Saturday, 17 June 2017

Debates, Prisons and Free Wine!

So, as promised, here's what I got up to on my fab weekend as Artist-in-Residence at the UCU Congress in Brighton. I worked like the clappers for two days solid. I absolutely thrive on this kind of mad challenge.

I spent part of my time in the big hall, listening to the speakers and trying to capture as many of them as I could. It was so fast though: someone would get up and put a motion for a few minutes, then other people would say a few words for or against the motion, then everyone would vote by holding their voting cards in the air. Then we would immediately be on to the next motion.

There were a couple of occasions when I had a bit longer to spend on people. This was the Chairman, giving his opening address, which was a lovely, very personal talk about the reasons he got into the union:

Another thing which was slightly different, was a break-away seminar during the lunch break on the Saturday, all about what it's like to work in prisons. I quickly got the message that it is VERY challenging and extremely stressful to teach in a prison environment:

The following lunchtime, I went downstairs a little early and drew the lunch-bags being put out. They had a mix of various sandwiches, fruit, salad and a cake in - a great idea for making the lunch process quick, so people don't have to waste time queueing.

Then I hung around, sketching delegates eating their lunch. Basically, I was trying to draw all the different aspects of the weekend, to give an overall feel of what went on and to help make the artwork as varied and interesting as possible. I just love sitting quietly in a corner, earwigging conversation and cherry-picking little quotes to pop into the drawing:

It was important to spend a little while capturing the staff on reception too, the vital people who hold it all together. The red-head you can see bottom left, is Sue, who commissioned me and organised the residency. She told me that it was the work I had done during last year's strike which had attracted the attention of the UCU and got me the job:

On both the Friday and Saturday evening, there was a short drinks event. Free wine - yahoo! I reckoned I had earned a couple. I didn't draw on Friday night, as my work didn't officially start until Saturday morning, but I tried to capture a little on Saturday, as they were also taking the opportunity to launch a 'pack': a little book of personal stories from students of Further Education:

The conference was slightly different on Sunday, as the two halves of the union split into separate events, with Higher Education in one hall and Further Education in another. Having taught in both sectors myself in the past, I found it particularly interesting to catch up on the current issues.  

Having personal experience meant that I understood a lot of the problems. It seems that people are still working way too hard and are under even crazier amounts of pressure since I last taught within the system. Listening to all the issues made me realise how incredibly lucky I am now, to be able to do my teaching independently.

I've sketched a few conferences now, but with this one, we did something new, something absolutely brilliant. The conference centre was full of big LED screens. As I finished each concertina sketchbook, I rushed it to a tech-man, who quickly scanned it, then added it to a scrolling showcase of everything I was creating, displayed on all the screens. They even showed my sketches on the HUGE main conference screen during break times.

It was great to see it all 'writ large', but it also meant that every single person there knew what I was doing and got the chance to see the work (and sometimes see themselves!). It made things really sociable for me, because people kept coming up and saying hello.

As part of the deal this time, I included ownership of the original artwork, so this week it was all packaged up and sent by courier down to the union's head offices in London, where it is all going to be framed and put on the wall. They have promised to send me a photo!

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