This was a blog entry by Bridgette See, a person whose kindness i can never forget.
PENCIL MARKS: 0055hrs, Feb 17, 2005
We saw him today, sitting in a glass display window along an underground walkway leading to an arts centre. No, to be accurate, sitting half in and half out of the display window. He looked like a technician employed to set up some lights for an advertiser. He was crouched over a small makeshift table, focused on a small object in his hands. J and I walked up to take a closer look. But first, our eyes were drawn to a gorgeous hanging display on his left.
It was a huge cluster of hanging pencils! Wooden pencils that had been sharpened and skinned with a paper cutter. The bodies of the pencils were exaggeratedly short, while the lead insides so long. They made up a pencil chandelier, hanging skinny and sharp.
So what was M doing? We peered and he looked up. 'Hi' 'Hi' 'Hi' we said in unison. He was sharpening pencils with an old school pencil sharpener, the type that has a handle you turn and make shavings that are all small and wiry. I asked him why he didn't use a newer type of sharpener. He pointed to a whole box of shavings. He's planning to scatter them (like sawdust) all over the floor of the window display. My first question was 'How many pencils are you going to use?" He shot back "Are you from Greenpeace?" J and I laughed. That was the furthest from my mind although I am a bit of a greenie. But after i assured him I wasn't about to tie myself outside his window display to protest against his raping of entire forests, he loosened up and began to talk.
This artist at work was M: he was born in India, raised in Dubai and has been in our city studying art for 5 years.
Apparently he had been commissioned by some guys to create an installation piece here after those guys saw his work at his arts school graduation show. So he's using about 2000 (!) pencils to create an art work, harnessing all parts of the pencils, from lead, to shavings to create installation art. Then he showed us another box of pencil shavings. These are the type you get when you use a new moden pencil sharpener. They have curvy edges and all, quite unlike the small wiry types. It was amazing the patterns he could create using a small beat-up sharpener. Some of the insides were star-shaped, some flower-shaped and even one that was square-shaped! All he did was apply different pressure at different points. WOW!
He had some more weird contraptions using little pencil nubs and all. I was so enthralled by his work. Suddenly I remembered that I had a pencil sharpener on me! (okok, dun ask me why i have one on me in the first place!) . I whipped it out enthusiastically and shoved it into his hands. 'Try this' i said. 'You'll love it'
M looked at the purple sharperner hesitantly. It's not everyday someone walks by and gives you a pencil sharpener, and a pretty slick one too! He put in a fresh pencil and began sharpening it, carefully and slowly - unsure of this new instrument. 'Shrccch' the first turn sounded so crisp he was startled. He paused and stared at my sharpener with new found respect. 'Wow, it's so sharp, the blade..." he continued again. 'Ah... it's almost orgasmic for me to hear that sharp crisp sound!' M exclaimed. I was delighted! Really, how many people can you cheer up in a day this way? This time, M unscrewed the sharpener, peered intensely at its inside, and said 'wow, it's even made of plastic. I can't believe...'
We laughed. I'm glad i've found another soul who is still full of wonder for life's little surprises. Many of my friends have lost that naivety. Instead, they often look at me in puzzlement when I squeal in delight over simple matters like being able to Skype or if i spot a funny cloud in the sky.
So J and I sat there chatting with M for almost 15 minutes, finding out the fate of different pencils. This chap's going to be around for another week. So J's going down on his off day on Friday to help him shave some pencils and snap some pictures of this cool dude. The brief encounter with M brought back fond memories of how me and my friends had helped out a bunch of installation artists at 5th Passage - an alternative art space in a shopping mall in the east of the city. This was 10 years ago but I can still remember the excitment as each installation piece evolved; the sheer thrill of seeing genius and creativity boiling over; the irresistible vibes in the air. It was a pity the alternative arts space closed down because it was way ahead of its time.
Thank you M for delighting my evening. i'll see you next week when I bring lunch for you and J. And my dear purple sharpener, I am so proud of YOU!