All images copyright © 2014 by Stephanie Reid
The Transart Institute for Creative Research is a low residency school offering three Summer residencies in Berlin, two Winter residencies in New York City, and virtual meetups in between. My studies started in Berlin during this three-week residency, which was incredibly fast-paced, challenging, and rewarding. Workshops took place at Uferstudios in the Wedding district. The school is interdisciplinary, but more topical than technique based. It is expected that technique is already honed or can be self-guided. This allows the students to choose courses that they feel will help them expand the content of their praxis. PhD and MFA students attended the workshops together and work in a wide range of mediums, so that dancers, painters, sculptors, photographers, and others can grow from watching each others’ processes. At the bottom of this post, I have given an overview of the workshops I attended. I am primarily a photography and film maker, but I took classes on expanding the definition of sculpture, nature in the city, and film. My studio advisors was a performance artist / film maker. My research advisor was a photography curator / writer.
The classes typically ran from 9AM-6 PM, then students and staff reconvened at 7:00 for an hour and half presentation session. For these, the student body split into two rooms where three students gave a 15-minute overview of their work and goals for their studies, followed by a ten minute Q&A Session. In addition, each Friday morning, practicing professional artists and curators from around the world would give a 7-minute presentation of their work (Pecha Kucha). Afterwards, groups of eight students would go with one of the presenters to get feedback on their project plan.
On the weekends, gallery and studio tours, and vernissages of student exhibits around Berlin took place. To learn more about those events, see my other posts:
Michael Bowdidge’s, The World as Sculpture, course for MFA and Certificate students
Our instructor also teaches at the University of Glasgow. Inspired by the book The World as Sculpture: The Changing Status of Sculpture from the Renaissance to the Present Day by James Hall, Mr. Bowdidge exposed our class to methods of making our work more sculptural. The course was exciting and felt very productive. By default, we received a thorough survey of the history of sculpture. Not only did the professor bring examples for each discussion, but asked us to also bring images and physical work to enhance the conversation. The following examples of some of the reading assignments and activities we did in the four day course.
1) Discuss reading assignment : Sculpture and the sculptural by Erik Koed
2) Work with a partner to combine two objects together in as many ways possible. Photograph the different iterations. Several minutes into the exercise, classmate and dancer, Jeca Rodriguez suggested giving a theme to the juxtapositions such as to make one the oppressor and the other the oppressed. My partner Claire Elizabeth Barratt, also a dancer, and I came up with over 20 ways to combine her hand with my umbrella.
3) Bring an example of artwork that is not sculpture but has something sculptural about it. I brought the links to Gabriel Dawe’s string installations:
4) Select an artwork from the previous class discussion and make a piece inspired by it that is in some way sculptural.
Classmate Nethery Wylie shared Laleh Mehran’s installation Entropic Order http://www.lalehmehran.com/Entropic-Order, in which a programmed machine moves around a track on the ceiling, all the while, dragging a pendulum with it to draw traditional Islamic patterns in black “sand” on the floor. A motion detector senses people entering the room and moving about, which disrupts the action of the pendulum so that the perfection of its efforts is thwarted. Straight lines become wavy, shaky, and distorted. Therefore, this artwork functions as a way to comment on the futility of attempting to enforce a dogma, religious or not, because once human interaction comes into play, the static nature of “rules” is replaced by dynamic forces. It also reflects the instability of the Middle East.
I chose to do an exercise that was both subtractive and additive at the same time. I imagined adding spices commonly used in Persian cooking – paprika, cinnamon, and cumin to “draw” outlines to the negative space in the designs. Then using a piece of paper covered with double sided sticky graphics film to do a “rubbing”. What would hopefully remain on the adhesive tape would be an impression of the design from its sand and spices. The red and brown hues represent spilled blood of those who suffered within a turbulent and violent landscape. By transferring the image onto the graphics tape, the new image can also represent those who have migrated to flee the regime. They are only able to take a fraction of their culture with them. I have made sculptural work by using additive (spices), subtractive (taking away with the tape), and replicatative (a copy of the original design) steps. It was not unlike forming a sand mandala, and the same ideas of displacement and lost culture expressed in my response to her could be said for Tibetans and Native Americans who make sand drawings that are wiped away after their completion.
DAY TWO: Additive processes. Discussions of Modeling vs. Assembling.
1) Bring a sculptural artwork you have made but feel is not quite complete, then discuss how to make it more sculptural using modeling. I had previously made a set mixed CDs for a Leo friend in Los Angeles. I titled the compilations, The Moon and a Lantern for more mellow tracks and The Sun and a Lion for more upbeat tracks. The compilation titles were named specifically after the cover art illustrations I drew for them, using scribbled circles for the heavenly orbs and the origami folding line pattern for the object not seen in the drawing, but referenced in the title (lantern and lion). To see those images, visit: https://haikuflash.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/Other-Illustration-and-Mixed-Media/G0000xdw0IFgWFaE/I0000qtO9L770Cqw/C00000PRsirHYLFo
Along the same lines, I created this illustration created for a world music compilation I also selected the songs for. I infer three-dimensionality by layering origami fold lines for a pine tree on top of the world map image. In response to the exercise, I stated that to make it more sculptural, I would fold (model) the illustration into its intended shape. The pine tree can then be set upon the circular song list that normally lies under the CD, to transform from packaging design to sculptural artwork.
