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Bard College Berlin's "Factory" (photo by Anisa Shaikh)

Bard College Berlin’s “Factory” (photo by Anisa Shaikh)

In the spring of my first year at Bard, I took my first studio art course since the beginning of high school. I was never skilled at drawing, nor did I ever devote the time to develop skills in painting, so I figured that taking a sculpture course wouldn’t be the most difficult medium to practice in a studio setting. I have always been interested in construction and installation, and with several summers of experience working with my hands, I knew I had at least the basic tools to be successful in the course. Through the semester, students in the studio course were given tutorials in how to use the equipment in the wood and metal shops and practicing techniques such as casting and carving. The course emphasized collaboration, and for several projects I was paired up with other students in the course to challenge my own creative process, and work in tandem with other innovative visions to make meaningful, substantial works of art. I came away from the course having fabricated some of my most proud creations to date — I even surprised myself quite a bit with what I was able to make.

But this brief introduction into sculpture was a turning point for me, where the concept of each piece became the focal point of the work, not always its aesthetic value. I was amazed at my ability to work with found and recycled objects, transforming them into new forms and unconventional scenes. But all of this was only possible because I had the opportunity to manipulate these materials in the shop. Take for example my piece “Videodrome 2”

Photo and sculpture by the author.

Photo and sculpture by the author.

Using a salvaged tube television and a wax cast of my own hand, I had to construct an internal structure for the television to support the rearranged components and provide a new physical skeleton for the TV. I had to carefully measure and cut pieces of wood, then cut and weld a hollow aluminum tube to support the hand and the aluminum vortex component behind the shattered screen.

What began with a simple concept – to replicate and make physically present one of the most jarring and shocking images from the 1983 Sci-Fi/horror film “Videodrome” of the hand reaching through the TV – became a new static exploration of the relationship between humans and technology. However, my concept in this form could only be realized using the tools available to me through the sculpture course and the resources available at my school.

But what happens to an artist, or even a course focused on art-making and art-creation when these conventional tools are no longer available? This is the focus of the course “Sculpture in Expanded Fields” offered at Bard College Berlin this semester, led by David Levine.

Bard College Berlin does not have any sort of workshop for students to work on physical constructions for their sculptures, nor any physical media for students to work with. Instead, the students have full access to the audio-visual equipment belonging to the school, with a number of projectors, mixers, microphones, recorders and speakers available. Quite a few of the assignments in the course have prompted students to explore installation using sound, light, video, and the completely malleable and transformable space of the Bard Berlin Factory.

As I am not a member of the class myself, I asked for some insight into the projects and processes employed in the class by students who are working in the studio. First, I heard from Nadia, a third year at Bard College Berlin, about the arc of her work in the class this semester:

“Weirdly, my studio became a project on it’s own; after covering the walls with drawings of imaginary creatures and maps of non-existing cities, I started inviting people over to talk and to work together. Once I had few people over, and they ended up coloring the creatures and adding to the landscape on the walls, which for me was an exciting and somewhat scary experience: the initial drawings were very personal to me, but seeing how what used to be only in my head was being reinterpreted by my friends was priceless. I like thinking that this room now is a place of inspiration for more than one person; and it looks like the process of making an artwork is turning into a collaborative artwork itself.”

Nadia’s studio in the Factory.

Nadia’s studio in the Factory.

Students in the course were each allotted their own room in the Factory to transform, beautify or ‘destroy’ as they saw fit. For Nadia, the central aspect of her work through the semester became the transformation of her space to turn it into a room for creation, collaboration and socialization. What at first didn’t seem possible to Nadia, for the room itself to transform into an artwork created by her and the rest of her class, became a reality, and an expanded project that lasted through the semester.

I also heard from Sam, a third year student visiting from the Kansas City Art Institute. He says:

“It’s kind of hard to talk about this class specifically without giving some context to my studio practice, so I guess to be brief: I am interested in the stories of spaces. This semester I have been borrowing the idea of a mental space, and exploring the role of different materials and narrative forms. Which is to say, I am interested in how space is represented. I am interested in narratives, and how representation and physical construction converge in a technical narrative – a narrative driven by empathy with the construction of the thing. I want to make work with formal content, whether the subject is formal or conceptual.”

Like Nadia, Sam was also interested in space, but in a slightly different way. He shared with me one of the video projects he made for the class, exploring light and darkness, space, sound and silence. His video project “My Fears and My Hopes” traces a light in two dark rooms, slowly illuminating each detail, moving across the floor. He controls the viewer’s access to his space, only letting us see small fractions of the room in any given second, if we are to see anything at all. You can watch it here (turn the volume up!).

With such limitations for the artist taking part in the course, analyzing and discussing the success of each piece is essential for the artists and other classmates to critically assess each decision they have made and look at the successes and shortcomings of each work. I asked another member of the class, Bard third-year Kellan Rohde, about the critique experience in the course:

Ive been in several studio arts classes with crits before, and David Levines is one of the first that consistently gives agency to the artist. We, as the artists, are allowed to talk about our intention, our material, our goals. You often hearDid (x) work? Whatd you think of (y)?. Some instructors like to organize crits based on a gagged artistrule, where the artist is the only person not allowed to speak.
The crits are interesting because of how easily it flows into a conversation from comments. The chemistry of the class is such that we can find ourselves sometimes on a totally different subject that is rooted in something the artist conveyed in their work. Sometimes we all agree, silently, that the piece invites no more contemplation than given already. Crits are about teasing out the kinks and errors of your visual language. It is a grammar lesson and speech therapy for the visual.

