The OCA North study group is an initiative started by fellow student Andrew Fitzgibbon which aims to build a network of students based in the North to meet periodically, share work and engage in discussion. I decided to become involved because my personal experience of meeting fellow students has been a major positive and helped with the isolating nature of the distance learning. I also felt if I could contribute to the aims of the group in any way then I should.
The initial meeting was held in June in Leeds and unfortunately I was not able to attend due to work commitments. When Newcastle was suggested as the venue for the second meeting I volunteered to organise. I managed to find a venue (Newcastle City Library) that would allow the use of a room free of charge and fine art tutor Emma Drye agreed to support the event. (OCA profile here) 6 students attended, disappointing as 12 had gone to the first meeting, however, we had a free flowing discussion about what we liked/found challenging about studying with OCA and what we were currently working on. There was a good mix of disciplines represented (2 painting, 2 textiles, 2 photography) and I found the insight into how students from other subjects approached their work fascinating – we each described in our own similar way the challenges of balancing OCA and home work life as well as how it can sometimes be a very lonely experience being a distance learning student. Emma was fantastic at gently leading the discussion and generous in sharing her insight into her own practice and life as an OCA tutor.
An aim of the study group is to provide students the chance to bring work for critique. Only two students were brave enough to do this, personally, I had not brought work because I have just started working towards assignment 5 and do not really know where I am going with this. The fact that I had not brought anything was something that I reflected upon immediately before the meeting and came to the conclusion that it was my own self doubt that meant I left the work at home. I discussed this with Emma and the other students and talked about my ideas for the project. I was pleasantly surprised by the interest everyone showed and simply talking about what I intended to do was a great help – the fact that I did not know where the project was going was seen as a positive by Emma and echoed her practice of simply working and seeing where this takes her.
Emma gave a fascinating insight into her practice and development as an artist which is extremely varied and often playful in nature. She talked about ethics and collaboration and how she balances her strong beliefs in these with autonomy as an artist. For example, she would ask for permission from an individual to explore an approach, if this was not granted she would not continue, but if it was she was clear that she was free to produce anything she wanted. I was inspired by her description of her personal artistic process being based on experimentation – she never knows where an idea will take her or the form it will eventually present. This idea of practice through trial and error is something that increasingly appeals to me and something I find personally helpful. I have found having too prescriptive an approach to be creatively limiting and something that can lead to stagnation when things do not turn out to plan. Emma’s description of her ways of working helped me crystallise the ideas I was beginning to form for assignment 5 – something that I have many thought about how to proceed but little concrete to go on. I feel emboldened to continue with this tact and see where it takes me.
Apart from the worry about whether anyone would turn up in the lead up to the day I found the whole experience rewarding and was glad I took the opportunity to take an active role. The early indications that this OCA North Group initiative is something that will be a success and I am looking forward to contributing further and to building relationships with fellow students – and to taking some work to the next meeting!