AIB Residency Summary
Algirdas J. Nakas
Q: Where can one get creatively nurtured, inspired, prodded, befriended and challenged?
A: A 10-day residency at Art Institute of Boston.
The simple truth is that I experienced all of the above and more at my first residency in Boston. That is not to say it was in any manner easy. On the contrary, it was anything but. I furiously took notes, sketched, photographed, changed my portfolio exhibits, and participated in appropriate ways in numerous critiques, talks, seminars, field trips and other presentations and events, (I even emceed during the group 1 introductory talks!). Returning home, I was left somewhat overwhelmed by what I had just experienced, but filled with the anticipation of the work ahead of me. As I navigated each day’s schedule, I felt like I made the most out my chance to meet many people and hear their ideas. I participated fully in all of the scheduled events and I know I have taken a solid first step into this new journey into my soul. My goal is to assess it’s condition and reveal it through my art. AIB is giving me an opportunity to edit and sharpen a barge full of experience so that I might speak with refreshed specificity in my artwork.
The residence for me can be broken down into a number of distinct elements: 1) critiques, 2) artist talks, 3) seminars, 4) special events (time based work , meetings with faculty and advisors, and introductory sessions), 5) field trips, 6) free time and meals times.
I will describe my experience at the residency in that order.
The critique experience was exhilarating…both on the giving and getting ends of the equation. I was in with a group of very creative photographers and media artists that had some astounding work to show. Although I am a group 1 newbie, that didn’t deter me from sharing my opinions with my crit group. I am not a newbie to art or a newbie to life, so I felt as though I could offer some relevant, thought provoking comments and spoke freely and honestly. Fortunately, the work I was critiquing was very high caliber and there was no need for any strong expressions of negativity. I felt like my peers were very receptive to my ideas.
As for my own work, the graduate students were equally gentle for the most part, and I sensed that the originality of my work intrigued them. One difficult assessment I had to digest was from Liz Schrenk, an acquaintance and a graduating group 5er. She said the word “creepy” came to her mind as she viewed my photos of adolescents descending an escalator after a senior prom. This comment was helpful since shooting kids of any age, in almost any context can raise questions. Are the photos exploitive, could they appeal voyeuristically, or in other ways not intended by me? This is something I am concerned with and probably requires more study on my part. Also brought into question during most critiques of my photography was the question of the lack of model releases. This is a problem I must solve to continue similar streams of work with young people. It will require obtaining releases from parents or guardians to display the images of their kids.
Then there were the critiques by faculty members and photographers, Oliver Wasow and my advisor, Oscar Palacio. Both of these artists seemed impressed especially by my work involving the kids on the escalator. Oliver liked the play of camera awareness versus lack of camera awareness. He also loved the mat finish, 20x40 poster printing by Costco. Oliver was also interested in my thoughts about the Photoshop color work done to give the pictures a hand tinted appearance. I wanted the pictures to have a washed out feeling to express a sort of “been through the ringer” emotion. Oliver felt the work was strong and even showed the work to other faculty members. Oscar Palacio commented on the witness aspects, the apparent surveillance style of the photos as indicated by the camera angle from above…and the longish distance from the subjects. For Oscar the more appealing photos were the ones where the subjects either ignored the camera or were unaware of being photographed. In fact, he suggested I edit out the ones where camera knowledge in the subjects was apparent. Oscar felt I should pursue the idea of private information in public spaces with a sort of detached, surveillance like approach. I found this interesting. Despite the knowledge I have of my subjects as one of their teachers, I often feel very aloof from them as I shoot. I observe expressions, movements and behaviors in a very removed, almost machine-like way. Similar to an impartial security camera, I feel non-judgmental, simply recording “facts” of reality. That is basically my modus operandi, and I find it intriguing that Oscar wants me to focus on and develop this aspect of my style.
I was also extremely fortunate to have personal critiques from established visiting artists and academics as well. These included Sarah Charlesworth, Cory Arcangel, and Jan Avgikos.
The question of model releases was also raised by all of them, but besides that they differed quite a lot with suggestions and reactions. Sarah felt I should continue in the same vein and that I was fortunate to have access to the students I often photograph, but she felt I might refine, polish, and plan my work to better effect. Cory, on the other hand, disagreed and liked the rough lighting, candid, immediate, appearance of my work and felt it should continue that way, especially in light of my affinity for today’s Facebook culture and internet networking in general. Jan agreed more with Sarah on this point, but I choose a sort of middle ground. That is to say that I feel my projects could be better planned, but the spontaneous appearance of the work should be preserved as much as possible. I have already purchased a new SB-600 flash unit for future projects and a new Nikkor ultra wide-angle lens. I know I can use this hardware in creative ways to produce stronger finished work. I have begun some test shooting with this equipment to good effect.
