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International Art Residencies: A Swissnex Panel Discussion

Posted by Devin Cole  May 11, 2012 04:00 PM

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Swissnex Boston the Consulate of Switzerland recently hosted a panel on International Art Residencies to discuss the opportunities that are available around the globe. The panel discussion featured Kiki Thompson, Co-Founder of the Verbier 3-D Sculpture Park Residency, as well as Andy Moerlein and me, Boston sculptors and Verbier Residency veterans. The panel was moderated by Caitlin Strokosch, Executive Director at Alliance of Artists Communities and included Mary Sherman, Director of TransCultural Exchange, Franklin Einspruch, painter, writer and arts critic, Lynne Allen, Director, School of Visual Arts at Boston University and Antoni Muntadas, visiting Professor of the Practice at MIT. These artists gathered in front of a crowd of over 100 people to exchange thoughts about the value of international residencies in the arts and how such experiences can leverage their work at home.

Andreas Rufer opened the program with a brief introduction to Swissnex Boston and its mission to support the arts, education, technology and innovation in Boston. Through the generous support of Swissnex, Kiki Thompson flew in from Switzerland to kick off the discussion with a video presentation of the Verbier 3-D Sculpture Park Residency in Verbier Switzerland. The Verbier 3-D Foundation is a not-for-profit organization, founded by New York-based artist Madeleine Paternot and Verbier-based sculptor Kiki Thompson. Its mission is to promote contemporary art and culture, to focus on nature and community and to provide educational workshops.

In the Verbier 3-D Foundation residency seven international artists were invited to the Swiss Alps for five weeks to create monumental works of art that were site specific to the Sculpture Park. Each artist was asked to teach a class to the students in the community and to lead tours through the studio and discuss their work while in residence to demystify the art making process. The curatorial premise for the 2011 edition of Verbier 3-D was set by Paul Goodwin, in his capacity as an independent curator as a new approach to monumentalism. All sculptures in the Verbier 3-D Sculpture Park are for sale with the 3-D Foundation and the artists splitting the profits.

Andy Moerlein and I participated in the Verbier 3-D Sculpture Park Residency in 2011. Andy Moerlein built a pair of welded steel, Styrofoam and cement sculptures: Uprooted and Upended: A Ghost Print that celebrated the topography of the mountains and the force of natural events. I built a solo piece: Baby Bringer, a 12 ft tall Styrofoam and cement stork headed pregnant female figure celebrating the recent population boom in Verbier and subverting the popular myth that storks bring babies in their beaks. In 2010, the artists built a collaborative piece for the International Sculpture Symposium in Nashua NH. Moose Myth was a 20 ft tall sapling structure of a moose headed male figure of the iconic state animal. When asked about the impact of the artists on their host communities, Andy and I recalled an encounter with Sohn the tailor in Nashua. He brought lunch one day for the artists and invited them back to his shop that was filled with angel sculptures that he crafted after hours. ‘I think Michelangelo got breasts all wrong,” he confided one afternoon, proving once again that art is a universal language.

Mary Sherman discussed the way that her experiences in residencies have expanded her art practice. By taking advantage of the opportunity to experiment and collaborate, she has been able to create art works with other interdisciplinary artists and try new materials. One of her primary reasons for going on residencies is to learn about the world, and she makes a point of exploring the communities and countries that she visits to bring this knowledge home with her.

Franklin Einspruch discussed the value of solitude in the residencies that he has participated in at home and abroad. He may not have found comfort in the cultural seclusion at the artist’s village in Taipei Taiwan, or the geographic isolation on Cranberry Island Maine. Yet, the artist did admit that without an audience around, it’s safer to develop new work since no one was there to witness or inform/influence it. Franklin stressed the importance of deciding if the situation of the residency would be right for the artist who was choosing to participate in it.

Lynne Allen has participated in many residencies that offer printmaking facilities since that is her medium of choice. She stressed the need to grow as an artist in order to be able to grow as an educator and give back to her students. By building her art vocabulary in residencies and making new connections, she has had the opportunity to win a Fulbright Grant for international study and travel abroad.

Antoni Muntadas discussed the concentration that is necessary to develop his work. This is primarily what he seeks out and finds in international art residencies. In addition to participating in many notable residencies, he has also presented work in such prestigious international events as the VI and X editions of Documenta Kassel (1977, 1997), the Whitney Biennial of American Art (1991), the 51st Venice Biennial (2005) and those in São Paulo, Lyon, Taipei, Gwangju and Havana.

Caitlin Strokosch, kept the conversation flowing amongst the panelists and fielded many interesting questions from the audience about residencies. One area her organization is trying to improve is opportunities and support for artists with families and children. Almost universally, artists report that the benefit of their residency experiences is the creative community with other artists. As a final note, she closed with the observation that international art residencies provide new avenues for being able to turn dreams into actual works of art.

International residencies offer artists the opportunity to develop and enhance the scope of their art beyond the bounds of their communities. They also strengthen local artistic communities by connecting them to the world in a tangible way. I look forward to continuing the conversation started as swissnex.

Donna Dodson graduated cum laude from Wellesley College in 1990 with a Bachelor of Arts. Since 2000, Dodson has been honored with solo shows nationwide for her wood sculptures. Dodson enjoys public speaking, and has been a guest speaker in conferences, panels and forums at museums and universities in North America.

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