First steps in the cabbage field

The five day community arts summer school in Kaunas got off to a prompt start at 9am this morning. Twenty five people had gathered in a summer cabin on the site (the result of an earlier project) and we spent the first hour introducing ourselves.

We’re a diverse group, mostly local to the neighbourhood, but some from farther afield. There were teachers, mothers, musicians, students, artists and others who spoke about their memories of the area – the river, the sound of trains, bells, the army that was so long a presence and the people who make Šančiai a community.

After that, we walked the ground, alone or in pairs, looking for places that might feel associated with solitude, violence, hope, rest or reconciliation — the themes of the community opera. The markers were placed on maps and then gathered into a mosaic of impressions. After coffee, I gave a talk about community art, which was difficult partly because of the range of knowledge people had about the subject, but also because, with consecutive translation, the pace slows right down. Sometimes that can be a good thing, but today I found it hard to keep my thread.

The afternoon was divided between a drama workshop – in the boxing hall of the sports centre were using for the workshops –  and an art workshop, which I was responsible for. I rested while the drama workshop was happening (I couldn’t follow it anyway because it was in naturally Lithuanian) and set up the materials and equipment for a handmade slide workshop.

Day 1, slide workshop (1)

This is a bit archaic – we used to do tape-slide shows in  the days before PowerPoint – but there can be strength in slowing things down. Painting slides is a nice way to open colour and light to people who aren’t familiar with making art. It’s easy to work in such a tiny frame and the results can be spectacular, especially if people paint rather than draw. We explored how to represent love and war in colour, and began talking about the narrative possibilities of sequential art. It was a very nice end to the day, with everybody relaxing and enjoying the playfulness of the technique. We ended with a sharing of each person’s favourite slide in the changing rooms, where we could get a really dark space. We’re still a long way from developing a visual language from the production, but we’ve made a good start.

Tonight, we’re invited to supper at Ed and Vita’s, which will help everyone get to know each other more informally.