Tim Rollins & K.O.S.

Reflections & responses to the Talbot Rice Gallery/Artworks Scotland seminar, Aug 2012

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By Sheila MacDougall

On Monday morning, 6th August, just a few days after the seminar, I got up at some ungodly hour to watch what The Guardian referred to as “an unprecedented act of theatre.” Nasa’s latest rover craft, Curiosity, was attempting a daring landing on Mars and I wanted to witness this extraordinary event in real time. You may ask, What this has to do with the Tim Rollins and K.O.S. seminar held in the Talbot Rice Gallery on Wednesday 1st August? As I watched the landing and the press conference that followed I kept realising that there were many connections. Here are a few to ponder (Well, more than just a few!):
• curiosity
• enlightenment
• passion
• commitment
• team work, with individuals doing their part to create something bigger than themselves
• making history
• building on the past
• looking to the future
• confidence
• exploration – into the unknown
• education
• developing deep knowledge
• research
• disseminating knowledge
• inspiration, both taking it from others and providing it for younger generations
• goals
• aiming high
• striving to do and be better
• investment on many levels including extended periods of time to allow for process and working to getting it right
• intrepidness
• joy
• tears
• pride and sense of accomplishment
• sense of style and occasion
• patience
I have a long standing relationship with the Talbot Rice Gallery. I have spent a great deal of time there as an educator, a performing artist, and a gallery visitor. The gallery has provided me with an arts education, especially because I am not trained as a visual artist; my background is in theatre, movement, dance and education. I always come to the Talbot Rice Gallery with a sense of anticipation and curiosity about how the familiar space has been transformed by its occupants, both human and artistic, and how this transformation will inform my thinking, my creativity, my view of life. It is always an exploration into the unknown.
On this occasion I was met on the human side by a mixture of old friends and colleagues and new faces, and on the artistic side by several large and intriguing canvases on the walls of the White Gallery. I knew a very little bit about Tim Rollins and K.O.S., but I wanted to learn more.
Before actually meeting Tim and the three members of K.O.S., I had time to sit and look at one of the large canvases in front of me. It was full of golden trumpets that morphed magically into body parts: pelvic bones, an organ shaped like a bagpipe, a pair of wing-like lungs, arteries flowing down from the corner. The whole canvas was extremely lively and complex with the golden images floating on top of pages of text from a book. I looked across to a different wall and saw another large canvas with vibrant pointed shafts of colour cutting across it, intersecting and piercing one another. They seemed to leap off the canvas in almost 3-D like fashion.
I had no information about these paintings beyond what I saw in front of me. I had not even read the names or the accompanying texts. But they impressed me as high quality works of art. It was enlightening to learn during the seminar that they had been made democratically by a team of young artists, using classical literature as their inspiration. The artists worked together over time and with patience to explore and experiment until they got the painting just right, giving them a sense of pride and accomplishment.
Learning about the process that produced the pieces of art reinforced my own belief that long-term investment is crucially important in any artistic endeavour. Tim Rollins made a major investment in time and energy – and no doubt some of his own money – to educate the young people with whom he worked on many levels. Like Nasa’s investment in utilising science, technology, and experience from the past to develop a revolutionary new vehicle for exploration of the unknown, Tim built on the past through literature, art and artists to thrust these young people into a future they could not imagine and had probably never dreamed of. Both ventures required vision, commitment, high standards, passion, drive, and a confidence that there would be success. In both cases long-term research – and building on the research to reach a goal – was at the heart of the projects. Without that the other aspects would not have been possible.
Another connection that struck me while watching the Curiosity rover landing on Mars is the importance of inspiration. During the press conference several Nasa scientists and engineers mentioned the inspiration of watching Neil Armstrong walk on the moon in 1969, and Curiosity itself will undoubtedly inspire a new generation. The workshops given by Tim and the three K.O.S. artists in Talbot Rice prior to the seminar inspired the young participants in their artistic endeavours. One wrote to Tim that even this short workshop experience had made her believe that she really could be an artist! Several of the young participants attended the Preview and a talk on Saturday following the opening. They were clearly inspired and hungry for more. How can we feed the hunger of young people for quality art experiences in Scotland?
Just as I have made connections between Curiosity and the seminar, Tim made connections between the Olympics and future K.O.S. workshops. In the talk he gave on Saturday, he addressed the issue of the gender composition of K.O.S. that had arisen during the seminar. In observing the make-up of Olympic teams he got thinking about the make-up of the workshops. Because the majority of participants in the Edinburgh workshops were girls, he has decided to create all-girls and all-boys workshops when K.O.S. returns to Intermediate School 52 in South Bronx. He has also decided to utilise the Olympic idea of team competition as a way to motivate the young people to strive to do better.
I have a final comment about connections. I was struck by the difficulty some participants in the afternoon group discussion had in comprehending how a canvas could be made democratically by many different artists, and questioned who had ownership of the piece of art. But the creation of a K.O.S. canvas is quite analogous to the Curiosity mission or an Olympic team in which each member plays an individual role, providing the team with their own strengths, ideas, attributes, and expertise to produce something that is greater than the sum of its parts. In the artistic world strong parallels can be drawn from theatre, dance and music in which individuals often work as an ensemble to produce art that belongs to all its participants. Perhaps the lesson here is that we, as artists in a wide range of forms, can always learn from each other.


Written by sheilamacdougall

August 31, 2012 at 3:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized