Back home now and finally putting my feet up. It's been an intense and wonderful two weeks with the brilliant folk in Riba Roja, Catalonia, Spain. The project for me began when I was visiting my friends Sarah and Chris back in April this year. They were telling me about an art project they were involved in with the local town hall; Riu d'Art. It was to be its second year calling out for public art proposals for the village. Having never written an art proposal or created any public art in my life, I really wasn't sure how to go about it but I'm so glad I did. If you ever get the opportunity to do something like this, grab it with both hands, it's a truly great experience.
My proposal was to develop my newly acquired welding skills and so I decided to create a steel sculpture. After a bit of research I found out Catalonia and Scotland share an equine national animal as well as desire to be an independent country by part of their populations. Combining these ideas, I created a chimeralike creature composed of a donkey and a unicorn. The title to the work is in Catalan, "La Sumera i l'Unicorn" (The Donkey and the Unicorn) signifying parts of the Catalan and Spanish feminine noun of both "sculpture" - "l'escultura/la escultura" and female donkey "la sumera" as well as the masculine unicorn - "l'unicorn/el unicornio". The sculpture was formed as a steel rod frame and found objects from the village, including from a recent demolition site of two houses in the village. After a good rummage I found various wheels, wire mesh and even a coffee pot that I used to fill out the sculpture. I felt in some way it will keep a part of those houses alive as part of the village. As a side note, during the demolition of the houses, they found a secret cavern. It may have been an underground cellar but they are gong to investigate it further so it will be interesting to see what history they can find in there.
A wee pictorial synopsis of the work going on during the project and the inauguration below.
I'd just like to thank all the people of the village of Riba Roja, for their welcome, kindness and enthusiasm. Thank you to Fransesc and all at the ajuntiment for all their hard work and everything they did for us. Thank you to Albert for letting me in to his workshop, letting me abuse his tools, time and space and for all his help. To Josep, Miguel and Pepe Lu for your kindness and efforts. To all at Potas and Pizza Art, thank you for feeding us so well. To the beautiful Anna and Phil who always make the world seem so light and bring so much colour, it was great getting to know you better. To the lovely Olly Hall, who brought nonsense, fun and slight danger when climbing pylons, it was wonderful meeting and getting to know you. And special thanks to Sarah and Chris who always bring such amazing happenings together. I'm so glad I know you and have experienced all these wonderful things with you. You're beautiful people.
Was pretty exhausted when I got home late on Monday night but no rest for the wicked as I had an exhibition to put up on Wednesday. Just a small one in the 13th Note, entitled "Goddesses". Thanks to Tom, wonderful framer, for giving me a hand in with frames and Hazel for helping me hang. Had a wee soft opening last night and a good catch up with loads of mates who I haven't seen in a while. Was just lovely. The exhibition is on until the end of July so plenty of time for people to go have a gander.
So that is it. All done and dusted. Sculpture in place, workshop tidied up, flown home, exhibition up and opened and now sitting on my arse doing nothing. Think I'll do this for a little while...
Things are going swimmingly now and I do feel that I'm on track for finishing in some form. The sculpture, barring a few adjustments, hasn't changed much from my initial designs, which I'm pretty happy about. Having never made anything on this scale before it was always going to be a bit of a baptism of fire. Something I always seem to put myself through but then what's life for if not for adventures?
The main lesson I've learnt with this one is about my new materials. Metal is funny stuff; to me anyway. This may seem obvious to some but I've realised that bending a fairly malleable steel rod one way means it will kick out the other way. You actually need to think beyond your initial bend and towards the next one. Angles are funny things too. When placing said rod against the thing I'm wanting to bend it round (in various directions), by the time I get to the vice (even though marking and trying to keep it in my mind which way and which side to bend it) I've either forgotten which way it should go or I bend it in the opposite direction. Bearing in mind I'm the type of person who has to look at her hands before be able to differentiate left or right, maybe I shouldn't be so hard on myself. However, as I said before, things are going swimmingly and I can even see the light at the end of the tunnel. The full frame will be complete shortly and I've already started on some of the decoration and cladding. After raiding Albert's workshop and a recent demolition site I've got lots of random pieces of scrap that I'll fashion, tie, wire and possibly glue, if necessary, in place. Just one more day after this evening's shift and that should be it. The concrete plinth that the sculpture will be set into has been laid today and so it's just waiting for the installation on Sunday. There's a plan to do a Live Facebook broadcast of the transportation and installation so if you want a laugh seeing a metal donkey unicorn travel along a street in a small Catalan town then check out the Riba Rocks Facebook page this Sunday.
