Ptarmigan operated in Tallinn from 2011-2014. This website exists as an archive of its activities during this time. We no longer maintain any presence in Tallinn, but some people involved with Ptarmigan are now operating Temporary in Helsinki.
September's Collective Comics Workshop led by Javier Lozano Jaén (Spain) resulted with 142 pages long comic book. Mari-Anna Lepasson wrote her reflection upon that event from the participant's point of view. The text is a part of the book itself but it can also be read below.
Day 1: The Death of the Author
The weather was shitty and cold. Through the doors and corridors, there were a few of us sitting in the kitchen. We were making and drinking coffee of course. It was an important part of the process, both coffee and cigarettes (not that all of us were coffee and cigarettes kind of people). We had to start somewhere. We barely introduced ourselves at first. It was unclear who knew who’s name.
We sat in a circle in the chilly ptarmigan workshop room. The tables, pens and papers circulated among us, as it became clear that we would be sharing a black and white view of things. Some of us took the black pens home because who doesn’t like free stuff (or maybe subconsciously, to be able to continue whatever that thing was that we were doing or feeling there; to be able to continue the lines).
Javier put on a three minute song and the challenge was set: look to your right and make a portrait. The memory of the lines on the face of the other person melted together with a memory of becoming a line on someone else’s paper. Although the events of modelling and drawing were separated in time, they existed simultaneously as the material product of the three-minute portraits. The next drawing was made with the left hand. It was liberated from the previous stiffness of “rehearsed lines”. Of course, some don’t have right as the primary working hand and for them the change was in the opposite direction.
The main exercise of drawing the comics was done in a process of sharing stories. We each had to fill in one panel, part of a six-panel grid. Javier put on two-minute songs and the papers went around in the circle of people, allowing for fast reactions to quick drawings and texts. There was no time to make shadows. Rapidly our collective hand adjusted to making simple and precise panels. One would think of a storyline or what the next few panels might bring, but once the paper was out of one’s hands, it was left at the mercy of fast connections made by the collective storytellers. We all had our ways of reading and producing the story, finding patterns and potentials, relating to characters. This way, a character or a joke was created through multiple perspectives and ways of drawing, belonging at once to all of us and to none of us individually.
We had fun sending each other little messages by dialogue and pictures, messages with all of us as the addressee. We all responded to these messages, used the props and made-up characters at hand to produce comics that were a bit twisted and strange, bold and funny. The lack of direct responsibility allowed for a freer playground in our storylines. As with the left hand, we could break out of learned templates.
Time wasn’t exactly passing. It consisted of comic-panels. And when a story made the full circle back to someone, it took this person to a space and time of this story. And memory of drawing and experiencing the certain comic became obscured and complemented by the new moment where the person saw the same story having evolved. The changing music affected moods emerging in the comics. The music, which exists only in relation to time, was also defining time for us. It was an experience of time cut in pieces and rearranged.
Some of us had expectations of what this workshop would bring. In the beginning, Javier discarded the idea that he would teach us anything. Also, he was not to be the one to decide on the rules, as he didn’t want that responsibility. So it was that we had a peaceful argument over which way to go with the next exercise. There seemed to be two sides and those floating in between. One wanted to do an exercise based on different kinds of comic texts and the other wished to keep the importance of images, voting for a more surreal approach. Like in any human consciousness, our collective mind had to choose between somewhat conflicting opinions, making a decision by acting. Both choices meant some sacrifice had to be made. We went with the one that threatened to make the stories completely nonsensical. Because more of us wanted to keep on drawing images and not concentrate on text. Democracy!
The task ahead was even more challenging. One could choose any of the twelve windows on the A4 to write one text and one picture. The next person had to do the same, adding text to someone’s picture or vice versa. This called for more concentration and speed of thought as the timeframe was left the same. It was almost a paralysing freedom as sometimes one would think too long of what to do and start scribbling only as the music stops. There were obvious delays in the movement of papers. How do you find patterns in a story that lacks a beginning, an ending and a middle point? When we read them in the end, we laughed.
Day 2: Taming the lines
The weather was better but it was still so cold, as if the cold of the day before had caught up with us. In the workshop room there were radiators under big windows where one could sit and snuggle up to feel warmth. The morning was slow and sleepy but having a new person turn up brought an interesting sense of energy, like a gust of wind through a dusty room. So that all the dust in our heads could start dancing around, creating new lines on the paper.
We had a plan. We knew that we had to finish the comics that had not ended on their own. But still we carried on with some stories to pass on the responsibility of making them meaningful. Passing on and moving forward, we quickly reached the long lunch break.
In between comics a strange event occurred. Near ptarmigan space, there is a narrow path that takes you to the other side of the Old Town walls and down to the Baltic Station. First, there was a red apple standing in the middle of the dirt road. It was almost as if someone had placed it there intentionally to draw attention to what lies ahead. The crumpled up jacket seemed normal enough for the side of the road. But the wallet with cards pulled out, keys separated from the chain, and the twisted unopened beer can caught our eye. So instead of going for food we collected and carried the items back to ptarmigan, trying to imagine their owner and the state he might be in.
TAMING THE COLLECTIVE MIND
The break was long and we found places to sit around, some of us drawing, some just getting warm and telling jokes. Soon came the moment to face all the comics. We divided five groups of drawings between five people and each one had to find the right order, put headlines and make a cover for one pamphlet. Standing face to face with the product of collective drawing was overwhelming (at least for some of us). It seemed that we were more a part of the stories than the stories were a part of us, the opposite of what you might expect from an individual work of art. There was little logic between the stories but still one tried to find something to connect them, to tone down the rawness.
Some of us were working fast as before, some of us not so productively. It was a mix of individual work and helping each other tame the collective lines. Which I doubt we ever could achieve, they have their own lives now, out of our hands and logic.