Fiona Banner…whoa.

Tate Britain| Current Exhibitions | Tate Britain Duveens Commission 2010.

Open Shelf Library: A Living Archive

I really like this idea for Sweet Briar’s BFA students.  Read on…

MCA [Museum of Contemporary Art] DENVER’s Open Shelf Program is the focus of the Library. Through this program, artists reveal the sources from which they draw creative concepts. Each exhibiting artist is invited to create a shelf with objects, books, music or anything that inspires their work. The Open Shelf Program thus becomes a unique living archive that reflects the Museum’s mission as a non-collecting, truly contemporary presenter of visual culture in the making. This space also contains three computers for expanded research into artists, galleries, museums, art fairs, and creative spaces world-wide.

Shelves in the Open Shelf Library hold a menagerie of objects that inspired exhibiting artists to create their work.


The Berlin effect

Editor’s note: This is the first post in a series by current BFA students. This one is by Ellen Reid, ’12. Ellen is from North Carolina and is a junior at Sweet Briar College. She is working towards her BFA degree, majoring in studio art with a minor in dance. Currently, she is studying in Berlin Germany with Lexia Study Abroad program. In Berlin, she is in a Visual Art and Culture program where she will produce a final project resulting from her work over the entire semester. Ellen’s artwork often spans across many mediums and processes, often challenging the idea of “mixed media” artwork. She plans to continue to combine movement, performance, sculpture, video and sound installations to her work as was seen in a previous work called “Piscean”. Ellen will spend the rest of her time at Sweet Briar fulfilling her BFA degree and working on her senior capstone project.

The idea of connectivity  has been a vein running throughout my entire experience thus far in Berlin. Both the concept of connection as well as physical experience has dealt with joining two worlds together. As in any city, it is important to make a connection with your surroundings in order to navigate through its interlocking labyrinth of streets and rail systems. Besides a physical connection, there is also an inner connection and mind set of being in Berlin. With this mindset comes confidence and a certain ease- an ease of interaction, an ease of traveling, an ease of artistic expression.

Tumbling down ... a girl plays on the rubble the day after East Germany began dismantling the Berlin Wall in February 1990. Photo: Reuters

Connectivity with another person has also been a theme in Berlin. I have been taking dance class with a choreographer, dancer and owner of the Alban Elved dance company, Karola Lüttringhaus. Her company is based out of North Carolina but she has temproarily returned to her home in  Berlin to teach classes. Within her class, we have been working in partners. Her intense choreography with partnering has opened my eyes to another form of communication. Both dancers must lift, support, react and interact with the other with complete mental and physical connection.

This type of dancing is not simply moving as an answer to your partner’s movement, but a simultaneous understanding of the others position and intentions. You must understand what they are doing as well as what your own body is doing. For example we learned a combination and had rehearsed it throughout a few times, and then we were asked to dance the same combination without our partners. The result tested our connectivity with our partner by recalling any “blank spaces” in your brain where you could not remember the dance. If you had any “blank spaces”, you were not completely in tune with your actions and relation to your partner.  She was teaching us to negate intention and to simply react.  

Knowing that my actions were being perceived before they occurred through the smallest mental and bodily clues became apparent. After that, the timing of releasing from holding hands suddenly determined one’s distance away from you for the next move. Muscle tension was excessive and became something that was given only to the muscles for necessary movement. Synchronization of breathing allowed two people to have the same timing and purer connectivity with each other. Through all of these connections I found that these lessons can be spread through everyday life.

For this study abroad program I am in, we must present a final project at the end of the semester. I will be presenting an abstract self-portrait recalling my personal internal and external states during this overseas experience. The piece will give the viewers insight to my own states of connectivity caused by these two worlds of location. Experiences such as this cause both an internal and an external state of change: dual transition. With the use of sculptural elements with mediums which involve living, once living, and in-between life, I will attempt to suspend moments and highlight a change that occurs physically as well as mentally.

Overall, the piece should not only embrace my own personal experiences, but should be a universal and quizzical exploration. What affects us most by our world? What does it mean to be affected? What do we physically and psychologically find ourselves connected to? Is it possible to simultaneously remain the same, yet change completely? The piece will be presented as a sculpture including a performance.

Creativity loves Company

Oh, Yoko

Check out this article over at Slate that discusses new research on creativity that bucks the conventionally-held idea that creative genius is the province of lone-wolf geniuses. This new research suggests that creativity is enhanced by collaboration.