2) Assemblage is a term used by curator William Seitz for a MOMA show in 1961, called “That Art of Assemblage”, featured works by Duchamp, Schwitters, Cornell and others who combined things like trinkets, household objects, newspaper clippings, and train tickets to create compositions, combined with or without traditional mediums like paint. Seitz felt the term was more descriptive than “collage” for that particular body of work.
Reading assignment: Assemblage by George Marcus and Erkan Saka.
Summary: Assemblage as a way to talk about chaos of modern world despite the daily structure which most of us live by. There are many possible ways to approach investigation into realms beyond clearly defined boundaries. Discourse on temporary societies, a self-reflective description of an object, or a stage in a process are all examples of how assemblage can be used to explain intangible concepts. The ability to materialize such abstract ideas has had an influence on areas outside of art such as anthropological research. Marcus and Saka credit the success of the integration of post-structuralist ideas into social sciences to analytically detailed writings by theorists Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. This essay goes on to quote several social scientists who discuss how their work has been influenced by the theories of Deleuze and Guattari.
Finally, the writing expresses urgency that assemblage be handled carefully as to not become too structural or it runs the risk of losing it’s ephemeral quality. It is noted that during our current phase of globalization and rapid technological advancements, which are creating new behaviors in society, assemblage has a great deal of material to refer to and in a unique way from its original use in the early to mid 20th century.
3) Create an artwork based on Guattari and Deleuze’s philosophy, sometimes called “assemblage theory”. In layman’s terms this process refers to the laying out, arranging, and piecing together of components. In theoretical terms these are called or coding, stratification, and territorialization. Many conceptual artists develop their works by decoding, then recoding / deterritorializing, then reterritorializing these relationships, so that the stratification of the subjects in the assemblage is likely to change. So there is an analysis of the aspects (coding) of each component in a relationship and how those aspects create categorization (territorializing) of the subjects, which in turn cause them to be organized (stratified) in such a way. The goal of a contemporary artist working inside this loosely knit framework is essentially to recontextualize the subjects and present them in a new way that opens up discussion about the previously coding, territory, and stratification of the subjects. By causing the audience to think about the new assemblage of components, it opens up the reality that what we thought to be static has other possible states of being and/or meaning.
For this exercise, I thought about the process of making and consuming coffee. The goal of coffee drinkers is to be more awake and sharp thinking. Therefore, I coffee stained a square piece of paper, making it reminiscent of an unbleached coffee filter, and folded it into a crystal/diamond shape. Further discussion was spurred regarding the fortune made by coffee moguls who do not practice fair trade and how the diamond is not “clear”. It is brown, or “muddy” representing the possible side effects of drinking coffee vs. other types of beverages such as matcha tea, herbal supplements, or physical practices which render us more alert such as yoga, improving our diets, or simply getting more sleep. It also speaks to sugar addiction, which is often the main reason people drink coffee – to get their dose of sugar and milk.
4) In the vein of Allan Kaprow’s 1967 installation “Yard”, which was a room of tires for people to interact with by jumping through, sitting on, standing on, or even throwing them, the class did a performative installation. First we each passed a piece of paper around that we had written one word that reminded us of the Transart summer residency, and then passed it to the person next to us until everyone had written their word on our paper. We chanted the following list in rounds during the performance: succinct, iconoclast, join, concepts, humid, tsunami, pleasure, becoming, awake, microcosm, fluid, flux, coffee, turnip, tinted, sprudel. To view the performance, visit: https://vimeo.com/106896282
DAY THREE: Subtractive processes. Carving, deleting (what this means in the digital vs. analog world), erasing
1) Inspired by Rauschenberg’s “Erased de Kooning” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGRNQER16Do), bring an artwork you have made and are willing to allow a fellow student to practice a subtractive technique on. After receiving each artwork, we parted for about 45 mins. then reconvened for our destructive surprise.
I built a diorama landscape study and my partner was the dancer, Jeca Rodriguez, who is originally from Puerto Rico. She turned my diorama into a performance! She was really nervous to do her idea, but I assured her whatever she wanted to do was okay. She took the assemblage outside and mangled it something fierce to make it look like her home after a hurricane. Then she had everyone take turns, like the community on her island, to try to repair a little bit at a time. It was really touching and even brought a tear to my eye.
Photos below taken by Michael Bowdidge.
