‘Far Out’: Reflections from an M+ Summer Camp Volunteer
The below post was written by Wong Yu, a university volunteer at this year’s M+ Summer Camp, titled ‘far out’.
Between 12 and 15 August in 2018, nine creative practitioners from various disciplines, 100 school students, and a group of volunteers—including myself!—checked in at a campsite in Sai Kung for ‘M+ Summer Camp: far out’. We were there to explore how ‘far out’ our imaginations could really go. The instructors had been working closely with us volunteers to stage a series of workshops with the theme ‘far out’, letting our imaginations set sail far and wide. We were ready to answer the question: what does ‘far out’ actually mean?
In the blink of an eye, the summer camp came to an end four days later. The amazing results, however, had taken months of hard work.
The making of a workshop, from idea to reality, was not easy. The volunteers began preparing for the camp as early as April that year. M+ had arranged a meet-up for volunteers and instructors at a café, so that we could, in an informal setting, learn about the instructors’ needs, as well as our own roles. We took part in designing programmes and received training on leading group activities. We were involved from conception to execution. As the preparation progressed, the instructors and volunteers developed a close bond as teammates.
Over the course of the preparations, volunteers did not receive orders from instructors as part of a one-way relationship, but instead we worked together with them and identified our own limitations and blind spots through their eyes, abandoning our usual ways of thinking and presenting our ideas in an organised way.
For example, while putting together the programme rundown for the ‘Olfactory Imaginations’ workshop (in which participants smelled different perfumes and made a poster visualising their associations) artist Doreen Chan and I, along with another volunteer, came across a few issues with budgeting, timekeeping, and the sequence of activities. Our biggest headache was whether the available materials would limit the imagination of the participants when making the posters. After a few rounds of brainstorming and heated discussion, we came to a resolution: after the artist taught the initial techniques to the students, the volunteers would be part of the teaching process to help participants use the available materials more creatively, using our own unique ideas. I was very grateful for the openness of artists towards our opinions. The memories of us walking through streets sourcing materials are still fresh.
Once the camp started, volunteers took up an assisting role to the instructors. We had to get the materials ready before the workshop, including things like photography equipment, lots of coloured paper, and stationery. We made sure that everything ran smoothly; taking attendance, tidying up the room after the programmes, and returning the keys. We also observed the participants’ responses and level of engagement. Although we had been trained before the camp to cope with contingency situations and to manage the group, when managing the high school students in real life, there were way more things to pay attention to than we expected.
The instructors thought carefully about how to best go about engaging the participants. They did not just share their dedication to art and their enthusiasm in the creative process with the students, but also answered questions on a range of everyday topics, as if they were close friends with the participants. The camp encouraged participants to think out of the box and look at the world with the curiosity of a child. The instructors’ open-mindedness broke the ice among the students and radiated a positive vibe.
High school students are often associated with youthfulness and energy. Having spent a few days with them, I found that they weren’t as carefree as we might expect. They had their fair share of worries; around academic studies, future prospects, and so on. During the M+ Summer Camp, they put aside their relentless schoolwork, packed class schedule, and mounting exams. For the time being, they could channel their troubles through art. They might not have been extremely familiar with art, but they were moved by it and excited by the freedom it gave them.
Arts education doesn’t only take place inside the classroom, and it’s not just a transfer of knowledge from the teacher to the student. It’s a creative process with no right or wrong answers. Instructors, volunteers, and participants influenced one another and felt each others’ energies in the same space. We danced along to the music of Little Red Riding Hood, and burst into laughter for the hilarious immersive theatre of the Banana Effect group performing their play ‘Doggy Alice in the Stuckyland’. These responses were genuine. Joy can be that simple.
The summer rain meant that many plans had to be scrapped. For example, the mangrove ecological tour was cancelled, but it also led to an even better memory: to make up for the cancelled tour, the final sharing session was an auditory feast; a sonic performance recreating the mangrove landscape.
‘M+ Summer Camp: far out’ taught us to embrace regrets, imperfection, and the imaginative self that finds no home in a world of doctrines. Perhaps the double negative in the Chinese name for ‘far out’ (feifei 非非, which can be understood as meaning ‘not-not’) is an affirmation of our wild imaginations.
‘M+ Summer Camp: far out’ meant a summer of nearly uncontrollable storms, culminating in a successful end. It rained, got sunny, and rained again. Everything was just how it was supposed to be.
Image at top of post: M+ Summer Camp volunteers trying out group activities in one of our volunteer training sessions. Photo © M+, Hong Kong