The inaugural WPI Artist In Residence brought California-based artist Deborah Aschheim to campus in April 2012. Aschheim collaborated with student Apprentices Alessandra Anderson ’12, Alex Gray ’13, Kai He ’13, Kyle Horn ’12, Deniz Ozgoren ’14, and Lauren Pehnke ’12 to create Memoryspace, a site-specific electronic sculpture installed in Fuller Labs. The multimedia installation explores the connections between memories, forgetting, technology, and the built environment.
We spoke with Joshua Rosenstock, professor of Art and Interactive Media & Game Development, who created the Artist In Residence Program and coordinated Aschheim’s residency at WPI.
-Why did you create the Artist In Residence program?
My vision for the Artist In Residence at WPI comprised several goals: Increase the profile of visual arts at WPI. Enliven our public spaces with beautiful and provocative work of art. Create opportunities for WPI students and faculty to interface with master artists. Inspire dialogue among the diverse members of our community by re-examining ideas in science and technology from an artistic perspective.
-What is the future of the program?
My hope is that we’ll be able to continue the Artist in Residency as an annual event, and gradually build WPI a collection of and reputation for world-class works of public art. We plan to focus our attention on different indoor and outdoor spaces in future years, so that WPI visitors and members of the community will encounter art all over.
-What kind of feedback have you heard about this year’s project?
So far, most of the feedback I’ve heard has ranged from puzzled (mostly during the installation week) to very positive. I think there are a lot of creative folks on campus – either artists themselves or just people who appreciate artistry – who are quite hungry for more art happening here. I’m quite pleased with how the project turned out and I hope to present even more ambitious installations in the future. The whole experience was an enormous learning experience for both the student Apprentices and myself as organizer. It will be interesting to see how people continue to interact with the work and whether it becomes embraced as part of Fuller Labs over the next year.
-What kind of factors are involved in choosing an artist for the program?
We had about 150 applications from all over the world, in many different types of media. We were looking for an artist with demonstrated professional experience putting together durable public artworks, a well thought out project concept that fit within the WPI ethos, and a piece with strong aesthetics and some “wow” factor. Something ambitious, yet achievable within the constraints of the project.
-Why was Deborah Aschheim selected as this year’s artist?
Deborah’s experience doing artist residencies in a variety of settings, including a really interesting project at UCSF’s Memory and Aging Center. Her artwork strikes the perfect balance of scientific inquiry and artistic expression, incorporating electronics and multimedia in a way that seemed like a good fit for WPI. And she had a strong vision for how she could incorporate the student Apprentices as collaborators in the piece.
-What was the role of the Apprentices?
The students had weekly video conferences with Deborah in the weeks leading up to the start of the residency to discuss her vision of the project, get their input into the themes of the piece, and start to work on developing some of the video content. Once Deborah arrived on campus, it was a very intense week for the apprentices as they worked alongside Deborah to quickly develop the installation. All of the video and audio that is presented in the piece was created by the students. They also soldered countless LEDs, helped design the physical layout of the sculptures, and some of them event spent long hours up on ladders helping to actually install the work. I think for all of them it was a great learning experience getting to collaborate so closely with a master artist – grappling with the logistical and technical constraints, learning media and electronic art techniques, and solving the many issues that come up when creating a large scale work in a very short short timeframe.
-What are the different parts of Memoryspace?
There are four “bays” in the Fuller Labs stairwell, and each one contains a portion of the installation with a slightly different but related theme. The four themes are: the piece’s memory of itself, systems and processes, what do machines and buildings remember?, and time. Additionally, there are live cameras in the top and bottom bays that serve as the “senses” of the pieces, which is conceived as a kind of living entity itself.
-What’s next for the Artist In Residence program?
We are very excited to be bringing Karolina Sobecka, an artist from New York, to campus in November. Karolina will be installing an interactive video projection piece that uses gaming technology in some startling and creative ways. Stay tuned!
Here is some video of the event:
And the WPI webpage for the Artist in Residence program is here: