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Posted 30.01.15

Students host conference with writer Julian Spalding as keynote speaker

By Sarah Packer

Writer and former museum director, Julian Spalding

On Thursday 22nd January students from our BA (Hons) Painting, Drawing & Printmaking programme hosted a student conference.

‘Out Here’ was a day of critical debate, workshops and performances entirely organised by students for students.

Writer and former museum director Julian Spalding travelled down from Edinburgh to take part, alongside artists Connor McIntyre and Heath Hearn from Maker Heights.

“I’m glad to be in Plymouth again, I used to come here to see Beryl Cook who was a friend of mine and I'm giving a talk later today in the gallery and I'm going to talk about Beryl,” says Julian Spalding.

The morning events were run by the students on the panel with an in the round setting with audience participation encouraged.

The conference was looking to explore whether students at Plymouth College of Art and artists in the South West are extending the possibilities for rigorous, critical artistic practice outside of the dominant London market?

“The answer to your question, to your theme is yes, it doesn't matter where you are, there isn't a centre of art, whatever London might think.

"The art is where you are and the world is a sphere and wherever you are is the top of the world and every individual is at the top of the world. At the top of their sphere,” explains Julian. 

Student Faith Pallett with programme leader Stephen Felmingham and keynote speaker Julian Spalding

Faith Pallett, second year BA (Hons) Painting, Drawing & Printmaking student told us about the experience of putting a conference together,

"When we realised that we needed to put a conference on entirely ourselves, I think many of us felt apprehensive and slightly overwhelmed.

“But as we discussed how we could make the 'Out Here' conference meaningful to us, the wider Plymouth & South West Arts scene and to the college - the momentum took on it's own energetic life, leading to many of us gaining invaluable growth experience both on a professional and personal level.

“The people that attended and joined in the debate and discussion exceeded any expectations I'd had prior to the event, I learnt a great deal and lots of people asked if there was going to be further discussion.

“It was said when we first invited Julian Spalding as keynote speaker that this could be controversial, but Julian was both engaging and real & sometimes you have to push through preconceptions to find important information & vistas to get the bigger picture."

Oona Wagstaff, a second year student who chaired the panel, described the conference as a chance to get "a real insight into the importance of critical artistic dialogue, cross collaborative working and networking across the local and national artistic community.

“Within the next few weeks, we intend to follow up on the recommendations of the evaluation we have all been involved in and hope to continue to build on the new relationships we have made both inside and outside the college.”

Julian Spalding at the evening talk hosted in the Studio Theatre

Julian spoke about many different topics exploring the nature of art, ranging from what makes us create to what benefit art has on the world and the importance of the individual,

“The way we are consuming everything is partly due to our nature – what's in here. What our brains are like, something fundamental. That process, that dissatisfaction I want to suggest to you and i'm doing it in a very summary way, but I wrote a whole book about this. Dissatisfaction is what makes you want to create art.

“And all the arts spring out of this sense of wanting to experience life more fully. Wanting to communicate your love of life and to communicate what your life is about in the fullest way. Now that process of creating art is all about consciousness, art is never not conscious. Art is always conscious. It's always about what you’re aware of.

“Art in fact has a fantastic role to play in human communication and that's what it is and art will save the world,” explains Julian

“And its making you aware of things you are not usually aware of. About feelings, about things that aren’t usually covered in the business of living. In the material business of living.

“You're interested in art, I would suggest, because it's about the whole of life, it's about a much more complex, illusive experience of the mystery of being – which is pretty amazing. Its about all that stuff, its not about getting the next job, getting the next car, getting the next possession.

“So art is not a calculation – this is where I have such a great disagreement with conceptualism – art is never a calculation, it is never an illustration of a thought. Its always a discovery, it's always a creative process of finding a way of making conscious, making aware and communicating what you feel about life, about your life.

“About the whole bloody business of this whole absurd, crazy business of being here. So it changes the potentially destructive energy of human beings, which is tremendously destructive, into a creative energy.

“On the most basic level drawing is a language that enables you to talk to yourself. And when you start drawing I think it begins to tell you things about what you want to say.

“Which you hadn't begun to think about before and you begin to respond and you begin to have a conversation and so the thing grows and develops. If it doesn't do that then it's not your language.

“Its not your language of expression and I found that words were what really absorbed me. Because this is my language. It took me a long time to discover this.

“What you are sensing there when you say something is wrong and something is right is whether it works outside yourself. You see what you are doing is projecting your mind, your consciousness – like a mirror watching your own thoughts, not in a logical way but in an intuitive, creative way.

“You’re watching yourself speak to yourself. And you’re seeing yourself and your whole conscious being of your feelings, not just what you calculate to be true, they are about what you feel to be true.

“Art in fact has a fantastic role to play in human communication and that's what it is and art will save the world.”

Photographs by BA (Hons) Photography graduates Andy Ford and Sarah Packer