This is very exciting research considering the aims and goals of Sweet Briar’s BFA in Interdisciplinary Arts, which expects interdisciplinary and collaborative art making.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

What makes creative relationships work? How do two people—who may be perfectly capable and talented on their own—explode into innovation, discovery, and brilliance when working together? These may seem to be obvious questions. Collaboration yields so much of what is novel, useful, and beautiful that it’s natural to try to understand it. Yet looking at achievement through relationships is a new, and even radical, idea. For hundreds of years, science and culture have focused on the self. We talk of self-expression, self-realization. Popular culture celebrates the hero. Schools test intelligence and learning through solo exams. Biographies shape our view of history.

This pervasive belief in individualism can be traced to the idea most forcefully articulated by René Descartes. “Each self inhabits its own subjective realm,” he declared, “and its mental life has an integrity prior to and independent of its interaction with other people.” Though Descartes had his challengers, his idea became a core assumption of the Enlightenment, as did Thomas Hobbes’ assertion that the natural state of man was “solitary” (as well as “poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”)

Rock, Dance and Chance

I’ve been looking for video of this for awhile, and finally it has come out!  In 2003, modern dance guru Merce Cunningham performed a piece called “Split Sides,” an experimental dance collaboration between 14 dancers and the bands Radiohead and Sigur Ros, who accompanied the dancers, live.  A DVD of the performance just came out this past summer.  I am hoping to purchase it for the College.

Here is video documenting the rolling of dice that determined the order of the dance pieces within the larger production, as well as the music and costume changes.  Cunningham is known for using the chance roll of dice to determine the order and other elements of his work.

Merce Cunningham Dance Company “Split-Sides” [roll of the dice] from Robert Chase Heishman on Vimeo.

Here is a small clip of the piece:

Off the Map

Sorry, for the pun.  I’ve just spent two hours searching through ARTstor for ancient maps and art that incorporates maps and/or the idea of mapping for IART 101.  If you’re interested, take a look at what I’ve found so far.

Here’s one of my faves. Don’t worry I don’t know what it is either, but it’s pleasing to look at.

Joseph Cornell's "Object (Rose des vents)"

Maps as Art

Sorry for the long hiatus.  The beginning of classes is upon us, so I’ve been taking time to get all the fun behind the scenes work done, like figure out who the guest speakers will be for the IARTs class, and devise fun (yet educational), collaborative and interdisciplinary assignments for the syllabus.

The theme for this semester’s IARTS course is maps and mapping.  As you know, Sweet Briar is consistently ranked as one of the most beautiful college campuses in the country, so it seems like a no-brainer to use the 3,000 plus acres of it to think about how the physical landscape around us might inspire us to move into new territory as artists–boundary crossing, is the phrase that comes to mind.

So, we will be looking at a lot of so-called “artist maps” and thinking about the idea of maps and mapping in, and as, art.  We’ll use the book at right, The Map as Art: Contemporary Artists Explore Cartography.

Here are a couple maps-as-art that you might have seen before–the album art from Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief.

Hail to the Thief

Hail to the Thief album cover

inside the liner notes to Hail to the Thief

Here’s a quick exercise you can do:

Quickly, without thinking too much about it, draw a map of your drive to work or walk to class.  Label all the usual stuff, like buildings, street names and stop lights, but more importantly for this exercise, include all of the landmarks along the way: interesting trees, plants, houses, billboards, potholes, cracks in the sidewalk, etc.

Next, label specific incidences, things that have happened to you along this route. Maybe one day you discovered a nest of baby birds cheeping in a bush–label that, draw a picture, represent it somehow.  Label the spot on campus where you had an epiphany, or saw an amazing sunset.

Pretty soon, what you have isn’t just a map that shows you how to get from point A to point B, but it’s a record of how you perceive and experience the world.

The next step in this exercise is to think about all of things that aren’t on the map.  Take a walk and consciously focus on the things you ignore, block out, don’t want to think about, or are usually too distracted (or tired) to notice.

For the last step, consider historical events that might have taken place along your route.  If you live in Virginia chances are there’s been some Civil War battles in your back yard.  How would you render them?

Notice how this exercise could go on and on and on, each time you come back to it you are adding another layer.