The piece I was given to deconstruct was a silk scarf by artist, Dana Zurzolo, who silkscreens guns into clothing as a way to prompt conversations about guns in America. There are magazines and catalogues about guns with cover photos clearly intending to make them look “sexy”. I cutout machine gun spray shapes resembling those found in comic books, drew hearts, blood, and tears in glitter pens, then also cutout bullet holes in the heart. Because this clothing was meant to appeal to a woman, just as hot chicks with guns are supposed to make women feel empowered, or appeal to the violent urges of machismo in either sex, I changed the text about a school shooting that was printed on the scarf to read as if the atrocity was made by a woman. The text was also changed to draw attention to the language of guns and their reference to female body parts.
2) Inspired by John Cage’s 4”33, bring ‘nothing’ to class, but in a meaningful way that can be justified with regard to size / quantity / duration. The best example was someone shining a projector’s light on the screen with no image or text.
DAY FOUR: Replicative processes. Copying, casting, copying, sampling
1) Replicate something in the nearby surroundings.
2) Replicate another artist’s work without directly copying it. Taking a que from Lawrence Yuxweluptun’s painting below, I sketched a still from a scene in a short film I am making. In the video, my friend Laura is dancing in front of a graffiti wall, but in the drawing, I started to draw the graffiti on her body.
3) Reading: The Precession of Simulacra by Baudrillard, which gave the four phases of abstracting an original object as the reflection of a basic reality, the masking and/or perversion of a reality, the masking of the absence of a basic reality, and the absence of any relation to reality.
4) Work from an image/sound/clip/movement and find ways to replicate it which allow you to traverse or reference the four phases of simulacra. The scan of the image I created will not translate well here. There are aspects of the piece that are dependent on moving around it and reflective light that have to be experience in person.
Caroline Koebel’s, Wild Urbanity, course for MFA and Certificate students
Inspired by her sighting of wild foxes in Berlin, Ms. Koebel designed a course around combing art with nature in the city.
1) discussion of Joseph Bueys hare and wolf performances
2) viewing of the film “A Rabbit in Berlin”
3) readings from Darwin, da Vinci, and the thoroughly enjoyable The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature by David George Haskell
4) Tour of the archives of the Naturkundmuseum. Here are some of the horrifying and fascinating remnants from the days of when humans had no qualms with capturing vast numbers of animals for research. Seeing Charles Darwin’s signature in one of his journals; blown glass sculptures of medusozoa and other small flowery looking sea creatures; rooms of skulls, skeletons, horns, and taxidermied animals, in cardboard boxes, some with holes cut in the side so that stiff legs of a fast running feline can poke through; plastic bags of bats; weight lifting a fossilized dinosaur bone that must have been about 20 lbs. although only 1.5 ft; a 4 ft long narwhal tooth; a glass room displaying fish, snakes, and foxes preserved in jars of alcohol.
5) lectures by scientists who study the wild boar and fox population in Berlin. FUN FACTS! Some of the boars have been seen waiting at the traffic lights, for cars to stop, before crossing the street. They are notoriously difficult for hunters to find in the woods as well, but because the critters like to dig up people’s lawns for bugs, many have been shot down.
6) an excursion in the city to create work in response to nature found there. I’m a fan of all corvids, so admired these beautiful, monochromatic Hooded Crows since I arrived in Berlin.
Anna Faroqhi’s, Double Lens, film essay workshop for MFA and Certificate students
We weren’t sure if this class were going to be able to take place. Originally, the instructor was scheduled to be Harun Farocki, the prolific German filmmaker known for experimental documentary short films. Our course was cancelled when it was revealed that he had passed away. Then after a week or so delay, we were informed that his daughter, Anna who is also a filmmaker, would be teaching us in his stead. She informed us that The Hamburger Bahnhof Museum happened to have several of Harun’s politically charged films, Serious Games, Inextinguishable Fire, The Creators of the Shopping Worlds, and Workers Leaving the Factory, installed into an exhibition. Several of us went to view it as a way to learn more about him and to pay our respects.
2) Screening and discussion of several historial film essays: “Ghosts for Breakfast” by Hanz Richter; “11 Variations on Rain” by Joris Ivens; “Night and Fog” by Alain Resnais; “Les Mains Négatives” by Marguerite Duras; and “Serious Games” by Harun Farocki, the instructor’s recently deceased father.
3) Each student was given a line from the German Expressionist poet, Jakob van Hoddis, to film a 30 second to three minute clip to be edited together. Some lines are missing from the film or slightly altered to suit the artists. My line was, “Into the tender green of the trees”, which starts at 10:22 here: https://vimeo.com/106867894
In the Morning
A strong wind sprang upwards,
Opens the bloody gates of iron heaven,
Beats on the towers.
Brightly ringing loud and sinuous over the brazen plane of the city.
The sooty morning sun. Thundering trains on dams.
Golden angel-ploughs plow through the clouds.
Strong wind over the pale city.
Steamboats and cranes awaken by the dirty, flowing stream.
The bells of the weathered cathedral beat sullenly.
You see many women and girls going to work.
In the pale light. Wild from the night. Their skirts flutter.
Limbs made for love.
Into the machine and tedious labor.
Look into the tender light.
Into the tender green of the trees.
Listen! The sparrow is crying out.
And outside, in the wild fields,
larks are singing.