06/01/ - 26/03 2019 at Pool School Gallery
The exhibition Chicken Nuggets was organised by students at Pool Academy and myself, Ben Sanderson. The making of the show began with a beautiful small painting by Jeffery Camp, Laetitia and a Cornish Tin Mine, 1967. We then started to plot a conversation between Camp’s work and that of contemporary painters working in Cornwall today. The show consisted of works by eight artists: Finlay Abbott Ellwood, Simon Bayliss, Nicola Bealing, Romi Behrens, Naomi Frears, Nina Royle, Lucy Stein and me.
Image: Jeffery Camp, Laetitia and a Cornish Tin Mine, 1967.
The exhibition developed through a series of workshops held at the gallery for the students. When I asked them, ‘If you could do anything in the gallery, what would you do?’ and the response was ‘Trash it’, I wanted to find a way of harnessing this energy. The conversation led us to vandalism and graffiti, so painting the walls of the gallery became the first workshop. I prepared the space, mixed lots of paint 50/50 with water and gave the empty gallery to the students. There were only two rules: no writing, and respect other people’s work. I was there for encouragement, though they didn’t need any.
Next, we curated the hang, unwrapping the loaned paintings and carefully placing them in relation to the murals painted by the students in the previous workshop. The students had an amazing ability to not fuss over this and just say it like it is, an abbreviated approach that I found totally fascinating. We never spoke of it again once it was done. The title for the show happened in a similar way. I asked a student what we should call the show and he replied ‘Chicken Nuggets’. Everyone agreed it was a good title and I seem to remember I did too.
The participating artists were asked to lead on weekly workshops for the students, suggesting ways in which their work might be connected with Jeffery Camp’s painting, and creating a wider understanding of their artistic practice. We had workshops with oak gall ink and pigments made from clay, a landscape painting session from a live webcam feed, and paper-making from the gallery’s waste paper bin. I also reached out to chef Jack Bevan to create a food menu responding to the themes in the show. On the menu we had pea and bacon soup, seaweed focaccia, rainbow chard and squash salad. The food was all seasonal and grown near to the school. Working with food in this way turned out to be a great way to think about colour, process, and painting.
This project was devised for the students at PSG to give an insight into what it means to make art beyond the usual limits of school art lessons. In a workshop session learning gets transferred both ways, embodied in the questions that are asked and the experimentation that takes place. The experience of the Chicken Nuggets exhibition has had a huge effect on me, underlining the importance of observing and listening, of shaping each session in response to what has gone before. Empowered by the unusual freedom of the Pool School Gallery set-up, the project could be truly interactive and the students were able to shape the outcome quite decisively. They were not performing to a set script.
Using the kitchen with the students and making lunch for teachers and friends brought a community feel to the gallery that felt like a triumph amidst the usual busyness of a school day. During a mono-printing workshop a student said to me, ‘I can’t believe we get to do this instead of lessons.’ To which I replied … ‘This is a lesson!’
It has been such a privilege to work alongside everyone at Pool School Gallery for the past year. It’s an experience I know I’ll go back to for years to come. Thank you to all the students and staff at Pool Academy, the Pool School Gallery team, all the participating artists and lenders, and a special thanks to Jonty and Milly for this fantastic opportunity.