May 22, 2012

Creating a Context IP in Bologna 18th March -1st April 2012 Theresa Poulton

I am in the first year of a two-year MFA at Newcastle University in the UK. Prior to meeting in the historic, University City, of ‘Bologna’, our Newcastle University tutors Irene, Wolfgang and Anita, generously arranged an informal introduction evening to enable all the Architect anCreating a Context Intensive Erasmus Programme in Bologna 18th March -1st April 2012 Theresa Poulton I am in the first year of a two-year MFA at Newcastle University in the UK. Prior to meeting in the historic, University City, of ‘Bologna’, our Newcastle University tutors Irene, Wolfgang and Anita, generously arranged an informal introduction evening to enable all the Architect and Fine Art students who were attending the Creating a Context Erasmus IP from Newcastle University to meet; thirteen students in total. The evening consisted of a short informative slide presentation, showing the proposed sites and a brief outline of what was expected from us during the two week collaborative venture was clearly explained and time allowed for concerns to be raised. Dialogue relating to the concept of site specific installation was encouraged between both groups of students. Working on such a large-scale project within a venue of such scale was to be a first time experience for many, unquestionably an exciting challenge. After a little fine Italian wine, delicious prosciutto, ciabbata and Parmigiano cheese had been consumed, it was agreed by all, that evening was a success and we had developed an appetite for more.

In order to understand what concepts, expectations, or concerns, our international counterparts and team members had, several weeks before the project began we were encouraged to access the ‘Creating a Context’ blog and introduce ourselves and our work This was an opportunity to familiarise ourselves with the other members of our group and the appointed tutors. There were, on average six students to a group, forty-one international students in total were participating. Throughout the project there were clear expectations that each group should regularly document their progress; unfortunately problems with Internet access during the two weeks meant that this idea was not quite as successful as expected.

After arriving in Bologna the first port of call was to establish the whereabouts of our apartments; these were surprisingly substantial and centrally located. The first evening involved a group meeting of all participants at the beautiful Fontana del Nettuno, next to Piazza Maggiore. Later, at a local art bar, a social gathering was arranged; aperitifs were kindly provided. This was also a welcomed opportunity to meet our team members. I was in Group 5, and our designated leaders were Julie Goll and Marco Lampugnani. The other group members were, Annie, Angela, Laura, Marco, and Michael. If first impressions count, then I surmised that I was in for an interesting experience. We definitely had a diverse, strong minded and vocal group…hallelujah.

Mornings generally began with tutors and organisers delivering seminars in the Biblioteca Salsa Borsa -Urban Center. Personally, because of the varied content, I found the lectures extremely informative and beneficial; most of the other students whom I spoke with were in agreement. Unquestionably, having a clearer insight into how collaborations work, within the practice of this group of international artists and architects, possibly prepared me for the uncertainties of what lay ahead. Their methodology was intriguing. It was clearly evident that trust, honesty and commitment were all important requirements for a successful collaboration.

A site visit was arranged for the same evening and a representative from ‘Front of House’ was there to meet everybody. The designated space was vast, light and airy, with several prominent structural features. We were informed that we were not allowed to permanently mark any of the walls; most of which had been recently painted. It was also specified that the space should be returned to its former condition and it was confirmed that there was no funding for materials. Surprisingly, the initial response from the majority of our group was that of enthusiasm and excitement. Additionally there was an extra space, which could be accessed; a huge, rather disheveled dome tent structure full of detritus. However, because of health and safety issues, this was not really a viable option for our group.

Admittedly, in the early stages, I had reservations and felt rather anxious in regard to how our group could possibly develop work together Unfortunately many of the students had similar concerns and feelings became exasperated when became apparent that several students were insisting on working alone. I for one was uncertain as to why they could not comprehend the concept of collaboration? Faith would hopefully prevail.

Most often, we joined our groups to discuss how we would like the day to progress, immediately after the seminars had ended. In total there were eight groups and discussions often took place over lunch. As I expected, in the early stages of the programme, the meetings were relatively relaxed and possibly more about gaining confidence and becoming relaxed with each other, including our tutors. The catalyst for discussions varied dramatically; it was evident that everybody had valued points they wanted to mention. Our concepts and opinions were thoroughly appreciated by the entire group. Generally, questions regarding our practical project were discussed, internally, within our group. Respect and consideration was paramount to the success of these meetings, the I.P needed to be a collaborative venture, which required that everyone participating should have an equal voice.

Ironically it was at this stage that I found the sociological and psychological aspects of the project possibly more interesting than the actual work being made. On numerous occasions, throughout the project, I found myself mentally questioning the actions and thought processes of this sizeable group of artists. Who were the leaders? Who were the followers? Were people intimidated? Did I really want to be involved with such a venture? A considerable amount of questions ran through my mind. This was certainly a situation I had never encountered before; a cacophony of aspiring artists, thrust together into a huge melting pot of heightened emotions; an opportunity not to be missed and one I definitely wanted to be part of.

In the early stages one student, Angela had a particularly strong desire to develop an idea, which she had meticulously researched prior to visiting Bologna. She presented her research in the form of drawings, literature and photographs very clearly. Angela was passionate about performing a ‘religious’ procession through the chaotic streets of Bologna, and I admired her determination to realise the performance. Somewhat hesitantly, we all agreed to work together to support Angela. On a personal note I found the thought of a performance within the public realm rather daunting, it was unfamiliar territory, the risk of ridicule was very daunting. Nevertheless I enjoyed the camaraderie of the group and our first collaboration was already in motion. Using found materials from the site, including materials, which Angela had brought from Munich, the whole of our group, participated by creating their own individual archways. The intention was then to parade through the streets of Bologna carrying our objects. Instantly, because of the flaneurial manner in which we were walking, the performative aspects became more dominant than the objects we were carrying. Several people interrupted the procession to ask questions; suggesting a certain level of interest generated by the performance. I believe that the religious and historical environment of Bologna enriched the whole experience. The procession was videotaped and photographed by Julie and Annie for documentation or possible future works and, indeed the images were to become an integral a part of our final collaboration.

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