Before Touchstone was Touchstone

by Walter van Rijn

Let me take you back to the beginning. The 100th Touchstone sparked off a search for the first one.

How quickly history is forgotten!

Touchstone number 1, dated June 1995, was edited by Maddy. But it is not the first OBOD newsletter. Before Touchstone was Touchstone they were called the OBOD Newsletters, and I gave them no number, just a date. The first one I edited dates July 1993. Still this isn’t the first newsletter either. June 1993 was edited by Stephanie, and I’ve got one copy of an undated quarterly newsletter and reading it I guess it’s made by Philip in the Autumn of 1992. Before that we reach into the realms of prehistory. Somewhere in 1992 Philip asked me if I was interested in working for OBOD as editor for the newsletter. The OBOD was growing fast and there was a need to make a regular edition of the newsletter. I could also take over some of the workload from Stephanie who was doing most of the practical work. She kept OBOD running specially when Philip was travelling and giving workshops. The OBOD office at that time was a tiny little room where Stephanie and Annie did most of the work. It soon became clear to me that the fast growing OBOD generated an enormous amount of copying, sorting, stapling, plus posting the Gwers, updating the database, and dealing with many letters. Still it was all small scale, and done with a lot of fun and improvisation. I remember bringing big postbags of Gwers to Annie’s house to make them ready for posting. I used a buggy that almost collapsed under the weight, trying to keep it all steady, while pushing it over the rough paving near the train station.

My computer skills needed upgrading and I remember vividly learning Pagemaker from Matthew (Philip’s son) on a tiny Macintosh II, which has a mini screen, but it all worked out, together with some old fashioned scissors to cut and paste. I also did the copying of all the gwersi and newsletters. Copying thousands of pages on a copier that wasn’t really made for it, had the result that the technician had to do a weekly maintenance. Soon I knew their phone number by heart and in September 1994 he told me the counter of the photocopier showed I had made the 1 millionth photocopy. It was amazing to see the OBOD developing, and through the newsletter being in touch with a whole network of Obodians worldwide. Sometimes you could hear an amazed voice in the office saying: “look these gwers are going to …Zimbabwe”.

Looking back on this wonderful time in my life I can’t thank Philip, Stephanie, and the OBOD enough for this opportunity they gave me. I have absorbed many ideas, and as an artist I use them in the process of my work. For instance I often use concepts which I let develop ‘organically’. I keep it on course on the wave of time by giving it attention, but keep an open mind to what surrounds it. That sounds a bit abstract but at the moment I’m working on a installation ‘The Eternal Body of Man’. It’s linking the visible solid quality of objects with movement and fluidity. It’s about the process of emerging, making the invisible visible, and the unstable stable. The title is a quote from William Blake in which he says: ‘The Eternal Body of Man is The Imagination…’

I see this work as a temporary installation in the landscape, and I’ll write to the Touchstone again when it’s developed further.

Yours with rain, hail and frog spawn,

Walter

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