Par for the Course

Fiona Langford has had a few shots at doing art courses. But she says, until she came to The Learning Connexion, she disn't have guarranteed access to her first language: New Zealand Sign. Thanks to the support she's now getting, Fiona says she's fulfilling her dreams.

The Learning Connexion has been running its specialised Deaf Art learning programme over several years. Last year, it put on the fourth Annual Deaf Art exhibition at the Thistle Hall in Wellington's bohemian precinct - upper Cuba Street. You can view a YouTube preview here. See a transcript of this audio below.

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Transcript of Radio NZ National’s One In Five Programme featuring Deaf student from The Learning Connexion Fiona Langford talking to Mike Gourley via interpreter Wenda Walton.

I’m back at the place I used to work at 30 years ago. This used to be ‘Soil Bureau’ part of DSIR which of course is now gone, there is no such thing and this is no longer Soil Bureau. It has been totally transformed into the place of learning – international learning and creativity.

Maybe Fiona I could start off by asking you what got you involved here at the Learning Connexion?

Well in the First place I went to Well Tec to learn ...  or to gain a qualification but along the way I was working ... I was using work bridge to pay for the interpreter and the fees there I found sometimes that ...  I was worried about the funding depleting through the work bridge funds that were available and at the end of the term I heard about a deaf scholarship available at The Learning Connection and also that there was a communicator on site permanently fulltime so I liked the idea of that better than the previous situation

So I came here two terms ago and I really enjoy it here it’s better because I can access Ann any time if I need communication or ... she comes every day to communicate and talk about what we are doing for the day. I enjoy that. And also the pace of it suites me. And also it challenges me to extend my art skills, to try different things, different skills ... it’s not just ... using cardboard ... various materials you may not have used before so it stretches your mind and your skills and techniques.  I really enjoy it

Having someone that is on-call, on-board, available. Is that that critical thing that was missing before at a place like well tech, not having that resource?

Yes, I was really disappointed that Well Tech didn’t have funding set aside for interpreters, just for  interpreters. They  had money for note-takers but not a lot for interpreters. They feel like I could come in anytime and do learning or development of skills other than  in an art program, like for cooking or for mechanics or for computing there seemed to be a real  limitation around that  cos I know that Well Tech  is an accredited establishment ... educational  institute... but I felt I was forced to come here in a way because of that the situation there: the lack of communication, not having easy access to interpreters, using up my own funds from workbridge which were majorly depleting  through my time there. And also I think they need to be aware of deaf people’s  needs: they need to know ahead what’s happening or in advance what’s happening for instance we need to know what is happening next week,  do I need an interpreter next week on that particular day.  well tech didn’t cater for that kind of scenario so it was very awkward. But here  I know that someone’s here every time I’m here there’s someone else.. and that way there is less of a burden its nice and also  the funding is not something that I need to worry about I don’t have to do that from my funds. The deaf scholarship covers all my fees also so that was a real weight off my shoulders, it’s lovely.

Is that something that is attached, if you like to The Learning Connection Is that scholarship is that part of what is provided for you here. To make use of that money?

Yeah they pay for that I have just, the only things I pay for is material costs: paints  there is a shop downstarirs so if I need anything I just go downstairs buy it and come back up again. It’s really good.

Have you always wanted to be an artist, is it something you have always been interested in? or is this really something that has been opened up for you in more recent times?

A bit of both. I like art, but I also wanted to get qualified. It was hard to find a place where it is Deaf-friendly. I would like to go to university but it is difficult there, it is partly funding/finances as well

Is that something you might think about now that you’ve got the confidence of having done this course, or doing this course, that you might think of maybe future possibilities at fine arts school somewhere? Or are you fairly content that you are getting what want here, and that this is where you potential is being maximised?

Um, I would like to use my art skills to help other people. To show that there is a possibility to get a diploma being deaf for instance. To help other deaf people realise that it’s possible for them too, to give them hope and to give them confidence (self-esteem). I think that is where most deaf people have trouble: communicating their thoughts, their creativity. when we talk about our art sometimes there is a lack of words and I want to help extend that with other people. I think time is needed; feedback is needed on how to communicate about things and how to do things. For example...I really good example is today we had a group assessment but I didn’t have Ann here today, so I sort of missed out on that. That was a good example I missed out because Ann wasn’t here and I really wanted to go to hear the feedback, what other people were saying, how they say things in certain ways,  what words do you use when you are critiquing other peoples art? “I like this work because x y z” but I missed out on that and I really wanted to go just to see how people talk about things in a critical way. You have to remember that Deaf people have.. or the have a limited opportunity to express their thoughts in their  lives that been a common experience from young, at home, at school, at polytech. There’s not a lot of opportunities for expressing  so a chance to do that asking people what they think  sometimes when you ask them what they think and they don’t know what to say.

