Community Studio Spotlight: (Raw) Material+Action VIDEO

by Hillary Wagner

We can’t believe it’s already April and the Community Studio Program is about to start up again! In preparation for the start of Community Studios in May (stay tuned for more details), we will be highlighting some of our favorite projects/artworks from last year’s program.

This is the second post of our “Community Studio Spotlight” series. We are featuring the video made during our (raw) material + action lesson from last July (click the link to read more about the lesson in our original post). This project was inspired by curriculum written and taught by Christine Howard Sandoval when I was her teaching assistant at Parsons School of Design.

As Francesca was out of town this day, July 26th of last year, I decided to indulge in a project that developed out of methods deeply rooted in my own artistic practice. As a sculptor, I am always playing with materials – performatively experimenting with them discover their physical and metaphorical potential in space. Through this process, I find intimacy with materials, usually of an elemental nature, that might otherwise be overlooked as mundane, and reorient them as expansively poetic and mysterious. In teaching this lesson, my hope was that the artists who participated would come to view the materials that surrounded us at the ranch in a similar way.

The lesson was centered around the value of restriction in creativity. The artists were introduced to this idea by watching a clip from an interview with Jack White of The White Stripes. Preparing for the day’s project, which would ask the artists to make a work using only two ingredients: action and raw material, the artists were introduced to the work of Richard Serra as an example of how action plays a role in the discipline of sculpture. In his early work, Serra famously used his verb list to facilitate studio experimentation. He would select a verb from the list and use it to encounter a material in his studio.

We then turned to Robert Smithson and Andy Goldsworthy as examples of artists who  engage raw materials. I asked the group to think about the definition of “raw” (raw: adjective – of a material or substance in its natural state; not yet processed or purified. synonyms:  unprocessed, untreated, unrefined, crude, natural; unedited, undigested, unprepared). The artists then used that definition to make lists of materials that could be found on the ranch which could be defended as “raw.” The list included but was not limited to: wood, metal, dirt, rocks, plants (leaves, branches, bark, etc.), water, ice, and paper.

After looking at these artists, I provided a description of the day’s project. Each artist was asked to choose one or two verbs and one or two materials that would then be used in a performance documented by video. Once this was explained, we went on a walk around the ranch to begin brainstorming. I encouraged the artists to notice the things around them, objects and specific places, and to think about those things in relationship to their own body. Upon our return to the Barn Studio, we sketched out ideas in our journals. From this process, each artist decided their respective sites, actions, and raw materials (however they chose to define it).

Finally, it was time to take action! As a group, we toured the sites around the ranch that each artist had chosen and witnessed their action + material performances. We took turns documenting each performance with a flip camera.

Some of the works included:

rubber + to roll

sticks/grass + to weave/to drop

feathers/mud + to stick/to poke

wooden boards + to lean

I watched as this lesson pushed the artists out of their comfort zones, offering them new exciting possibilities for making. It was especially challenging for most of them to narrow down their materials and actions to only one or two of each, as per my instructions. Although they initially resisted this, I asked them to trust me and in the end they were proud of the results generated by such strict parameters.  Some artists also felt apprehensive about performing in front of the group, but each successfully overcame this hurdle. I loved watching how much they enjoyed experimenting with methods of “play” and “chance” and of course, using the flip cameras!

I am proud and excited to finally share the video (below) that resulted from this project. The process we employed yielded unexpected meaning, humor, and poignancy. The artists’ beautiful and peculiar rituals in succession produce a strange tone that I think makes the video compelling and sophisticated, not just for such young artists. My hope is that this lesson helped those who participated to discover their creative capacity, their home, and themselves in new ways.



Community Studio will begin its 2018 session in May! Stay tuned for more information!


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As we gear up for the next session of Community Studio, which will run from May to August of 2018 and will culminate in another public exhibition, we are looking for a group of generous individuals to become patrons of our incredible artists so that we may offer them the best possible experience. A small monthly contribution on your part will go a long way toward providing our artists the resources they need.

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Thank you so much for your support and stay tuned for more updates about our 2018 programs!

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