Pre-Texts in Bahamas

Nassau , Bahamas

Open workshop

Non Government Organization

Day 1, Session #1:

Large wrap-around verandas at the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas provided the expansive setting for the workshop. An officious gallery director helped define the parameters of the space as the participants filtered onto the open-air second floor. The participants were mostly young, enthusiastic artists, teachers and community workers.

The circle is the modus operandi of Pre-Text and the twenty individuals did warm-ups. First we introduced ourselves by catching a ball made from newspaper, throwing it, one to the other. It is important that all speak once before anyone speaks twice, and it’s up to each to be aware if the person next to him or her has not spoken. A gentle elbow will do. After everyone had said their name and professional role, Doris playfully made and started throwing more paper balls and mayhem broke out as a cacophony of names was shouted out.

The second warm-up was to break into pairs, shake hands, and then have one partner free him or herself to consider how to complete the other partner’s pose. Once a complement was achieved, the other freed him or herself, and we continued to alternate, creating human “sculptures” that were hilarious and intimate.

The workshop moved rhythmically as Doris introduced the concepts of Pre-Texts between warm-up exercises. The primary focus was reading of a text from Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, while participants sat at tables and made book covers that responded to the text. Doing while listening, as workers had been doing in tobacco “factories” for almost two centuries. It was a surreal moment with Doris standing on a chair, oratory style, while participants were trying to grasp this collision of mind and body. Then everyone asked a question of the text and “published” it on our clothesline.

The challenge of playing with texts became wonderfully obvious when participant pairs pantomimed a specific line from the text, which required all to scan the chapter to find the right reference. This was both difficult and rewarding, with many Ah-Ha moments.

Facilitators in training will lead sessions the rest of the week. With Carla’s help, a schedule was set up for the next few days, with individuals or pairs given about an hour each.

Day 2, Session #2:

Jason drove us from the hotel to the site and remarked about the subtle haze in the sky, while Doris was entranced by the turquoise color of the ocean and the warmth.

We arrived and immediately began to set up; the clothesline was still hanging with questions between the white pillars where “tangents” (readings and articles stimulated by the Cosmos text) were now being published. Jason and Marco - Improve/Comedy - presented an idea, which at first was confusing and elicited much discussion. But once the framework was understood it flowed like honey. Each person wrote short words or phrases from the text, which were then put in a basket. Short scenarios were introduced and the dialogue was fueled by the random texts selected. Whether selling pastry at a bakery or talking to someone in the grave, the drama revved up like ancient Greek theater. Much laughter.

The second exercise was more problematic and challenging. Anastasia presented the idea of the circle and the Mandela and asked participants to draw a circle and embellish it while the history of the Mandela was read by Carla. The objective was art therapy and Doris had to remind the facilitator that this workshop included therapy but its added value was to encourage youth to read texts. Where was the text? The final display of work on the floor gallery became an intimate exchange of personal stories and challenges. The result was a surprising unity of purpose.

The third facilitator, Carla, invited us to read the text as a dramatic reading, utilizing tone of voice, gesture and emotion. Doris suggested that everyone read a section of the text in whatever dramatic expression he or she chose. A surprising reading followed with voices of boredom, nervousness, anger, exasperation and others.

Day 3, Session #3:

Students arrived and put up their tangents, and we explored the few we had time to discuss, leaving us curious about others. Among tangent was a map of the Caribbean with Costa Rica marked, not by its capital city, San Jose, but by Limon, as Marco noticed. He commented that, of course the preference was Caribbean, because Limon was founded by Marcus Garvey. Jason was frankly surprised.

The first session was on Dance with Moya and Keisha leading. Moya demonstrated traditional choreography used by many church choirs. What resulted were three, vibrant, choreographed movement pieces based on the text that included music, song, voice soundings, ump-bas and more. The Cosmos text became more ingrained in everyone’s brain.

The second session, led by Yutavia and Lawrence, was about sculpture and ceramics. Participants broke into pairs, and then created sculpture, once again, related to the text. The three dimensional pieces were made from clay and plastic straws. The heavy grey clay pieces hovered above the table, balancing on translucent straws.

And last “Soundtrack” exercise offered by Kirk played recorded, everyday sounds such as a scream, waves crashing on the beach and eight others. Participants were asked to select a word or line from the text that related to the sound, and then asked why they chose it.

Day 4, Session #4:

Kirk’s tangent gave a sense of the value of this activity. He had researched Marcus Garvey, because the name was so stunning for Jason in relation to Costa Rica, and because it was new to Kirk. Participants appreciated the effects of “going off on a tangent” and teaching one another.

Elkino facilitated a drawing workshop that featured a star in the foreground and other cosmic elements in the background. We learned those two concepts and created a variety of images. Among the reflections was the feeling of freedom within the constraints of instructions that limited our decisions.

For the poetry session, facilitated by Lauren and Stacey, participants once again selected clipped words/phrases from the text and wrote a couple of sentences using them. The writings were then put in a hat and everyone chose a text at random, not knowing who wrote it. We formed “editorial committees” of three people each to edit the writing, making corrections and suggestions. Then corrected unsigned drafts were arranged as a floor gallery, from which each author retrieved his or her text and reviewed the suggestions. Once each text was rewritten, groups of 4 or 5 arranged them into a single, collaged poem. Once posted, all four texts were read with dramatic flair to much accolade.

Day 4, Session #5:

Another sculpture session brought the group into the NAGB’s exhibition gallery that featured a retrospective of Brent Malone. The narrative work based on the local festival Junkanoo utilizes flamboyant color and celebratory imagery of Carnival, and it inspired participants to link the Cosmos text with the work. The three groups then fashioned jeweled crowns befitting a king, made from a basketful of art materials, including lots of glitter and yarn to represent elements from the text.

It was time to claim our full senses with the introduction of making sculpture out of food with Monica and Emma. The scent of bananas, apples, and oranges wafted in the late afternoon breeze as participants created edible sculptures based on images inspired by the text: spiral arms of star rivers, black holes, oblong galaxies, etc. The descriptions and “what did we do?” comments were enticed by the setting of a communal feast. The results heralded 21st Century versions of the Flintstones and the Jetsons.

The culmination of the week was sharing action plans with the group. Written texts were taped on the wall and all gathered in the dim evening light to hear presentations from 3 of the participants. The first plan still missed the direct connection between art making and close reading, which companions pointed out and advised on, while the second one was clearly well thought out and based on a well-known Caribbean book of folk stories. The third proposal made advances by using texts as prompts for art-making, but planned to relay on student pastiches of text, rather than tackle a difficult classic.

The week ended jubilantly with a group photo and unending photo ops with Doris, and then, participants modeling the imperial crowns. There was a melancholy feeling as the group dispersed, while knowing they’d be meeting weekly with each other to further their grasp of Pre-Text. Many seemed committed to putting in the fifteen hours of practice to receive their Pre-Text certification. And we are grateful to Carla Campbell for agreeing to be the “Weaver” for the group.

Collaborators

Doris Sommer
Facilitator

Marco Abarca
Facilitator

Jay Critchley
Facilitator

Carla Campbell
Weaver

Texts

Cosmos
FB TW