So, it's soon going to be just down to thinking of a title for the beast. Josep told me about the words for donkey in Catalan. A male donkey is called, "el ruc" and a female donkey is called, "la sumera". I quite took to the "sumera" word as it rolls of the tongue nicely. Also, because the word for sculpture in Spanish and Catalan is feminine, "La escultura" it seemed that my donkey needed to be female. So she will be ever dubbed thus. I'm going to use the word "Sumera" in the title somehow but I haven't quite decided yet.
I've definitely picked up quite a few new Spanish words (including some swear words naturally...Hostia! is a good one) and even some phrases. I need to get better at this speaking Spanish malarky as you feel such a plum not being able to communicate basic things. I'm definitely understanding more though so that's a good sign. They mostly speak Catalan here of course but one step at a time.
Right, back to the workshop!! In the meantime, here's some pics of Riba Roja d'Ebre, Phil and Anna's and Olly's works in progress and some more metal donkey.
It’s been blowing a gale and raining here. Yes, it certainly does rain in Spain and not just on the plain. We’ve had two days of super stormy weather. It’s that slightly weird, super wet but warm rain and the doors in the apartment are certainly getting a battering the wind. There’s lots thunder too. It will mean that it’s cooler so that’s all I’m concerned with.
The donkey is taking shape. The torso is complete and I’ve been working on the legs and arms today, well I guess they are all legs really. All the rods have been cut and I’ve been shaping the individual pieces. The rings for the frame legs are getting smaller and so that means much tougher to shape. I’ve just been using a vice and my brute strength to create shaping; it’s pretty rough and ready but does the job. Chris brought in a pipe bender for me that has worked wonders but there's still a fair amount of bashing with the big hammer after but getting there. I couldn’t resist the old double entendre on an Instagram post. Am I being childish? Definitely. Do I care? Not a jot.
I’ve been a little concerned about time and how far I’m getting but it’s now been sorted that I can get a few extra hours in the evening which makes me feel much better. So storming ahead is the way to go, certainly got the right weather for it.
The guys are also getting stuck in to their murals. Anna and Phil made a great start and it’s looking colourful and gorgeous already. Oli’s now got a massive step ladder so is now cracking on with the high bits. I haven’t been back up to take progress shots but will have a look later. We were there meeting the town Mayor and the ajuntement team yesterday . They seem happy with our progress so far and have been so accommodating, everything has been super easy. The town really has a great bunch of people in it, folk interested in what we are doing and eager to help in anyway. We’re really getting spoilt. Where's the Ferrero Rocher though??
Before we met the Mayor, we had another exciting meeting. This time with a snake. He may have come out of hibernation and been sleeping in a crevice. The house whose cables he was spotted slithering along is apparently empty which made us feel better. Even with this revelation, we were suspicious he was a poisonous adder as he had those distinctive diamonds on his back. According to a nearby local however, there are many different adders and he probably wasn’t dangerous. The dangerous ones are shorter, fatter and have flat heads. This one was quite long and skinny. He disappeared into another crack, probably to have another snooze.
So back to the evening shift shortly, after a snake snooze siesta…
Today is a day off as the metal workshop is closed for the weekend. This gave me a welcome opportunity for a lie in, especially after rather late, boozy and excellent night we had after the Foguera i festa de Sant Joan (Bonfire and festival of Saint John). What a spectacle! And I'm told this is just the small one, in August they have 3 or 4 Devils troupes running around the streets trying to outdo each other with noise and general firework harassment of the delighted crowds.