Is that downside, if you like,  of having someone who’s a communicator who understands NZ sign, that if that persons not there then other people of course can’t just step in to do that work because of course they don’t know NZ sign, they don’t have an understanding of it.. Is that a problem that is resolvable? Is there a solution to that or is that just part of the reality of how you have to manage your life wherever you might be?

Unfortunately she (Ann) is currently is ding a deaf exhibition in town at the same time, there was a clash, yeah, so...

What sort of art have you been exploring here, or been able to explore? What kinds of art are you doing? What are the materials that you’re working with? What are you using to express yourself? Tell me a bit about that.

Um, let me think ... I really like colour, colour inspires me. All sorts of colours especially yellow: it means happiness. I go crazy with colours. I want to explore one theme: ice. Most people think... when you think about ice what comes to mind is white. But really comes in such a range of colours, in different kinds of weather, different times of day, different weather patterns, storms. Whether it’s still or moving. That has opened my eyes to see the beauty of, and the various aspects of ice. And how you reach that colour with what you’ve got in your hands. How do you get to that goal of representing ice with what you’ve got?

I noticed that you have a national geographic opened up there on the table and it’s showing a photograph of what looks to be Antarctica, your using that to inspire you with what you’re doing there with your depiction of that?

I’m using the book to find the colours that I need: the greens, the blues, the browns, what else is there? The blacks, the orange in the ice. The ice is not just white it is a range of colours. It is a great theme for me ... it is a great theme for me to carry on through the term - there is 7 weeks there to do.

What other images are you interested in exploring? You’ve talked about ice, but what other things interest you because of what may appear to be a pretty one dimensional colour but really there’s much more to it than that. What other things are you exploring here?

Maybe you can just select some of the other pictures you’re working on and talk a bit about them.

 I can see rusty red, it looks like you’re in... I would have thought it was a desert but it’s not, it’s actually, again,  you’re looking at seascape with ice but this time maybe there’s a sunset? Yes.     Again looking at how nature ... about how the colours of nature change.

Yes I was quite surprised to see how much colour can be in something. In the very early morning, and as the sun gets higher and higher in the sky, and then again lower, everything changes.

This term we had two ‘blocks weeks’ in the first week and the last week of the term where we picked a subject that we wanted to learn more about. For instance the first week connected to the next week part two and that was painting effects. For instance how to paint maybe marble. How to paint ... you know the name of those stones where you can cut them really thin, how you paint stones that you can slice really thinly. How you paint with cardboard. And also you’ll have special ... a wooden scratcher that makes it look like wooden tracks when you use it. So they teach you how to use different things to make different pain effects to extend your ... to try and expand your mind instead of just relying on one tool , like a paintbrush to express a way of doing art. They teach you that you can use different tools to get your artistic expression across. I’m looking forward to next week to see what our tutor will be doing.

Do you think because you’re deaf it’s even more important to be able to use visual expression, and that art in all its forms provides a very, very, I guess a multi-dimensional way of expressing what it is you want to say about your world and your place in it?

I have just started to think about Deaf issues as well I guess. Trying to combine the two worlds: the hearing world and the deaf world. I guess there are three things that I want to work through during the holidays in terms of painting,  recently I went with another deaf student who goes to TLC (and Ann came too) We went to a gallery called “Roundabout” and a deaf woman was showing us around. The exhibition was about two cultures that are being combined...sorry – one of the art works there was about two cultures that were being combined were that they talked about were Japanese and American culture and it could work. So I thought how can I use the hearing and deaf components to combine that one piece of art. So I have one idea that I’d like to try out using the skills that  ive learned at TLC to express that particular goal that I have around cultural combination/mingling to try and show, I guess, what it’s like to be deaf in a hearing world. And that one will be about noise and how people hear though... hear different things: through ipods you can hear through radio they can hear music it’s everywhere in our world but how do deaf people see noise? We see it through our eyes, we see noise through trees rustling in the wind,  people moving- that’s noise to us. Washing blowing in the wind,  that is noise to us. And it is distracting and it can be annoying.  I thought I might put that in. Maybe having deaf persons head and show our noise comes from the front of our face, not the side where the ears live. In the hearing world sound comes from the sides of the head, the ears. Noise carries on all the time, you can hear people swearing ,  and all kinds of things are happening all the time, but we don’t get that , we miss that, we don’t see that.  We see things: objects, wind, people, the effects of the wind we see that. So I would like to capture that during the holidays.

That was Deaf art student Fiona Langford talking to me through interpreter Wenda Walton at The Learning Connexion in the Hutt Valley where thanks to communicators like Ann Eves, Fiona is able to join in with other students there.