DOCTORS OF SPIN – encompass, Tullie House, Carlisle

The basic idea behind the workshop was to take one work from the "Fun de Siecle" exhibition – a Damien Hirst spin painting – and add layers to it through a audio-visual experience for a group of young people.

Rather than a formal report, this account, culled from our end of the day coffee chats seems to better represent the flavour of ‘Doctors of Spin’:

Day 1 Tuesday 6th July 1999

A few technical problems with our hired sound equipment (no needle or headphones supplied) are quickly overcome thanks to Tullie House staff and the calmness of our DJ - the run through arranged for the previous week to get familiar with the facilities has paid off!

The scene is visually stunning - an often overlooked aspect of workshops; an alcove sat back at the end of the gallery, everyone in pale blue surgery gowns and 3D glasses, a horseshoe of tables with spin painting machines and at the far centre, the DJ area with desk draped with a Union Jack flag.

Attendance from our two Secondary Schools is hit by a bug, as only Nicole and a friend turn up to begin spinning with our little Early Learning Centre machines. Three young people from Raffles then arrive and continue with the work – their attention span in the exhibition and the workspace is very low but they produce some strong work. An older Youth Worker has been sent down by the Raffles Community Centre and shortly after she appears (‘to keep an eye on them’), the three young people leave for the day. By the time I catch up with the incident, it is too late - an unfortunate occurrence, an offshoot from events and relationships elsewhere in the city.

We discuss the possibility of one larger central spin machine. Nicole and friend move into collage and 3D work as a few gallery visitors join in with the event.

Day 2 Wednesday 7th July 1999

Things fall into place and start buzzing. Dave Chapple turns up with his unique modified drill-and-wood spin machine allowing us to spin onto 12" records, 3D glasses and LP sleeves. The assistance provided by the other artist, Sharon Woods, is also invaluable. Spinning onto 12" records allows us to pursue the chats about art not needing to be square/rectangular and also not needing to begin with a white base.

The space is busy all day and some excellent work is produced, including collage and three basic ‘curator panels’ (selections by young people of their 18 favourite spin paintings mounted on board).

The relationship with the rest of the exhibition is informal but gradually upped – each time we wander through the space, we stop at a work and make comments and discuss changing views. The young people begin scratching and mixing at the sound decks. A visiting group of young people from Wisconsin stand and watch, amazed. Tullie House staff comment on the vibrant atmosphere - a mad bunch of surgeon’s/dentists, thumping hardcore music, lots of spinning and movement and 3D prints on the wall.

A group of 14 year olds excluded from Morton Secondary (who usually meet at Raffles Community Centre) come down in the morning and stay until 2.45pm (including a break for a wander about upstairs in the Museum).

During lunch, we discuss with them how the workshop may adapt/improve and fill out evaluation forms. Spinners are photographed holding finished spin paintings in front of the Damien Hirst original.

Day 3 Wednesday 14th July 1999

Busiest day so far, topped with arrival of our new ‘phorensic’ body suits. Four pupils from William Howard School stay for the full day, spinning and developing titles for previous paintings. We try spinning on t-shirts {‘how can art leave the gallery?’) and larger circular cards. Ten young people from Morton School/Raffles also participate for the whole day and one suddenly begins to drip paint onto the discs (Pollock style) before spinning it, and a whole new unexpected style begins. Another begins arranging the larger spin paintings on the wall but instead of a straight line it becomes a wavy thread across the back wall – visually stunning. The creative juices are flowing.

Gallery visitors join in, as some 34 young people visiting from New Jersey and Florida, as the incessant musical rhythm continues (and continues to be crucial to the working atmosphere – when it stops, we remember we are in a white box with artworks).

Two visitors from The Netherlands, both involved in art education, are pleasantly surprised by the activities – the number of young people, the enthusiasm, the noise, the relationship to the artworks they continue to walk past and glance at and the conceptual tightness of the project. They stay longer than expected, are pointed towards the Artist Newsletter article, which they read, and take away six written sheets on the workshop.

Day 4 Thursday 15th July 1999

Six older pupils from Caldew School and one from Trinity begin to further explore a written response to what is going on. Following a walk through the show and chat about artists, they compiled a set of single words and sentences to be filmed with the digital video camera. Lengths of little spin paintings are also taped together and zig-zagged across the back walls.

The Morton/Raffles participants really push the production/3D work, spinning onto fragments of maps, paper plates, holographic silver paper, constructing spun paper aeroplanes and even a small ‘car’. Aaron Tunrbull and Zoe Heatley are invited to select nine larger spins to display in the gallery next to the Damien Hirst – a remarkable moment in the history of gallery education.

There is perhaps inevitably, the occasional friction between the group and some members of the Tullie House staff about levels of noise, stray blotches of paint, dirty sinks etc. Both sides involved must show a level of understanding in such situations.

An arts officer from Cumbria Council, the encompass photographer, an eccentric American tourist (with theories about constructing the ultimate inertia-free spin machine that responds directly to the bpm of a piece of music), a partially blind lady and some Carlisle-based artists all call in, understand immediately what is being tried, spend some time in the space and chat with some of the ‘organisers’.

spin 1 spin 2 On this point, unfortunately many of the older pupils could not build up any momentum due to other commitments such as afternoon jobs. As a result, we were unable to develop any of them (Nicole for example) into proper ‘spin doctors’ who would engage with the public.

Day 5 Friday 16th July 1999

Only the young people from Raffles turn up to continue their spinning and construction. For many of them it is their fourth day and their desire to move on is showing. The workshop had been programmed to allow each group perhaps two full days with us. Given the fact that the sixth form pupils’ attendance was intermittent, the Raffles group held ‘Doctors of Spin’ together, builing up some momentum and producing some startling work.

BBC North film the spinning in the morning and all the work, including some new ‘Millennium Dome’ designs, is left out for display over the weekend.

Brief conclusion

Often a workshop’s aims (for first-time visitors to a gallery) are incredibly high in terms of short time spans and ‘conversions’. However, the notion of ‘memory giving’ is crucial – providing new occasions or situations that indelibly stick in peoples’ minds, thus creating a desire for future creative events.

The young people, aged between 14-16, left with memories of walking past a Damien Hirst spin painting on their way to produce their own, working amidst ‘their music’, seeing photographs of chickens doing strange things (a popular piece), a cast tongue from the wall, the resin car park (‘can you eat it? what type of material is that?’), a photo of the ‘Brian is a twat’ poster (‘who is Brian?’) and people dressed oddly, talking and smiling and trying things with paint and movement in a white gallery.

Within the established rules, a great feeling of ownership developed between the young people and the white gallery. Without this ease, they would not have engaged and experimented so much and taken the workshop off in new directions, which are some of the most desired outcomes for any educator.

I regard ‘Doctors of Spin’ as a true success – an imaginative event that led to successes, raised problems and brought around 70 young people into a new mental and physical relationship with their local Museum/Gallery. It was, in today’s speak, a true partnership between agencies with the artist, the Gallery curator, the schools, Raffles Youth Development Project and other local artists working together within a single vision.

Alan Dunn, July 1999