For the brilliant and fairly dangerous fireworks shenanigans, a group dress as dancing, firework-throwing devils leading a chaotic procession through the streets. They follow a mannequin character dressed as a Templar Knight riding a fibreglass bull and are joined by a set of drummers who set the pace. The bull is manipulated by two Devils much like a pantomime horse but excreting crackers and fireworks that whizz past your head and shower you with sparks. I got hit by some shrapnel a couple of times but what's the odd singe between friends? The Devils are particularly devilish and cheekily chase people with live fireworks and cause all sorts of mayhem. The noise is incredible. The procession ends up in the football grounds where a large bonfire burns and, yes, you guessed it, more fireworks. Great night!
Always celebrated on the night of the 23rd of June, right across Spain, it actually has Pagan roots being the shortest night of the year in this part of the world and a celebration for the beginning of Summer. Traditionally, they burned bonfires to ward off evil spirits, much like Beltaine, one of the four seasonal festivals in Celtic tradition celebrating the beginning of Spring.
After a little Google research, it seems the particular saint in the festival title is St John the Baptist, who's day is the 24th June. I was a little confused as to why the character was dressed up as a knight and riding a bull as this seems very unrelated to John the Baptist. I still haven't found any explanation on the world wide web, so I'll have to ask Josep when we all go for a beer tonight. Yes, more beer. Ooft? The Catalans sure like to party anyway and don't need much of an excuse...when in Riba Roja...!
Final Riu d'Art artists, Phil and Anna, are arriving tonight so our little artistic quintet will be complete. I'm so looking forward to seeing everyone's work. Oli, who arrived last night, and Phil and Anna are all doing murals on external, slightly shabby, walls in the village giving them a new lease of life. Fortunately, the temperature is set to drop a little next week down to a more copeable 30-35˚C.
But less talk about work, today is a holiday. Where's my beer?...
The only thing missing at the moment is an ice cold mojito. Lying by the Riba Roja d'Ebre local outdoor swimming pool (in the shade) I am trying to contemplate the words for this blog entry my Rui d'Art project adventure. I have had a full day of welding already, starting at 7.30am to get the coolest part of the day. Have managed to get the tail and most of the torso together. Albert gave me a good refresher and tips throughout. He tells me he has been welding since a small boy. When all the other kids were out playing he was welding and soldering so he is a master of the art. My welds have been fairly successful. As I have only had some weeks of an evening class welding experience, I knew I probably wouldn't find it too easy at first but, as Albert says, once I've done 300 I'll be perfect. I do hope so. I'll lose some welding time to the weekend so that gives me 5 complete days to finish. However that also includes the installation. Once I get to head (the most intricate part) I'm sure I'll be storming through it.
I have been known to be impulsive on occasion, not often but sometimes. It's at times like these that I start to think, why on Earth have I decided to do a time limited big project, in a country I don't know the language, making something using a technique and materials I'm barely familiar with? But then I think it's because I love it. Making things has always been me. I've always loved learning new things too. So what if I'm not sure what I'm doing, I'll make damn sure I produce something. Something I'm proud of and learn a lot along the way. That's the thing about art and creation. Unless you're producing something that has a specific function that requires precision and expertise like a building; art is organic, changeable, it can also be functional but it doesn't need to be. So as the artist, I can produce anything I like. If it's different to what I set out do, well, that's my prerogative. So many people are good at bullshitting and selling the audience the idea that that was what they wanted all along. Me, I'm no good at bullshitting, I'll apologise for something before it's happened (very Scottish) but the working with and adapting with how a project moves is the only way to avoid insanity. I have a split in myself between perfection, precision and the aforementioned spontaneity that includes going with the flow. It definitely helps with any frustrations. In saying all this, I am planning to get the project done as I had intended. This is just my disclaimer. A must for everyone.
But back to the pool. It's not very busy but there are a bunch of kids playing in the pool and there are some adults sunbathing and chilling. There is a mixture of Spanish/ Catalan and English voices. There is a steady amount of English ex-pats here and they all seem fairly well integrated. It will be interesting to see what the next episode of the Brexit saga holds for them.
