During summer 2014, the Foundation staff at Swansea College of Art set themselves 50cm Rule as a holiday project and a way to introduce themselves to the new students. I made a ‘soapbox’ to these dimensions, designed so that it could be cut from a ‘quarter board’ of 12mm plywood, with as little wastage as possible. I had been to visit some Walter Segal houses and was inspired by the idea of the use of products readily available from builders’ merchants and DIY stores, and the learning and an essential democracy implicit in systems of this sort.
I wrote a brief manifesto and delivered it from my soapbox on the first day of term. Other members of the Foundation staff team were asked to write and present manifestos for our Monday morning meetings throughout the first term. Students then did the same as part of their first project within the fine art area. The soapbox was a drawing, a design and an experiment – and a prop for a participatory, performed project.
Now the shared theme of the staff and alumni exhibitions, 50cm Rule has encouraged me to explore modular making using 3 basic units, The work borrows from the simplicity of building block sets such as Froebel Gifts and takes inspiration from the process of open-ended play and construction proposed by them. What we make is always political, in one way or another, and I have chosen to construct some of the objects of protest or free speech. Art and design is a place where we can protest, ask questions, respond to and shape the places around us.
The pieces could be made into something else – and may take other forms in the future, the history of making and re-making visible in redundant holes for fixings.
The pieces might be further designed to have permanent fixing holes to limit or enable alternative constructions. The use of screws, doormats and rope, etc. is a reminder to improvise and that making is done in the studio and at home as part of living – where the tool cupboard or sewing basket enable us through basic skills.
The Foundation Art and Design course values process and experimentation, in addition to product as an introduction to art school education. Students are offered an alternative to grades as a measurement of their progress – what they make and how it is made are the focus of learning and teaching. We work with the basic principles of making, a wide definition that includes writing. Most importantly we broaden the definition of drawing, so that our students can understand it as a verb, a process and a way of thinking – their language.