For me, this exercise is helpful for thinking about the layers within ourselves and the layers of history that affect us.  It’s pretty sobering when you start to think about it, but it’s also inspiring because ideally that’s what we’re trying to get at when making art.  Whether its dance, acting, painting, sculpture, writing or music, we have to try to enter into the complexity of living, not ignore it.

In other words, maps and mapping are a way to open our eyes to what’s right in front of us, but don’t always see.

P.S. Here’s some live footage of my favorite song from Hail to the Thief

The Art of Self-Promotion

Artists in the 21st century–if I may paint in broad strokes for a moment–are increasingly expected to have an on-line presence where their work can be viewed, read, or listened to, and where they (the artist) can be interacted with.

And I’m not just talking a Web page–Web pages are so ten years ago. Now artists have facebook and MySpace pages (even 76 year-old French New Wave filmmaker Jean Luc Godard has one), Twitter feeds (check out New York Times best-selling author Rebecca Skloot’s), and, of course, blogs (one of the “it” writers of the moment, Emily Gould has three blogs, and built her reputation as a writer on blogging).

But one of the cooler platforms that I’ve run across for artists to share their work is Issuu, a site that allows you to publish your work (for free!) in a slick pdf format. Many of Issuu’s clients are indie and underground magazines (see below), but there are also a great many artists who use Issuu to host their portfolios, and even some authors have put up excerpts of their work to attract fans, for example Hannah Tinti, who came to Sweet Briar this past year to read from her best-seller The Good Thief).

And like all digital media these days, Issuu pdfs can be “embedded” in your Web site or blog for ease of sharing. Below is what an “embedded” Issuu pdf looks like. Click on the pdf to browse.

Here’s an example of a indie mag about Art School. The great thing about Issuu is that I would never have known about this publication otherwise, let alone been able to read it.

Stay tuned, because in the coming months the BFA and Creative Writing program will be toying with Issuu to see if we can’t use it to gain wider exposure for the work of Sweet Briar artists.

“Art is about people…not experimentation” (?)

This from a fascinating profile in the New York Times Magazine of the British novelist David Mitchell:

“Of my books, this is the novel most preoccupied with human mud,” Mitchell told me. “I’m interested in human mud because, as you age, your life gets muddier. As an artist I think you realize that’s where art is art. I can only say it in very simple terms because it’s a very simple thing: art is about people, it’s not about experimentation.” Mitchell paused. “I was assembling a flat-pack cabinet of bewildering complexity one afternoon listening to Tom Stoppard being interviewed on the radio, and at one point he said: ‘Good God. I just realized. It’s about people. It’s not about metaphysics!’ The reason we love the books we love — it’s the people. It’s the human mud, the glue between us and them, the universal periodic table of the human condition. It transcends.”

I don’t know much about David Mitchell, but he is known for being an experimentalist. Consider that an earlier novel Cloud Atlas (below) is made up of six unfinished novellas that stretch across millennia, and is being made into a movie by the Wachowskis Brothers of The Matrix fame. So it seems he’s had quite an epiphany.

I know that I can sometimes get caught up in feeling like everything I do has to break new ground, has to be pushing against some sort of formal boundaries; subverting this, undermining that; but his words have brought me back down to earth (for the moment).

Interpretation? Homage? Borrowing? Stealing? You decide.

Legend has it that Picasso once said: “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” (I’ve also seen it as “Good artists borrow . . .”) Either way, this is one of the big issues confronting artists of all stripes these days in our so-called “Wiki-culture.” When is it okay to borrow from artists you admire, and what is the best way to do it while ensuring that the end result is “your own” and not rank plagiarism? I’m not sure. There aren’t any hard and fast rules beyond copyright law.

As a writer and a teacher of writing, I have always seen plagiarism as THE big no-no, but even wholesale copying of another’s words without attribution has started to gain acceptance: the argument being that it’s like a dj sampling the music of musician to create a remix.

Below are some videos that always spring to mind when I think of this issue:

And just for the fun of it, here’s one of the more infamous instances of “borrowing.” It ended up leading to a court case. And when you’re over the disbelief that Vanilla Ice was ever popular–and believe me he was, I lived through it–go over to the BFA Youtube channel for a playlist of other videos that I think illustrate this issue.

“Check out the hook while the dj revolves it…” Jeesh.

If you’re intrigued, and want further fuel for the fire, check out my recent review of David Shields’s Reality Hunger: A Manifesto. He defends this whole “I’m a dj” thing, but I don’t fully buy it.

What are your thoughts?