I was delighted to run into some old acquaintances from art school at one of the Stupid Season's Christmas parties. It was one of those fortuitous conversations that lit up just before we planned to leave the party and made me reluctant to leave, despite having already said our goodbyes.
As we congregated in the late afternoon sunshine on the deck of a nicely renovated suburban house, we felt a bit like refugees from another, more fanciful time and place. We huddled there, heads together, wondering that our lives had taken such a conventional turn.
We initially swapped stories about how we struggled to make ends meet in those days - living off a sack of rice for months, being fed weeds from the garden by a medievalist housemate, washing clothes with dishwashing detergent in the bath and the like. We all nodded in sage agreement that the Young Folks these days would not necessarily know about such things.
We laughed about lecturers both sleazy and eccentric, living and dead. We touched on a student who was known in our circles as The Photography Slut (uncharacteristically, I kept that nickname to myself. I must be getting old and circumspect) and other glorious grifters who would attend artschool for a week each semester and somehow manage to pass their assessments. We chortled about a dreaded project wherein a bunch of pale, skinny and serious black-clad art students were coralled into a dance studio and, quite mortifyingly, forced to to participate in the worst type of interpretative dance. To add insult to injuries (both to our feeble bodies and to our pride), we then had to reinterpret our physical experience on the dancefloor as an art piece. In dowelling. It was, rather sinisterly, called "The Dowelling Project". The very mention of that title now can be known to induce fits and vomiting in survivors.
Once our horrified giggles subsided, our talk turned to the Printmaking department. The dear, genteel Printmaking department which was a safe haven for those of us who found post-modern theory too dense or ridiculous. One of the women mentioned that she was the only person in the artschool's history to have managed to break a lithogaphy stone. I informed her that one of my friends shared that dubious honour. The point was, the lecturers could not impress on us enough just how rare, expensive and precious those stones actually were. They apparently could only be found in one place in the world (Italy, if I recall correctly). In my mind, those lithography stones slid out of the side of a mountain, all pristine and ready to use. And then somehow, some time in the distant past, found their way to the wilds of South Australia. The Lecturers also reassured us that those stones were almost impossible to break. So knowing two people who have managed to break them is a bit like meeting, I don't know, Bonnie and Clyde or something. Such people are not to be trifled with.
I then recounted how I ran into the head of Printmaking a few years ago and was shocked to hear that all of those stones have since been sold off by the artschool. Yes, it was felt that there was no longer a need for those beautiful, smooth, ultra-impressionable, super-sensitive, rarest of stones. Apparently none of the Young Folks are foolhardy enough to attempt lithography these days. There is a part of me that does not blame them. It is a process with much scope for disaster. I always gritted my teeth, screwed my eyes shut and hurled myself at it, hoping for the best. It was nerve-wracking, to say the least, for a sensitive soul like mine. I was always at war with the medium.
And, what is more, the artschool itself has been moved to another location. That much-maligned 1970s rabbit warren with its pebbledashed surfaces, bleak industrial-style workshops and deliberately riot-proofed design has been razed to the ground. And since replaced with an estate of Tuscan-style McMansions. Even the relatively new buildings, those built during our time there in the early 1990s, have gone.
It is as if the place never existed. It is as if our experiences there were nothing more than a slightly wacky collective hallucination. But I could sense that I was not the only one in our little group on that nice suburban deck in the late afternoon sunshine who was so darn thankful that I had been a part of that particular brand of madness.
But, oh, those stones.