Reflections on Symposia over the years

by Lorna Green from UK

As my work is progressing in new art in nature directions with specially composed music, it is a while since I attended any symposia but have, over the last 30 years have taken part in many in many different countries and in some countries, several times. – Austria, China, Israel, Australia, several times, Korea, Japan, Gran Canarias, France, several times, Germany, Scotland, Italy, England, The Netherlands, Korea, Guernsey, Ireland, Wales, and Canada.


Each one has been unique and each have special memories but what stands out for me is the opportunity to live and work alongside like-minded artists and to share our lives, thoughts, issues for the period. Communal meals are so valuable – in all languages, the discussions at the end of the day over problems encountered not only during the day but in life working as an artist, the solutions, the weather, general issues about an art in nature life – all fuelled usually by copious amounts of wine. The camaraderie during the working period is very special culminating in the opening celebrations followed by the dispersion of the group knowing that he shared experience will be with us forever.


What makes a memorable symposium even more special? To start at the beginning – arrangements to arrive at the symposium from another country. Living in the northwest of England I usually have to fly- Normandy is the only place I have driven to. The arrangements for pick up are usually well organised – either in person or a train to a local station and then collection. Travelling this way means I can bring very little in the way of materials or tools so everything has to be acquired on site. Obviously the organisers know what we need and generally, materials and assistance is in hand – some better than others. The first few days are always confusing as each artist needs his/her materials, help etc so they can start. Patience is certainly a virtue there! Eventually all is sorted and we all get on and solve problems as they arrive.


Accommodation is very variable – from hostels, shared rooms, a room in a private house, a dormitory, hotel, student accommodation, a shared caravan – not to be recommended, etc. I once had a couple of nights in a corner of a Buddhist Temple in Korea sharing a floor with 80 women, children and crying babies – but I suspect the men in their room had snoring problems to cope with! It was a memorable experience and indeed the corner was definitely a good choice as I only had people on two sides of me not four and I had air from the window. I look back with fondness on this experience. I have never had to camp – and I am very happy about that.


The weather. This can be a problem – especially if requiring heavy machinery and tonnes of rock, stone etc. Heavy machinery can get stuck in the mud and can churn up the land and working with power tools in the rain is not to be recommended! But eventually the sun returns and all is completed. A wide variety of working clothes is essential as are boots and a sun hat. It is essential to keep cool and not lose one’s temper. Patience is a virtue because weather is weather!


Food. This is very important. Working outdoors makes the artists very hungry and the majority of artists eat simply but well. The food must be well balanced – a lack of vegetables, salads as well as protein is not looked upon favourably at all and can change the mood of the group. Fortunately meals are usually adequate and simple, and in some exceptionally good and varied. Beer, wine and water are definitely required with the evening meals as they relax us and contribute to the lively conversations that follow often late into the night.


Opportunities to discuss each other’s work is very welcome and time should be programmed by the organisers for that to happen. The exchange of ideas is central to the success of the symposium – not only to make new work specifically for the symposium but also to stimulate ideas and discussions. It is good if local artists can be included too. Additionally working with local art students and have school visits on site are good not only for them but also for the artist to discuss his/her work. I really enjoy this and have laminated A4 sheets of my projects for them to look at and discuss. They can be washed if the weather is inclement.


Language. For me this is a very important part of the symposia – I love speaking other languages and always make an effort to learn the basics by originally putting cassette tapes, now CD’s, in my car and chatting along. My few words of Chinese proved invaluable when I got myself lost in Beijing and when my allocated workers turned up to be sociable one evening to visit me! It is also invaluable to chat with the local people who are delighted when the artist makes an effort to speak their language. Giving the title of the work in the local language is a bonus.


Last but by no means least – payments. These vary enormously from a fee with travel up to a limit included, some do not include travel but the fee is generally more. Simple natural materials are usually covered – but anything special has to be paid for by the artist which reduces the fee. Some are expenses only but include full board and lodging – not good at all, and some can be very generous including everything. There appears to be no hard and fast rule about the payments as each organisation sets their own rates.   Some organisations don’t pay anything and expect the artists to cover travel, accommodation, possibly materials are supplied if cheap. I have never done that and am very unlikely too as it is an exploitation of artists. “Good for publicity and the CV“ does not pay the bills. Artists should read the details carefully decide what they want from the symposium and apply accordingly.


I am ready to resume my participation in symposia in the near future and look forward to being again with like-minded artists.

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