I’ve just returned from nearly a month living and working on a limestone quarry in the Untersberg massif, just outside Salzburg. The workshop was lead by Greek sculptor, Andreas Lolis.
My main reason to participate was to gain a solid technical basis for working with stones (both by hand and with power tools) a little bit easier to manage than the gorgeous granite which covers nearly every square inch of Finland. However, because my starting point for work is often an idea/archive/other research and not forms, I found myself at a complete loss for the first few weeks. The teaching staff had a difficult time understanding my working methods – i.e. unwillingness to make a form for no reason – and I somehow couldn’t put my usual way of thinking to one side simply for the sake of learning.
Nevertheless, I managed to muddle through two not-very-interesting pieces to get to grips with hand tools (on one piece) and power tools (on the other piece), before making a series of rather adorable miniature pieces from shaping offcuts. The final piece was born out of intense frustration and turned out to be the thing I was most happy with.
We had a dedicated outside working area near the quarry’s main office. I had wholly misinformed ideas about a quiet working space, with the gentle clatter of chisel and hammer. How wrong I was! Every one of the 12 other sculptors used a Flex from morning until night and, even with sound and face protection, the noise and dust were horrendous.
All in all, it was an interesting, if ultimately disappointing, experience. I realised that, although I am absolutely mad for stone, I am definitely not cut out for a career as a contemporary stone sculptor. There’s a certain kind of intelligence required for working out the nuances of any given material, but if all that’s required is to think about material as material and nothing else, that’s not enough to sustain my interest for very long. And besides, especially with regards stone, there’s so much more to think about – cultural, historical, architectural, geological, etc. – why limit yourself to acontextual form-making? One of many sticking points between me and our instructor…
And yet, I did learn quite a lot about how to sculpt stone, as much (if not more) from the other participants as from the teacher. I also learned how to sharpen a knife on the bottom of a ceramic coffee mug, and how to make pancakes using nothing but eggs and bananas. Magic.