MAKING WITH MADELON: Craft Sunday on a Monday Review

by Hélène Solvay, AA 4th Year
Diploma Unit 1

25 February 2015
Lecture Hall, 36 Bedford Square

 

There is a certain amount of mystery surrounding the motive of Bosch’s painting, The Garden of Earthly Delights. Is it a flight of the artist’s imagination? A warning against immorality, warranted by the church? Or a commission by wealthy clients?  Art historians seem to have settled on the latter suggestion based on the first documentation of the painting in 1517, by Antonio de Beatis, a canon from Molfetta, Italy.  According to Beatis’ description, Bosch’s ‘Garden’ was part of the décor in the Brussels town-palace of the powerful Counts of the House of Nassau. The palace of the Counts of Nassau was a prestigious residence, where some of the most crucial diplomatic receptions of the time were held. As a result, extraordinarily lavish feasts and dinners took place beneath the watchful eyes of the creatures within the Garden of Earthly Delights painting.

 

The Garden of Earthly Delights triptych by Hieronymous Bosch

The Garden of Earthly Delights triptych by Hieronymous Bosch

Five centuries later, in a location a little further west of the Low-Land capital, a group of AA students and staff were the privileged guests to a feast of a different type. Being one of these guests, I was asked to slip into the silk embroidered shoes of Antonio de Beatis and the following words are a documentation of this unusual occasion…

 

Prompted by an AA Events email, undergraduate students across the five years RSVP’d to the event ‘Making with Madelon’, and an official and concise invitation then followed:

“Please be at the Lecture Hall on Monday by 10am”

The AA events email description had revealed an outline of the day:

Participants in the workshop will each craft figures manifesting good and evil using Madelon’s specialist paper and painting techniques, and the day will culminate in the group assembling a new version of the painting as a tableau’

 

However, in anticipated excitement of the day it was only too tempting to ask, “what should I bring ? what should I prepare ?”  I write these questions in an email to Keira – demanding more information; ‘‘ Just yourself!’  is her maddeningly mysterious response…

 

On Monday morning we arrive in the Lecture Hall and a long banquet table has been set up instead of the typically studious rows of chairs. Participants take their places around the table, and some like me, have their eye on the table. Like a delicious buffet, the table is covered with curious objects that have the same stimulating effect on our imaginations as the promise of flavours in a selection of beautiful dishes has on one’s salivary glands. From the crisp selection of craft materials (rolls of gum strip paper, brushes, scissors, sponges) to the more unusual recycled ‘forms’ (plastic bottles, food containers, squirty cream can caps, kinder egg cases) that are all carefully cleaned and preserved, to the bizarre Bosch-esque figurines dotted around the spread, it makes for a curious feast indeed.

The lecture hall transformed into a craft space.  Image credit: Manijeh Verghese

The lecture hall transformed into a craft space.
Image credit: Manijeh Verghese

Enter Madelon. Like every gracious host Madelon gives a short welcome speech, however unlike other hosts, she is not so interested in extending this into a lecture – Madelon instead, is keen for us to start making, which she starts by passing around a brown ball – an example of the technique we will be using that day. The ball is made out of paper, light and smooth yet surprisingly robust, moulded around a plastic shell. The rest of her introduction is brief and consists of an improvised slideshow projection (combining an iPhone and a camera rigged to work as an overhead projector) of snapshots showing some of her previous creations and a succinct demonstration of her gum-strip layering technique. As she reveals her recipe, Madelon encourages us by saying, “just to try it- see you what you can do “ – we start by cutting the gum strips into smaller pieces, dampen them using the sponge and molding them onto the plastic forms. The technique is like a cousin to papier mâché- but more sophisticated, more precise. Her standards are quite exacting, encouraging us to use smaller pieces, slide them gently across the damp sponge and smooth them precisely using either our fingernails or sharp modeling tools to achieve the best effects.

 

One student fashioned a chair for an existing figure from the painting. Image credit: Valerie Bennett

One student fashioned a chair for an existing figure from the painting.
Image credit: Valerie Bennett

Tentatively, we start pasting the small bits of gumstrip on top of each other, but before long we are all greedily helping ourselves to the plastic forms and energetically snipping at the gumstrips. An image of The Garden of Earthly Delights is passed around and participants each choose a creature to inspire their own creations. As if Bosch’s characters weren’t peculiar enough some people decide to amalgamate several of them to create a super-creature manifesting contemporary evils.

 

Slowly forms start to become tangible, and as Bosch’s myths begin to transform into three-dimensional creatures, we become more and more absorbed. The feast is rich, and Madelon checks up on her pupils, making sure they understand the technique, giving more precise tips here and there. I show her the miniature buttocks that I have sculpted using a plum to go inside the carnivorous flower creature that Albane and Eleonore are fashioning. “When you paint them make sure the center of each bum cheek is really pale, like a glow,” she says helpfully before moving on.

 

Madelon's human-eating figure Image credit: Valerie Bennett

Madelon’s human-eating figure
Image credit: Valerie Bennett

As the day draws to an end, the figures are set up against the backdrop – a print of Bosch’s triptych. Each creature is more bizarre and wonderful than the next. It suddenly occurs to us that we have been absorbed in the vacuum of inhabiting Madelon’s world for the past few hours, a whole day of focusing on making without thinking of any elements of our outside AA lives. Away from the tireless clicking and typing that are involved in school projects, there is a sigh of satisfaction as we leave having accomplished something –even if it was just a pair of extremely smooth paper buttocks.

 

The finished creatures against the tableau of Bosch's triptych Image credit: Valerie Bennett

The finished creatures against the tableau of Bosch’s triptych
Image credit: Valerie Bennett

For more information:

Making with Madelon Open Week workshop

Madelon Vriesendorp’s website