A Community of artists, such as we are, is a kind of closed system, an ecology full of micro-ecologies. We inhabit space, we share that space, we bring in detritus and ideas from outside that space and such matter re-aligns our ecology ever so slightly with each incursion. Of course, the opposite is true as well; we take our ephemera and evolving consciousness out into the world beyond our walls and effect other communities.
This summer I spent about ten days at the Venice Biennalle and in Paris looking at art; in museums, galleries, on the street, and elsewhere. I am probably not alone in these pilgrimages; my colleagues do the same, travel to where the work is to visit or re-visit those things that move us and reinforce our belief in Art and its capacity to engender a sense of wonder or empathy or just to inspire us to new ways of thinking… I saw work in the Venice Biennalle that bored me and work that made me weak in the knees; it all made me think about what it means to be an artist in this time. In Paris at the Pompidou I saw work that I had seen dozens of times before, the mid-century modern work that is by now burned into my consciousness. But I was also surprised by work I had not seen; smaller works by Yayoi Kasuma and collaborative work from the DADA period and work that was made by artists working with composers and dancers from the Ballet Suedios and sculpture made by painters and extraordinary photography… All of which startled me and reminded me that what we do is built on a foundation of experimentation and rejection, some acceptance, some re-thinking and more work: we are part of a continuum.
Reflecting this thought, we are in a moment of great change and positive movement in the UW-Madison Art Department. Building projects, active investigation, and re-thinking of our department around issues of sustainability and our future directions gives us the sense that some really great things are about to happen. We are creating new spaces at the Art Lofts and beginning to plan a major build out over the next three to five years. You will see some changes in the building over the next months as well. We have recently made a lot of upgrades to our spaces in Humanities and to our Grad program in general. We are very focused on issues that directly affect our students and mean to be as responsive as possible. Please check in with us regularly and let us know how you are doing and how we are doing too.
In the last decade or so, there has been a tremendous amount of discourse around what an Art School might be. As we began our faculty retreat last week we also asked those questions to each other; what do we want to be and how do we get there… How are we different than other institutions, what does our faculty do that others cannot and above all, who are our students and what do they need or want? How can we facilitate your needs and expectations while pushing you toward what we know you can do in your individual practices?
Our students, I hope, will be startled by what they accomplish in the next few years. They will be amazed by what their peers and colleagues do as well, and will undoubtedly feel a sense of competition and some pressure to continue to grow and to push at their own boundaries. I encourage you all to use such tensions in the most positive way, in a way that makes you think and do, that makes you a little uncomfortable and unsettled. Trust your gut.
In his 1947 book, Le Musée Imaginaire, the French novelist André Malraux spoke of the “museum without walls.” From that idea, we can easily make the leap to an image of an Art School without walls. An art school whose walls are pierced and open and reflective of the trajectories of global culture. This place at UW-Madison that you have chosen to study is such a place. We are an art school situated within a world-class research institution. The walls that create our buildings are more suggestions than reifications of territory. You can pierce them and trespass their boundaries with ease. You can walk into any building on this campus and introduce yourself to an engineer, a botanist, a food science student or any other peer or professor you may wish to consult, collaborate or converse with. I urge you to take advantage of the place that you have chosen to study here and all its possibilities to change or enhance your practice and to open your brain up to things you can’t yet imagine. I look forward to being startled and bewitched by your work in the coming years.
Chair, UW-Madison Art Department