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Testing Grounds

Testing Grounds

Smashing Things With Hammers


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An introduction to Process Art and a powerful metaphor for the life process itself.

Smashing Things With Hammers is a workshop conceived and delivered by Testing Grounds as part of Arts Centre Melbourne’s ArtConnect 9 program, which provides subsidised experiences for regional year nine students between 2016-2018. While other ArtsConnect 9 activities involve students listening to an artist or curator talk about a show, Smashing Things With Hammers, is one of the most popular programs offered through this initiative.

An introduction to Process Art; a powerful metaphor for the life process itself. This workshop introduces the notion that a work of art can be just as much about the process than the outcome. It introduces play- through the destruction and reconstruction of everyday objects- as a critically important skill that professional artists use to generate creative process, ideas and discourse. Using Jackie Winsors ‘Exploded Piece’ (1980-1982) as a starting point students are engaged in a short lecture about historically significant Process Artworks and then given the opportunity to try out some process art themselves in Testing Grounds vast, stress-free space that invites fun, messy and physical creative exploration by young minds. Students finish the workshop by presenting their reconstructed objects to the group. The workshop is documented by a Testing Grounds team member and sent to the teacher for keepsake.

Duration: 2 hours.

A short introduction to the site followed by a 15-minute historical lecture about performance art using a projector (if possible). 1 hour of workshop time (including clean up) followed by 30 minutes of presentation/conclusion.

Materials: Every day objects for smashing (example: watermelon, ceramic kettle, shirt), tapes, threads, string, rope, glue, wire, paper…

Giving Kids An Excuse To Break Things

The workshop was written to give the students an opportunity to get physical, get dirty and have some fun. Being on their feet was really important in demonstrating how much of an act of labour and real work that art-making is. Many people in Australia still view being an artist as not real work, without any understanding of the labour art-making, involves. This program hoped to dispel this myth among the young people.

Getting the students to help, a big net would be stretched across some space to provide protection. They then placed benches on the other side for the audiences, a metal plinth and hammers on the other side, with a series of objects from the tip- old tv’s, printers, cassette tapes, ceramics, records and other discarded analogue technologies. The stage was set for some smashing to begin.

Then they would choose and object, put on some safety gear and then the class would chant a count down. Usually the first time the hammer came down the student was a little hesitant but with more cheering and more smashing, they would watch them come out of their shell and grow with confidence. Sometimes death metal or intense opera would be played on the outdoor speakers to heighten to experience.

Once each student was done smashing their object they were quickly taken to a crafting station where they were asked to make something out of their object. Some students would decide to try and piece it back together, other students would make something completely new and others collaborated. Some students even made performance artworks. They were not given easy materials to work with; glue or tape would not inspire experimentation or creativity.

Half an hour later the students were asked to name their objects, install them in a temporary gallery, assembled from the kit of parts. This was always very chaotic but very fun. They had to consider space in a way that they had not been asked to before. Should you put your artworks on them round, on a plinth, on a wall, from the ceiling, or wear it on your body or burry?

Once this was done they were told about curation and the various stages of production that an artist goes through in order to put on an exhibition, included artists talks. Then they were given the task of practising an artist talk. This last part of the workshop was always hilarious as students would have to come up with conceptual reasons for why they broke their objects and put them back together again. Some students would be very matter of fact and other students would get into the role of doing “art speak” and acting like a stereotypical museum curator with a posh voice. The students who were intimated by the process would mutter something under their breath or refuse to participate. In repose to this, they would be told about the themes of futility, protest, irreverence and failure in contemporary art history. It was a fun way to co-opt them into the experience of the workshop- there is no escaping making art when you are cast in the role as the artist.

Because the workshop was outdoors it normally took place in the warmer months and by the end of the workshop the students would be hot and exhausted. They were still made to clean everything up, drawing attention to the fact that art is often their own cleaners. They were also given permission to take away their objects with them if they wanted and if they didn’t want to them they had to say goodbye to their own art and throw it in the bin- coming face to face with destroying their own creation. Because they were regional kids they were always on a  school camp and their teachers would thank us for wearing them out- they would be getting a better sleep tonight.

Smashing Things With Hammers and the creativity it inspired was so valuable to Testing Grounds evolving identity. The cathartic performance of smashing things, the group activities, the crazy installations made, is exactly the type of thing the robust site was designed to support. Often established or well-practised artists, who were also working on-site, would watch the workshops with interest. It sometimes rubbed off on the work they then proceeded to make.

Written by Arie Rain Glorie.