The Artist Talks
One of the important features of the residence is the artist talks by visiting guest artists and graduating MFA candidates. I attended all of these that I could, missing only 1 group of grad talks when I had to make a choice between attending simultaneous events. This is something that I would like to see changed in the program. I regret missing any of the live talks, even though recorded versions are available on DVD. Despite missing 1 group I was treated to a wealth of fabulous talks and Q and A sessions by gifted and experienced artists. Without going through a detailed list of each speaker I would like to note that Cory Arcangel, Wendy White, Sarah Charlesworth, Richard Calabrese and Laurel Sparks all gave interesting, memorable presentations. I loved Laurel’s rock and roll aesthetic and attitude and I especially related to Cory’s sense of making the most from what is in front of him on the web and from his own previous experience. I found myself taking notes at all of these talks…but not sure if I will really reference them. I may opt to try listening without notes during my next residence.
Group 1 students are all assigned to Critical Theory with Stuart Steck. He is a wonderful teacher and every moment in his seminars was time well spent. Stuart is not afraid to entertain comments and participation and the group did wander into areas of study that may not have been intended, but were always valuable and worth examining. I admire Stuarts ability to field questions, digress and examine ideas about theory as they arise within the discourse of the seminar. We looked at modern and post-modern art and talked about the artists and the historic relationships of their work.
My other seminar, although it was also not an elective for group 1 students, would have certainly been one of my first choices anyway. It was Visual Remix with Oliver Wasow. Oliver has his finger on the pulse of internet networking and content. He offered a fascinating view of what is going on in that universe today. This is a world that I frequently inhabit and reference in both my teaching and my fine art photography, so I was really excited to be in his seminar. We also examined copyright issues and took a field trip to the Young Contemporaries art exhibit.
The Special Events
By special events I am including viewing screening of video work by AIB students, introductory sessions and meetings with Judith Barry, Louise Goldenberg and Jan Avgikos regarding program feedback etc. Also advisor meetings with Oscar Palacio to discuss mentorship, my work and MFA program requirements.
Meetings with Judith and Louise about the program were positive in the sense that it seemed as though comments by students were really heard and considered.
My meetings with Oscar Palacio were productive and concise. I feel lucky to have Oscar as an advisor since I sense he understands where my work is coming from and this was apparent in our succinct meetings. There didn’t seem to be the need to spend too much time on clarifying our thoughts. Communication was there. He gave me reference to study, recommended 3 books to read (which I have purchased and read) and went over and ok’d my photo project ideas for semester 1.
Oscar also approved my mentor selection for semester 1, Christopher James. I will be spending a week with Chris next week in Maine. I value his feedback and am sure it will help me get off to a good start at AIB.
The Field Trips
Field trips that were sponsored by the residence included the Museum of Fine Art trip to view the great Renaissance painters of Venice; Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese. It was wonderful to listen to Tony Apesos offer his highly informed comments about the fabulous work on display by these important painters. I also enjoyed having some time to sketch as I was wandering the exhibit.
Another trip was with Oliver Wasow’s seminar group to the Young Contemporaries exhibit that included work by many current and former AIB MFA students. It was a wonderful show in a huge, interesting space. It is always great to see the work of friends and acquaintances on exhibit.
Trips I managed on my own included the very moving and provocative Shepard Fairey exhibit at the ICA. I found this especially relevant in light of the surveillance focus of my own work. Also a visit to Isabel Gardner’s home to see her art collection displayed there.
I’m glad I made the effort to get there for my first time.
I should also mention that I attended the graduating student exhibit at Lesley in Cambridge as well as the exhibit and graduation event at Beacon Street.
The Mealtimes and Free Time
Beside the consumption of food, mealtime gatherings also gave students and faculty a chance to get together and react in a casual, friendly way. This was important in forging new friendships and academic relationships and provided me with quite a bit of interesting conversation and discussion. It was also a time that Louise used to go over scheduling points, etc.
I also used this time to meet with former students of mine who are currently undergrads at AIB. They saw my work and I looked at theirs and we had lunch and caught up. That was a fun and worthwhile facet I managed to carve out during these meal time moments.
Another mealtime was spent on a personal photo expedition around Fenway Park. I simply
Walked the neighborhood and took hundreds of photos of Fenway from all angles (see my blog for some of these). This an important time for me since it gave me time with myself used just for picture taking.
Lastly, some well worthwhile free time spent was at the Kareoke dinner party. I won’t describe this too much other than to say a little fun is always good.
In summary, the residence was rewarding for me in every detail. I believe I genuinely made the most of my time in Boston. It is my intention to continue this path toward my MFA. Making the most of time as I work with my advisors and mentors toward my degree.
HYPERLINK "http://nakasphoto.blogspot.com/" http://nakasphoto.blogspot.com/
HYPERLINK "http://www.facebook.com/a.nakas" http://www.facebook.com/a.nakas