My life on a plate, unlike the title may suggest, was not afternoon tea but rather an afternoon workshop lead by artist Gillian Singer at the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery in Leeds University.
Singer’s work is currently on display in the Gallery’s temporary exhibition Jewish Artists in Yorkshire and the workshop gave you an opportunity to explore similar themes as those shown in her untitled piece from 1996 – identity and memory. Her piece, which was originally created for Rubies & Rebels: Jewish Female Identity in Contemporary British Art exhibition at the Barbican Art Gallery in 1996, has 49 wooden panels, each significantly 7×7, covered in pulped unprinted newsprint and displaying drawings and photographs. The photos are of the artist’s mother-in-law and some of her husband as a child, as well as other family members. She used photographic emulsion on the panels and a dark room to develop the images onto the textured surface, although she suggests that the same effect could have been achieved much more easily by pasting photocopies of the original photos to the boards. Her hand drawn work explored notions of above and below ground, mausoleums and cemeteries, figures sleeping/buried together, womb-like structures, and symbols of Judaism. Gillian said she enjoyed the process of making the textured panels the most, but she also liked how over time the work has yellowed, textured and changed, as well as her changing personal relationship with the work as sadly since creating it her husband who features in it has died but also her daughter had been born.
For our workshop task we were each given a large plate like piece of foam board and invited to stick, draw and cut. Gillian was keen for us to explore texture as she had in her work – creating tributaries, roots, and branch like forms from glue and paper. I wanted to work with circles and collage to create my life on a plate so just dove in with the hope that it would all come together organically throughout the two and half hour session.
Luckily all my choices seemed to work to create a final piece I was really pleased with. It was wonderful to have the artist there to make suggestions on how to progress and make the most of your ideas and personal style. Likewise working within a small group gave us a chance to consider each others work as it developed and get ideas for our own. Each of us in the group were from fairly creative backgrounds and had very different tastes which proved to make a very successful group. People worked with limited colour palettes, scraps of material, found photos, buttons and ribbons, photocopied ephemera, and personal trinkets to make literal or abstract works that all looked fabulous together once we finished and briefly displayed them along the gallery wall.
What is peculiar is that, unlike some others in the group, I took nothing of my own to execute the theme of memory and identity and seem to pick images from the magazines provided for their aesthetic value, however, reflecting on my finished item later I can see me in every bit. It is reflection of me and interests as they stood on the day of the workshop. There’s bicycles, a cup of tea, a printing press, kitchenware, coins, a Mac, taxidermy birds, and string: all things that have happened in my life recently or things that are on my list to do something with in the next year.