When I first arrived in Scotland to study in the Art, Space + Nature program, I was confronted with the question, “Are you keen on hillwalking?” Not quite sure if I had true hillwalking experience, I answered in the affirmative, making the assumption that since I like walking, I’m sure I would like hillwalking as well.
As time went on I discovered that while hillwalking is similar to hiking or backpacking; there are subtle nuances that differentiate the activities. Hillwalking is not meant to be a survivalist sport that arouses a competitive spirit. It is better described as a reflective activity that calms a cluttered mind.
Walking is so popular in the United Kingdom that according to Wikipedia, it is believed to by the nation’s most popular outdoor recreational activity. There is even a national charity known as the Ramblers’ Association, the largest organization to serve the interests of walkers.
It is no wonder that walking has greatly impacted a number of British artists, such as Hamish Fulton and Richard Long. In 1967, Long, a twenty-two year old student at Saint Martin’s School of Art in London, walked back and forth along a straight line in English countryside. His path left linear track, which was documented in a black and white photo. This single image is now seen as a milestone in land/walking-based art.
Sometime last winter, when the days were at their shortest and the collective spirit seemed to be at its annual low, a friend gave me a DVD copy of Signer’s Suitcase on the Road with Roman Signer (1996). The DVD came with the personal message, “Watch this and your winter blues will be gone…” Needless to say, I returned home, watched the DVD, and have been hooked on Roman Signer ever since.
The film, directed by Peter Liechti follows the Swiss action artist, Roman Signer, to a number of locations including the Swiss Alps, Poland, Stromboli, and Iceland. In each location, Signer performs an action, best described by curator Gianni Jetzer as, “near scientific experiments with humorous side effects.”
Silvia Popp is a video/action artist based in Zurich, Switzerland. Some of her recent projects include STUDIO ACTION, Pamela’s Boutique, Leerstand (Vacancy), and Liberation Station.
STUDIO ACTION is collaborative initiative co-created by Zurich artists Popp and Anja Moers. The group runs with the motto “Think. Talk, Act.”
Lily Rossebo: “Action Art” is not a term frequently used in the United States. How would you describe this method of working? What interests you about the concept of action?
Silvia Popp: For my work and also for STUDIO ACTION, site-specific work is quite essential (as we were talking about Action Art, I will focus on STUDIO ACTION for the moment). A place has a history, a past, a present, and a future. A place is where actions are taken part – so place is the starting point. We are a collaborative work group and are quite interested in work models, work processes and codes.
What is the modern definition of work? Art work? (To address these questions) we adopt business strategies, play with business language and do experiments in and with our office/studio. At the moment we are working on a stranded cubicle – the cubicle as the so-called ideal work place in the 60’s, stranded on island, destroyed and almost forgotten.
Art Space + Nature is a unique, interdisciplinary course that was started in 2003. Seven years later, the course’s objectives continue to be in a flexible and formative state. Unlike most degree courses, which are classified by formalist media (i.e. sculpture, painting, printmaking, etc) Art, Space +Nature’s trans-departmental qualities make it difficult to describe. The program is run through Edinburgh College of Art’s School of Landscape Architecture and was created in collaboration with the department of Painting and Drawing. The goal of the course is for artists and architects to engage with the landscape and built environment through both research and fieldwork exercises. The program runs with minimal access to studio space, promoting students to work outside of the college and often in international contexts.
Art, Space + Nature, more commonly referred to as ASN, does not identify with a particular artistic medium; there are no required classes or reading lists. The day-to-day structure is completely determined by the current students, which consists of a diverse body of architects, landscape architects, and visual artists.
This past Fourth of July seemed to mark the beginning of a lingering heat wave across much of the country. While I waited for the sun to set and some of the days heat to subside, I called artist Andréa Stanislav, who was en route to Chicago to take down her recent show, To the Western Lands, at the Packer Schopf Gallery. While Andrea was literally heading west, we talked about everything from her current show, her process as an artist, academia, and the current state of our society and nation.
I first met Andrea last summer at Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, Queens, during the installation of her piece Ghost Siege, a series of fifty full-scale, flagpoles with uniform silver flags. This large-scale piece was part of the 2009 Emerging Artist Fellowship Exhibition, which was open until this past March. This piece, as with most of Stanislav’s work, comments on society’s hidden state of turmoil.
Since last summer, Stanislav has held a number of solo exhibitions and completed public art commissions and projects in various locations around the country and world. While Stanislav does a lot of work at each particular project site, she maintains studios in New York City and in Minneapolis. Her main studio and fabrication station is in Minneapolis, where she holds a position as an Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota.
This spring, in lieu of yet another show of disparate student work, my MFA class decided to create an entirely collaborative exhibition. The seemingly idyllic idea was to work as a single, cohesive group, putting aside our individualistic practices and egos. As a group of eight, we had an ample and qualified crew, ready and able to realize the blueprints we had so meticulously crafted. But of course, as with any collaboration, problems arise, leaders emerge, and the ideas of some are compromised or cast aside. Ultimately, our individual frustrations subsided, tasks were delegated and our collective work came to fruition.
Now that the show is down I am left wondering, “Is collaboration all that it’s cracked up to be?” Is it worthwhile to subject yourself to stress and compromise in order to maintain the collective spirit?
In an effort to better understand the art of collaboration, I decided to return to the place where my interest in collaboration possibly first began. This place is Groundswell Community Mural Project, a small but growing not-for-profit in Brooklyn, New York, which creates collaborative projects between artists and various community groups and institutions.
At Groundswell I met with two familiar faces, Jackie Chang, the Program Director, and Conor McGrady, an artist and long-term staff member. I previously worked with Jackie and Conor in 2006, when I held an AmeriCorps VISTA position at the organization.
The objective of my visit to Groundswell was to find out how collaboration works on a larger scale. It is one thing for a group of students to work together for a couple of weeks, but quite another when grants, funds, and reputations are on the line. How easy is it for community artists to share their work with youth and teen participants? To what extent can community partners influence or censor the artists’ voices?
I was curious see if Groundswell was collaborating with the same community groups as I remembered. I was also interested to see how many of the same artists and volunteers were still involved.