Workshop Masterpiece at Ateliers89, Oranjestad, Aruba
02.09. – 05.10.2014
I enjoyed very much having the opportunity of giving a workshop at Ateliers89, since I always think, that it is very much enriching to teach or exhibit in a different cultural context.
I actually had the chance to do both during my month-long stay on the island.
I took the assumed cultural differences bewteen Aruba and thel Western-European artworld, that I usually belong to, as starting point for my workshop.
I brought a folder with photographs of contemporary Western-European sculptural work, out of which the participants had to choose one to reproduce.
Hereby the point of departure are the given photographs. The scale, materials, colors and the technical construction of the works have to be interpreted solely from the images. Some photographs only show a detail of the sculpture, their backsides are not visible, installations might include sound or smell and some internet-images are in low resolution. All this information and deficiency can be taken into account while starting to reproduce the artwork. Hereby a lot of interpretation and translation takes place and might spark off own trajectories in re-creating the „masterpiece“, although the appertaining title of the work and the name of the artist are not being provided.
My idea was, that this approach could be suitable for the heterogenous group of participants that I was expecting. (ranging from young scholars preparing for art school to adults that want to indulge into an artistic practice next to their regular jobs.) The assignment could be approached from a strictly practical site by just re-making the artworks, but there is also opportunity to engage in a discourse about contemporary sculpture, appropriation art and the value of the original piece in comparison to its reproduction.
This starting point though, proved to be more difficult, than imagined. It seemed, that most of the participants had a strong urge to create something of their own, something „nice“. The examples I brought, were mostly trashy, seemingly carelessly asembled installations like works by Isa Genzken, Manfred Pernice, Aaron Curry, Thea Djordjaze and others. I wanted to spark off a post-colonial discussion about an import of a typically Western, ironic attitude in visual arts. I wanted to challenge my position, coming over from Berlin – a contemporary, cultural hotspot – to an academy on a small Carribbean island, funded by the Dutch government.
The participants quickly chose an artpiece, that appealed to them intuitively and immediately imagined, what could be altered to make it „nicer“. One student told me, she didn't like most of the pieces, because they were so abstract and colorless. An interesting point of view, that in the end lead to some surprising results, like a Vedova sculpture with a fragmented female portrait instead of abstract paint strokes on it, a teenager-diary version of a Franz Ackermann installation and a remake of a pyramid shaped sculpture by Joanne Tatham and Tom O'Sullivan displaying dragons and Mexican luchadores' wrestling masks. Interestingly the urge of self-expression can sometimes be in the way of an elaborate contemplation on visual arts. I also remember this vividly from my own studies in art school, when the most difficult class for me was the painting class, although painting was the reason, why I had started art school. But since I was painting a lot and felt quite secure in that medium it seemed impossible for me to break the constraints of my practice and achieve something new.
For an advanced examination on sculpture it can be quite challenging to restrain ones own urge for creation and limit yourself to the pure copying of an existing piece. By doing so it becomes apparent how many decisions still have to be made if the starting point for imitation is just a photograph. One has to read the 2-dimensional image and translate it into a 3-dimensional object.
So, after having to make the students stick more to the original photograph in the beginning, we had to go on a quest for material, which is the basic requirement for working sculpturally.
At this point it has to be mentioned, that without the immense energy and commitment of Elvis Lopez almost none of the sculptures would have come to life. Elvis drove around the island in the van to look for and pick up material, to buy new supplies when needed and to help and motivate the students next to accomplishing all the organisational tasks. He proved to be more than schizophrenic, being the driver, director, technician and secretary all in one big person. After a rather sagging start the students got into the working mode for their projects as soon as all the tools and materials were gathered. For a sculpture-workshop, this is of course more difficult, than working in media like painting, drawing or photography, since a lot more materials, space and tools are being required. Every student found its way into the production of a sculpture, that was more or less losely based on the initial photograph. In some cases the technical challenges of finding a suitable construction for a particular idea took some time, energy and efforts. I believe, that every technical decision also influences the aesthetic outcome of a piece and vice versa. So I think it is important to guide the students in looking at their piece and carefully considering every decision being made, however small and marginal it might seem even if that made me being called „Pietje Precies“.
Quite a number of students joined the workshop, although unfortunately some of them dropped in quite late or had to leave the workshop before its final, due to some job-related obligations.
I was very pleased and surprised with the outcome of the individual works. They had become something far more interesting, than just a reproduction of a „masterpiece“, but the works managed to merge a Western debate about contemporary sculpture with the Carribbean Way of Life.
The last task of the workshop was to assemble a show together. For most of the participants it was the first time ever to exhibit. It was a challenge for everyone to stop working on their individual pieces and shift their focus to a collaborative presentation in which the works together start to have a dialogue. As I also have experienced while coordinating the final exams at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam, for the participants it is a new way of looking at their sculptures, when they accept another work in their vicinity and learn to look at the presentation as a whole. This surely also includes moving the walls, hanging the name tags and sweeping the floor in the end, if not Elvis had already done so himself.
The opening of the exhibition was a beautiful feast, with a lot of interested fancy dressed visitors, families, exciting talks, drinks, food and dance. A truly Carribbean evening illuminated by lampions that Elvis had made me hang up high in the trees.
The Monument For The Lago Colony
I was also able to produce a work of my own. The Monument for the Lago Colony This work was inspired by the history of the island. One day Elvis toghether with local artist Glenda Heijliger took me on a tour through San Nicolas, where a large abandoned oil refinery dominates the town. Now defunct, the refinery once has brought wealth to the island. Downtown, in what is now a rather dodgy redlight district you can find a vast amount of early modernist buildings, now painted and renovated in hilarious ways. One building has several stucco escutcheons from a local hardware store on his facade.
Another architectural element that you can find all over the island are fake plaster columns. (mostly of doric or ionic order)
These columns represent the colonial history as well as the local need for decoration and beauty. In the case of the modernist buildings at San Nicolas this is a rather absurd combination.
All this observation inspired my own version of a classical monument for the history of the Lago refinery and its now also abandoned appertaining colony.
With the help of Elvis and local craftsmen I created a column of oil drums with a concrete base and capital poured by a local sculptor, specialized in creating these domestic decorations. Unfortunately there was just little money to be able to create such a site-specific piece. With a lot of help of the locals I was able to erect the column and donate it to Ateliers89 as a permanent piece for the courtyard.
I hope that I'll have the chance to come back one day and research more into the history of the Lago Colony. It would be fantastic to erect a column (if not a whole temple) on the cliffs at the very site of the former colony, overlooking the sea towards Venezuela.
I had a very fruitful and inspiring stay, thanks to Elvis Lopez and other local cultural producers, that I had the chance to meet, like especially Osaira Muyale and Renwick Heronimo and their interesting project Studio O and striving for the establishment of a local Museum for Contemporary Art, joining artistic forces of the Carribbean region and connecting the contemporary culture with the very fascinating local cultures of carnival in which a lot of the passion and creativity of the Arubian people is eminent.