While “Sculpture in Expanded Fields” does not have the same resources, nor provides for instruction in typical sculpture techniques — such as casting, carving, or tutorials in the shop — the course is actually working towards a goal somewhat bigger than a typical sculpture course. Through the emphasis on concept development and execution, and the critiquing process, students have the freedom to make more with less, and to challenge themselves to make solid ideas for their art rather than solid fabrications. Additionally, the methods and equipment available to students in the course will certainly benefit their future artistic endeavors, helping students to develop more skills, and more familiarity with light and sound technology.

It’s not uncommon to stop by the Factory at night to see students in the course labor over each minute decision they are making for their pieces, or hear talk about concepts for the installations over lunch in the cafeteria. With the freedom to make whatever they want (and possibly can), the students in this course are engaging with their own creative processes, and challenging themselves to make the most substantial work possible.

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Art, Wine and Philosophy

The night was marked by friendly mingling, laughter and good wine – with an even better background of exhibited photographs by ECLA BA4 students.

Wednesday September 25th was an important day for ECLA of Bard. The school hosted a small reception to inaugurate “the Factory,” a place where, within the walls of one building, all students have the possibility to express themselves via various art practices. Formerly a can factory, the building complex has an interesting history, as it also used to be a tire factory at some point, then hosted an advertising company and the editorial office of a Berlin newspaper, produced by homeless people, and later even became a shelter for the homeless. ECLA acquired the premises three years ago and after several months of intensive renovation, coordinated by Lars Köhler, ECLA of Bard’s Site Manager, the Factory is finally completely ready to host visual art and theatre classes, guest talks and student-organized exhibitions, installations, or performances.

“The idea, in keeping with the fluid interaction between performance and visual arts that we’ve always had at ECLA, was to try to create a studio building where

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Drop/Add Request form

At the close of every school term, students brood over next semester’s course selections. Evermore the neurotic endeavor, the success or failure of the upcoming term hinges upon striking a careful balance of the right classes. Navigating the process tests one’s wisdom, intuition, and tenacity. This whole drama is explicitly acted out in the cafeteria, which serves as the central meeting place for students and ideas. There, one could become an unwitting participant to passionate discussions concerning changing concentration seminars, the benefits and consequences of dropping compulsory language classes, and/or forsaking it all by taking an overload for the opportunity to study under an exceptional professor (I chose the latter).

All of this excitement is compounded by some fundamental changes to ECLA of Bard’s academic policies implemented this term. The following is an account of my personal experience of this semiannual process in light of these amendments.

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David Levine with his students

Photo: Fileona Dkhar

With the onset of the end of ECLA of Bard’s first semester, also came the deadlines for most students to finish their final papers. For those taking David Levine’s Studio Theatre class, the final projects were of a different kind. For these 9 students, the culmination of the class consisted in the presentation of their theatrical work.

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Romeo Castellucci - Four Seasons

Photo: Christophe Raynaud de Lage (WikiSpectacle)

“Please, don’t forget to take earplugs”—the girl with a tray of small blue things made me feel nervous even before Four Seasons by Romeo Castellucci started. However, the aural risk didn’t scare off Berliners and tourists alike – the show was entirely sold out.

Castellucci is originally from Italy but has created most of his performances in Avignon, France. As a result, he has been well-known and widely discussed for more than 10 years in these regions. As a follower of Antonin Artaud and his “Theatre of Cruelty,” Castellucci produces an eclectic mix of Greek dramatic plots, contemporary visual arts, technical installations, and revolting naturalism.

His Four Seasons is an homage to American artist Mark Rothko, who withdrew his paintings (totaling a surface of 600 square feet) that were originally meant to decorate the fashionable Four Seasons restaurant in 1958. Rothko returned the money to the Four Seasons and let the paintings live a solitary life until they were later exhibited in the Tate Modern Gallery.

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Photo: Irina Stelea

Academic year at ECLA is coming to an end. As final paper deadlines were fast approaching, so was the closing event of David Levine’s Studio Theatre class. Students, faculty and external guests gathered to see five different plays that the participants of the course had worked on during the past few weeks.

The concept behind this—very successful—first try of a studio theatre class at ECLA was a very intriguing one. Different tasks had been distributed to each of the students, and as a result there were five directors working on their own plays with seven different actors, many of which rotated and played major roles in several shows in a row.

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Photo: Irina Stelea

In the Spring term of 2012, artist and faculty at ECLA David Levine has been teaching the Art & Aesthetics concentration seminar titled: Authenticity, Appropriation and Genius. I have asked David Levine about the experience of teaching this new theoretical course, and about the boundary between art and teaching.

Aurelia Cojocaru: Usually at ECLA you teach studio seminars (Installation, Acting, Studio Theater). The tactic you adopted for this course—shaping the syllabus on the way, from a vast array of works initially proposed—is, no doubt, an interesting way of dealing with the task of organizing a theoretical course from scratch. Ultimately, what did and what did not work? What were the most challenging moments?

David Levine: Well, it’s a little more the way an American grad seminar would be conducted; where the professor is researching a topic and, in a sense, subjecting everyone to his research. You have a pretty big bibliography and then you try to calibrate the reading to where the discussion seems to be going.

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Photo: Thomas Aurin

This spring term, as part of the Studio Theatre Class, ECLA of Bard is taking its students to performances in various theatres in Berlin to enable them to develop their perspective on the art of theatre-making, but also to offer a personal experience of Berlin, as one of the most vibrant sites for the art of theatre.

Theatre visits are not simply a recreation and break from the everyday-reality of intensive study, but are an integral part of academic education: after each performance students gather in class and discuss the ‘experience’ of theatre not only from the viewpoint of the spectator, but also from the perspective of the student actively involved in making theatre – as an actor or a director.

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