JJ: This was a momentous day. Jason and I had been sharing thoughts on how we would conduct the last workshop we would have together as a full group. There was the list of formalities for the day (lessons, project completion, and collective curation of work for the end-of-workshop exhibition), but paralleling these events was an undercurrent of complicated feelings coming on. At this point, every single artist in this group proved how much they deserved to continue on to the Canadian portion of the journey, but we knew we would only see three familiar faces in a few months time- it was an upsetting thought.
We wanted our last workshop to offer lots of things. We wanted to debrief, we wanted to give praise, we wanted to hear the honest truth about how we did as foreign educators, we wanted to know so many things that would probably never fit into the space of the day. I felt a looming sense of uneasiness but didn’t know how it would manifest itself. So I braced myself that morning and concentrated on acting normal.
Artists were introduced to a simple bookbinding project. We had an assortment of newspapers, magazines, brown paper, letter paper, photocopies, and old drawings to pull from in order to create the pages for these books. Not too many guidelines were in place. Embroidery thread and needles were provided, a demonstration was given, along with pictorial instructions. Suggestions and examples were shown, but at this point we knew everyone would be capable of creating an intriguing compilation reflective of the week’s work and thoughts.
After a relaxed morning of assembling these books, everyone collected their works and were informed that we would be preparing the school exhibition space after lunch for a class art show. The artists were informed of this earlier on in the week, as not to surprise anyone. The exhibition would be installed, ready for a private view the following week with family and friends.
When we met in the space, everyone was asked to select two works each to exhibit. This work was laid out all over the floor for everyone to review. Artists were quickly split into groups, designated a wall (mobile wall) to curate, and given the task of deciding what works they would like to hang together on their wall. This part was slow-going and made me and Jason nervous. Meanwhile, some people were designated the task of washing the walls because they were a little scuffed in spots. The afternoon seemed to be seeping away between our sweaty fingers. I was feeling confused as to why our group seemed to have lost the amazing momentum from our previous days. Did we work them too hard? Is it the end of the week fatigue? Was this uninteresting? Are they sick of my yammering in English or my bad angry sounding Spanish?- Vamos! Was this the unforeseen dilemma that my gut was forecasting earlier on? On top of the inconsistent pacing of the afternoon, many faced the challenge of hanging work with tape on walls that were still slick with soap residue! When we eventually ran out of tape, we had to call it a day- but not without a final debrief.
Everyone placed chairs in a big circle in the exhibition room. We sat there with tired looks on our faces, eyes cast down, or looking around apprehensively. A table was set in the centre of the circle piled with Canadian souvenirs from Jason. I had a bag full of Japanese envelopes, each containing knick-knacks and tiny paintings. Caro, Mara, Juli, Sebastian, and Ondrej joined us. We were all together for a final reflection. Everyone was posed with the question: What have you learned from this week that you think you will carry with you?
I listened to each response carefully and with an open heart, as I’m sure Jason did also. It was an unimaginable joy to hear each individual’s perspective on the positive connections that they have made throughout our week together. This was a rare opportunity for me to hear and sense the profound transformative nature of art. This is not some ephemeral moment of simply tying aesthetics and emotiveness together into a messy, passionate lump. To paraphrase our session: Young voices were making deeply meaningful connections with the various opportunities that art can provide- time to reflect, to make mistakes, to not be punished or judged for said mistakes, to problem solve, to make decisions, take risks, to question convention, to not be apologetic for perspectives and expressions, to make connections, to communicate. A few tears were shed. We jumped around to shake off the tears. We were all going to miss one another.
After each artist shared their words, they were invited to take a gift from me and Jason- it would only be a tiny representation of our gratitude for everyone. The debrief went well-overtime due to translations being made for everyone in the room. People were texting parents to let them know we were running late. Then, a few students stood up and announced that they had something to share with us (J+J+O) in the artroom downstairs. We all made our way down and found the room decorated with streamers and balloons! Party!!! A cake, queso y arequipe, and empanadas awaited us on the paint splattered tables. Fizzy drinks were passed around and gifts were presented. Spanish language pop tunes blasted and everyone was dancing. Too awesome!!! That explained the weird disappearance of people during installation!
The party eventually simmered down after learning some new dance moves: salsa, merengue, reggaeton, and cumbia. I now have Mayonesa and songs with Bailando! in the chorus perma-engrained into my brain. Nothing like capping off a pretty emo day with a sweet dance party. Hugs were plentiful, cheeks were kissed, warmth was all around and I continue to carry this warm ember with me as I write this.