I haven't been in the pool yet but wanting to leave the inticing cool waters until I am thoroughly drenched in sweat on this sun lounger. The sun is moving round making the edge of the shade inch closer to my ever so pale body. Sweating is part of the deal here. Rehydrating is a must so I constantly have a big bottle of water wherever I go. I sweated so much this morning the dye of my headscarf that was acting as a sweat soaker upper stained my forehead blue. I think I got it all off.
So meeting Oliver, the next artist to arrive, this evening, then dinner and the Devils. Quite a full day.
I had my first day in the metal workshop to start building my metal donkey unicorn for the Riu d'Art project in Riba Roja d'Ebre, Catalonia today. Lots of cutting and shaping…after realising I had calculated the circumference of the frame rings completely wrong. It was only when I started to bend the first one I started to think this ring is going to be massive! Yes, children: when calculating the circumference of an ellipse, always remember to use the RADIUS and NOT THE DIAMETER in a Google calculator that requires the RADIUS. What? Did you think I would be calculating it myself?? Get tae…. Circles? nae bother but have you seen the possible algebraic equations when dealing with ellipses?
Those mathematical geniuses amongst you may scoff but maths and I are not good bedfellows. I can count and add…just…but much more and my brain just gets tired and says NO! Anyway, got there in the end and so today the *rings for the trunk (that makes it sound like a tree. Not going to be a tree) have been shaped and cut. Albert, the owner of the workshop, has given me a corner and has been brilliant and incredibly helpful. His English is fairly good, fluent compared to my Spanish which is pretty non-existent and so far, everything is cushty.
I had been busy with my 2D AutoCad forming some sort of plans and dimensions, more a guidance really. They took a fair amount of time and my brain power but I’m glad I took the time as the project is more formed in my brain.
It was all theoretical but with a bit of artistic licence, I’m hoping he won’t to be too much of a wonky donkey. Will see how things look as I go along I think. The good thing about welding is, if a bit looks wrong you can always lop it off and stick another bit on. In my welded sculpture, it is anyway.
Getting the frame right is my first challenge; that’s what my plans were all about. I’m using 8 and 10mm steel rod. Easy to cut with trusty angle grinder and very pliable to bend into shape and apart from my slight mis-calculation regarding circumferences, things are looking ok so far. My plans sectioned up the different limbs, head, torso and tail. I’m going to build these sections one at a time so if there are any major gaffs in my calculations, I can see it easy enough and adjust; you always need to be adaptable in art creation. It’s a bit like a jigsaw puzzle but you need to make the pieces too.
After a hard day’s work (today only few of hours’ admittedly but more tomorrow ;-D), I am clinging to my new lovely fan, having a cold Estrella and listening to Hamilton Leithauser and Rostam (they are well cool, love them so, check them out).
The heat is crazy here but I’m slightly acclimatising or at least coping better than I thought. I am a complete woose when it comes to being too hot or too cold and can get a bit whiney (as many of friends can testify). However, in my defence, only in extreme circumstances, like when I get so overheated my feet and ankles swell up so much it feels like the skin is going to split open or when I can’t feel my feet because of the cold and they start to go blue and I can’t fall asleep at night. Essentially, if my feet are happy so is the rest of me. When I return, I may be just as white as I left Scotland; boiler suit and welding helmet are not conducive for sunbathing, as is the fact that I’m in a big airy garage (thank the gods and little fishes, sweated buckets but no over-heating and it was 38°C today!). The local outdoor swimming pool has just opened for the summer so I think I’ll pay it a visit tomorrow after work. Not planning on sun-bathing, the shade is fine for me, quite happy to stay pale and interesting. Parasol and mojito anyone?
Also, tomorrow, two exciting things are happening; one of the other artists Oliver Hall, is arriving, so it will be nice to have some company in the apartment and there is a fire festival in the village celebrating Sant Joan. It’s an excuse for folk to dress up as devils, run about banging drums and setting off millions of fireworks into heavily crowded areas. And why not, I say? Something that would never be allowed in the UK. They like their fire, the Spaniards and Catalonians do. I’ve been advised by my friend and local legend, Josep, to wear closed-toe shoes, trousers and a straw hat. The covering up seems a very sensible thing to do but the straw hat? I’m not sure that wearing very flammable head gear is the way to go. The fact that Josep kept repeating in his email that I shouldn’t be afraid, it’s an amazing night but don’t be scared, it’s spectacular but it really isn’t frightening, it’s so much fun but don’t be worried…etc etc has now given me cause to be wary. However, I shall be intrepid and embrace the night with non-scaredycat aplomb and run with the Devils…well, maybe a delicate saunter and then stand behind the guy lighting the fireworks, wearing my boiler suit and welding mask with a bucket of water handy…just in case.
Ooh, Mariachi El Bronx just come on the tunes. Nice. Anyone for the dancin’?
So I'm currently sitting in a lovely air conditioned office working out steel rod lengths. It's roasting outside but I have sunscreen and I haven't been bitten by any bitey insects yet so all is well. No, I'm not in Scotland, I'm in Spain, Catalonia to be exact.
I've been pretty darn busy the last while, having just completed my first year doing my HND 3D Design: Model Making course at City of Glasgow College. It's been an absolute blast and I've learnt so much as well as made new friends. So what have I learned? Well, a bit too much to write everything down in a blog post but safe to say I'm much more knowledgeable about glueing, cutting, sanding, laser-cutting, vacuum forming, mould making, puppet making, door making, finish painting and AutoCad than I was before. So looking forward to next year. Here's a run down on the models I've made...
A 3:1 shell, a 7:1 cashew nut, 11:1 section of a silver dollar, a 1:1 half a chrome egg, a replica of a Glasgow doorway, a leather bound 17th Century book (new and aged versions), a hedgehog puppet and 1:11 replica (with a bit of artistic licence) of Labyrinth's Gates to the Goblin City complete with moving Humongous. Gawd, it makes me exhausted just thinking about it. We certainly packed it in. Oh and I also did a cheeky wee welding evening class and made a metal bird feeder.
I still need to get some proper photos of completed works but here's a wee gallery of images of my work that I have so far...
So why am I in Spain? And what's this about Donkey Unicorns, I hear you ask with trepidation? Well, I must be very wicked because I decided to head off to Spain only two days after I finished college to take part in an art project, Rui d'Art in Riba Roja d'Ebre, Catalonia. Wanting to continue my welding practice, I sent in a sculpture proposal to the project that facilitates the creation of public art in the village. The project is organised partly by some good friends of mine, that's how I found out about it, but I had never done anything like this before. They assured me, however, that I should give it a go. So with a half baked idea I put together a proposal. The final say came down to the local council (ajuntament) and the town mayor so I wasn't guaranteed a place but apparently they loved my idea, so here I am. Other artists involved with the project are Anna Georgiou, Phil Bird, Oliver Hall, Sarah Misselbrook and some local artists too. My idea? That's where the Donkey Unicorn comes in.
As an unashamed supporter for independence for Scotland from the UK, I knew Catalonia has a similar desire to be independent from Spain. With this obvious connection I thought there must be something to play with there. Scotland and Catalonia are both rich in traditional produce, though with very different things; Scotland with its wild salmon and whisky and Catalonia with its olives and wine, to name but a few. I've always had an interest in symbolism and that lead me to think about Scotland's national animal, the Unicorn. Yes, that's right, our national animal is a mythical, magical, horned horse. Then finding out that Catalonia's national animal was a similar equine beast, the Catalan donkey, the potential project's fate was sealed. A DONKEY UNICORN. Of course, I hadn't quite thought it through that I would be welding in 35+ celsius heat but in for a penny.... Sitting in this air conditioned office, fannying about with my design and calculating measurements on AutoCad, I can't quite imagine what it will be like. Early mornings will definitely be the key! I've been looked after so well already, I'm raring to go. The whole village is really up for it and helping in any ways required. It's going to be an adventurous and artistic two weeks.
Jennifer Kilgour is an artist and maker specialising in model making, sculpture, painting and drawing.
She also loves making other things like wee animations (trained in that and everything), small coffee tables (singular) and walking the family dog in the woods.