American artist Katarina Burin was invited by Dean Swetlana Heger to teach a summer course at Umeå Art Academy in northern Sweden. The Harvard lecturer – who in her artistic work tells the story of a marginal female Czech architect, creating her possible works and a scholarly apparatus to undermine the canon of architectural history – used her own interests as a starting point: dealing with fiction, questioning authenticity, copying works, and possibly telling a few lies.
Between Material and Narrative and Teaching Art as a Dubious Act
In the summer of 2015, I was invited to teach a summer course in northern Sweden. It was a four week workshop divided into two parts – two weeks at the beginning of June and then again two weeks in August. Artists and creative professionals are invited each summer from a variety of disciplines and countries, a nice way to bring outside voices to a geographically distant place. It would be my first visit to Sweden.
Trying to figure out how to approach the teaching – which is always a slightly dubious endeavor – wasn’t obvious to me at all, even though I have some experience. Not knowing the students and their artistic backgrounds in addition to dealing with a bit of general confusion and jet-lag for the first few days was entertaining and disorienting in the best of ways. Yes it was bright out all the time and yes I saw a giant European hare at 2 am outside of my window. The streets felt eerily emptied out for the summer, and Swedish films, like Let the Right One In, began to make a lot of sense to me visually and atmospherically.
»In teaching, isn’t one acting like the facilitator, a motivator of sorts to help move things forward and to push the students to reach their goals?« – Katarina Burin
With the attempt to feel prepared before arrival, I spent the usual two weeks of subtle dread trying to figure out the best approach, organizing a vague syllabus of sorts. Though never fully reaching a concrete plan that felt right, I relied on personal interests as a starting point. Mine were at that moment dealing with fiction, questioning authenticity, copying work, and possibly telling a few lies. After a brief and fumbling introduction on my part, the students hit the ground running. I wanted to learn from them and I wanted them to learn from each other.
The goal was to dive into a material, object, process, or questions they had about something regarding their current work, something they wanted or needed to know more about as a starting point for the work. My idea was that each student would become the forger, the method actor, or simply the expert on their area of inquiry and this could result in presentations, objects, or forms based on their findings. I was, after all the one visiting a new place and there was so much to learn. In teaching, isn’t one acting like the facilitator, a motivator of sorts to help move things forward and to push the students to reach their goals?
Some various meetings, presentations, demos, discussions, cookouts, walks, and emails later, we reached the end of the course with an exhibition organized by the students in a local building coined the »Pink House.« Each student had their own large empty room to lay out their pieces in, having the opportunity to experience their work in a different context. The Pink House has its own history and future of uncertainty in the town of Umeå and it was a fitting venue for the suggestive, evocative works the students made. Exploring their own fictions, narratives, and personal histories through materials and making, the students came together and made a very intriguing and beautiful exhibition, and I felt honored to be part of this process.
At the end of the summer the exhibition press release read as follows:
Summer Course Exhibition at Scharinska Villan Umeå Academy of Fine Arts
A Really Good Lie! Learning from Copying and Questioning
Students explore and mine an existing historical or present day database – from the library as hardcopy, artifacts, digital sources, personal or found materials. Combining the materials and copying and appropriating them, the students then reintegrate and subtly introduce their own voice and meaning into their collected archives. The artwork consists of an investigation of many materials and their histories; wood carving, concrete pouring, model making, architectural drawing, watercolor and other non traditional materials like vaseline, rubber and candy have made their way into this summer course.
I got hold of Lars from the Pink House and I’m now awaiting for a proposal from him on times for visits next week. I said that we were flexible Tue-Fri.
I would appreciate to see the assembly hall in the basement (originally the wine cellar), where a local organisation was founded in 1972, the organisation RFSL (National Association for Sexual Equality). I also wrote that we wanted to see the two main floors and the original stables. Today the Pink hHouse has undergone renovation and is completely emptied of its interior, but I think it can still be a good outing.
I have cast some horse shoes in a soft material.
Maybe I will do some more casting.
All the best,
Here is a short rundown of what we talked about in our meeting:
– Research the making of paper and the processes that go into it, the materials used such as the screen – any terms that come out of it, like »laid paper« possibly give a demo or show some images of how this is done.
– Research all aspects that go into making other products that might come from crude oil or trees, like sap, resin, gum arabic, shellack.
– Make the video with vaseline and leaves.
– Watch some – how to making – films that might inform your performances.
– Consider working with bringing the nature into an interior space.
– Consider working with other ‘natural yet synthetic’ materials like – wood veneers, polyurethane, lacquers.
– Look into Anna Barriball, Lucy Skaer.
I poured my two and a half meter long concrete column and after a month I finally unwrapped it! I’m pretty glad about it and I’m making some tests to decide which materials I’m going to »upholster« it with. My »Pantheon« is almost done too. I’m thinking about hanging it upside down, so I’ll need to sew another layer of fabric to make it stronger. I’m waiting for the workshops to open again to start making tiles on which I will iron my prints on »fliseline« fabric. I planned to make many of them, so I keep collecting satellite images.
I contacted a demolition company in Umeå and I asked them if I could get concrete clumps from them … I already took some small ones with black lava stones inside (the ones we were talking about), but I am hoping for some big ones too. I brought two small pieces of granite from Italy with me, which already look like small columns …
See you tomorrow!
Yes it will take longer than I thought; it was hard to find cheap objects reminding of skin. I have to look for other alternatives. But at least now I know that, which is nice. I have never seen my ideas like this in text and lined up. I will start doing that haha! Thanks for the artists, I will look them up and start training on making skin, like with rubber and so on.
See you tomorrow.