several of the girls who lived together agreed to put the images together and time it to the soundscape.
Friday was spent running around in the morning trying to find the right equipment to play the piece on. There was a sense of both excitement and anticipation across all of the different groups.
At 2pm we started the performance Ketjil set the scene with his group followed by a choreographed fight scene we all were taken on to the raft and it was clear that people were finding the whole event highly emotional. We asked the students to sit on the raft and when Samantha started to sing the film started to play and as each students face came up they quietly got up from the raft and walked down the length of the sculpture studio.
It was quite simply an amazing experience I had both laughed and cried during the 3 days making this piece but to see the culmination of our work in such a spectacular setting with the life size raft surrounded by bodies painted by the painters and installations and sound pieces prepared by other groups was truly magnificent. We were all emotional and it struck me that something at WSA had shifted. I felt more at home and more complete. I felt as if I wanted to be here more than anywhere else and I realized the huge benefit of making work as a collective in a collaborative fashion. I felt excited about what the rest of my second year would bring and determined to ring every ounce out of doing my degree. I talked to people I hadn’t been brave enough to in the past year and I made new friends and developed contacts with people who I felt I could turn to in the forthcoming year if I needed advise or help.
In short this event represented a turning point in not only my time at WSA but I believe it truly had the same effect on those other students who participated and I thank all of the lecturers and technicians who were involved engaged and helped us to make this happen, together