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Student Perspective – Virtual Sculpture Marathon with Bruce Gagnier

The Virtual Sculpture Marathon with Bruce Gagnier, at first a compromise solution, has been in many ways a discovery for me. My initial disappointment of not being able to come to New York because of its exceptional current situation was soon outshone by new connections with peers each committed to their own concentrated practice in their private spaces, and has brought me to consider online learning and networking as a way that may open up new paths for artists.

The practice of an art student is usually centered around university, where most of the time we are surrounded by others, by dialogue and reflection that tends to inhabit the intellectual sphere. So we then return to our own spaces where we reflect upon and assimilate or disperse these learnings. But sculpting, painting, drawing, are languages impossible to be grasped from the back end, the accumulation of the insights while working I believe is the only way to any resolution, and for this long periods of time are needed. But the daily studio work is, in many schools that don’t have a strong focus on studio practice like the Studio School, divided from the educational bubble. And thus, as a result, studio practice is itself something that is increasingly lost to the equation – at least this is the case in most classical institutions. Such I think are the concerns for many young artists today, or at least they are to me. Though there exist schools like the Studio School that have made an exception to the rule with a studio-based, intensely practical program, I believe that the current situation may force universities on a wider scale to reflect upon this issue when students look back on this time.

The reclusive situation which we find ourselves in now I think is not such an issue for artists in general, because we work on our own anyway. But the need to feel connected with other artists and especially like-minded ones pertains anyway and it is essential to keeping an open, a student mind, especially during forming times as a young artist. And at the same time it is within the encounter of the unfamiliar in our everyday lives that we find the kind of true connection and spacious feeling that we need, the aloneness with which we are all confronted now, forcedly. Between these needs I think that online learning may offer a new possibility for balance.

I had been interested in studying with Bruce Gagnier for a while, and the Virtual Marathon was a chance to do so over the geographical distance without having to leave the confines of my studio in the German countryside. What has surprised me most of all was the ease with which communication was possible through this format. Surely this is owed to the interest that each one participant has taken in Bruce’s articulated knowledge and his returned interest in our work, as much as to the surprising possibility of connecting with each other through the distance over deeply shared concerns.

We have all been very engaged with each other’s work, taking time to look at what we had been working on in turn. Three Zoom sessions per day were intermittently followed by an individual work session of about 3 hours, in which each of us was working alone. To criticize work this way is indeed possible – it just means you have to resolve it yourself, which you have to anyway.

In an enclosed setting the situation is usually different – the kind of attention given to one is something that tends to get a little lost, because people may become exhausted trying to keep their focus within a busy environment. The virtual room makes it possible to grant everyone the deep absorption into work that they need, to then come together with full attention looking at each others’ work.

And at the same time, I think it is crucial that despite the virtual format, we are all artists working in a traditional way, engaging with material as a kind of labour that enfolds an accumulative vision. Within the virtual world, this kind of work reveals itself as extremely potent in its possibility to communicate, because it is so physical. And because through this physicality in which each of us is engaging in our studio, we find ways to communicate with each other that are independent of informational ways of thinking. To me personally, virtual teaching would not be thinkable were I to be working in a largely conceptual manner, because all the physicality would be eradicated from the equation. So in a way, the work has transcended the means of communication and confirmed itself to me within this situation.

In the world of art education today, this valuation of studio practice is becoming rarer and rarer – the cultivation of a humble occupation which connects people with each other through their work, their however small gestures and ways to engage with their immediate surroundings. But this trend is not just concerning artists of course, and thus the more important may be the potency of discovering again that the private space is not disconnected from the vastness of impact on a larger scale. What I have discovered is that this way of teaching may enable students in the future to connect with those teachers who have the same values as them, while enabling a strong and steady studio practice that reflects the actual daily life of an artist. I should hope that the focus on work done in silence could alleviate some of the need to be seen that exists in our times. It could be a reverse effect to hope for.

It seems the online experience has amplified the possibilities of art itself, a way of transcending one’s individual confinement, be it personal or geographical. It is distinctly different to the informational channels of internet, or the more rational ways of explaining an artwork in theory. This can be done in retrospect, but the way of working is one much less clear to us.

I would recommend to other artists to use opportunities like this when they can.

It is a good way to amplify in each other the resilience that artists and all people have in forming a community that lies in the daily dedication to work and life and far beyond physical encounter.

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