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Artists in Residence From Berlin Teach at MICA

Frieder Schnock and Renata Stih Engage Students Through Courses, Lecture, Exhibition

Posted 04.14.09 by MICA Media Relations

Frieder Schnock and Renata Stih

Dr. Frieder Schnock is an artist, art historian, critic, and curator, with interests ranging from 18th-Century landscape gardens and photography to curatorial projects involving museums, private collections, and galleries. Renata Stih is an artist and professor at the University of Applied Sciences in Berlin, Germany, who brings to MICA her experience in painting, drawing, art and technology, pop culture, theatre, film, and new media. Both are based in Berlin.

Discuss what you and your students have been doing so far in Art Goes Public, Cinema and the City, and Collections in and of the City of Baltimore.

Teaching at MICA has been a magnificent experience teaching so far. We are very happy that Jennie Hirsh (a faculty in the department of art history, theory, and criticism) and Jan Stinchcomb (dean of undergraduate studies and faculty) worked tirelessly to make this residency possible. MICA's pedagogical concept of combining theory and practice is a rare approach that we've always been interested in pursuing. At German art academies, different departments are completely separate from each other. Because of the interdisciplinarity at the heart of a MICA education, MICA students are very open-minded and eager to adopt new ideas;--it is a joy working with them!

In our jointly taught course, "Art Goes Public," we strive to make students understand that an art intervention begins in your head, in the immediate environment, and from there you can reach out to wherever you want to go. There are no important or unimportant topics, places, messages; it depends on YOU to enable a topic to be recognized and special.

Baltimore is a city with great possibilities for artists. Urban, historical structures, which have been destroyed in other cities, still exist here. This vibrant city is partly deserted, segregated, and compromised by drug-related crime problems. One tends to forget about some of these issues during the daytime, only to then be reminded of these problems in the evening. In order to communicate with an audience, we have had to learn more about the city's citizens and structure. We therefore invite experts from all walks of life to our MICA course--such as Baltimore's public art coordinator, Kim Domanski, who talked to our students about the possibilities for art interventions. Before taking our students for walks in and around the city, we had the good fortune to have MICA's new director of campus safety, Steven Davis, speak to our Art Goes Public class. As a former high-ranking Baltimore police officer, he was poised to provided us with unique insights for our upcoming excursions.

Besides teaching students about critical and media theory as well as local and distant histories, we emphasize the importance of developing public presentation skills by training students to organize their thoughts and find their own voice through sound rhetorical and writing skills in order to effectively "pitch" a topic. Very soon, these students will have to act and react on their own. Once they are out in the "real world," young artists should be prepared to embrace the public space and audiences both inside and outside museums and galleries.

Renata Stih, you teach "Cinema and the City."

This is a course in which I look at film from an artist's point of view, discuss how scripts are transformed into action, and what directors have to say about time and place. We analyze color, set, and design, but also look closely at political layouts. It's very different from pure film theory. I noticed the students' fascination with German film, and so I changed the focus and showed more of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's work, set in relation to John Waters. Or we look at Jacques Tati's films and his profound and funny approach of modern times, the impact of American culture on Europe in the Sixties. And we set it in relation to the way we live today. It gives us the opportunity not only to read Siegfried Giedion's "Mechanization Takes Command" together, but also to look at ourselves. Often I wished we would record our discussions. The students insist on watching and discussing two films in one evening! For a film freak like me, they are the right people.

Frieder Schnock, how is your class "Collections in Baltimore"?

As visiting artist at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago I realized during critiques that most art students don't embrace the grand opportunity to study the world-class collection next door. Living and working in Baltimore you must know about the "containers of memory," -- the museums and collections in town. I see Baltimore as an integral participant in the art corridor between Washington and Boston. Taxpayer money is the main source for universities and the arts in Europe and in general you don't pay for your study. In the U.S. there's a constant need for private money to support universities, colleges, and the arts in general. Those donations and collections are an integral part of the culture. Learning about these donations and the philanthropists behind them -- like Meyerhoff, Cohen, Greif, Lucas, Berman, Falvey, Caplan, Garrett, Dunton, Epstein and Wurtzburger -- the students get an idea about that deep, ongoing legacy and commitment to the arts in Baltimore and beyond. In my class, a special focus is directed towards the role of energetic women with a lot of enterprise and foresight like Mary Barrett, M. Carey Thomas, Mary Frick Jacobs, Grace Hartigan, Claribel & Etta Cone, and Sadie A. May.

And there are great opportunities to add to that fame, like making a donation of missing Matisse cut-outs to the Baltimore Museum of Art collection. Moreover, donating funds to expand museum space would allow an institution like the BMA to exhibit more of its jewels, such as pieces from the vast, now invisible collection of prints, drawings, and photographs. In our installation, "Who Needs Art, We Need Potatoes" (Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, 1998-2008), we pointed to the importance of art as a basic kind of "nutrition." Moreover, access to the arts is especially important when there is a lot of economic hardship around like today. Living in the former studio of the late sculptor Reuben Kramer provided me with a wonderful example for the students to have a direct connection to a complete study collection and to learn firsthand about the development, highlights, and breaks in the life of an artist.

Obviously, Baltimore factors largely in these courses. What are your impressions of Charm City? Can you compare it to another city in which you have lived and worked?

Baltimore is truly a fascinating city: on the one hand, there is great historical background and a unique urban structure that make it a desirable city in which to live. On the other hand, the city seems run down, overwhelmed by social and structural problems of various kinds. A lot needs to be done to unify the different sides of Baltimore, and I believe that art could be a productive remedy to many of these challenges. Looking at Baltimore's beltway 695, the peripheral areas around Paris instantly come to mind. The Centre George Pompidou in the formerly run-down Marais neighborhood is a great example of how museums can transform a decaying area of a city into a lively one again, one where people love to walk around 24 hours a day. We don't know of what I would call "no go" areas in Europe, and it's a pity that drugs and zoning laws have, over time, created divided cities in the U.S. In 1994, we did an installation in Washington, D.C. at the Martin Luther King Memorial Library, a great Mies van der Rohe building situated next to the National Portrait Gallery and the American Art Museum. Looking at that area now, it's impressive how a dangerous, deserted area turned into a livable city again. In Baltimore, the Enoch Pratt Library, the Peabody Institute/Library, and the Walters Art Museum are precious assets for the future of the inner city. George Washington perched in Mount Vernon is not pointing towards New York City or Washington. Rather, he's overlooking an area that should be cherished by all Baltimorians as the real heart of this city. Scanning the Walters Art Museum some years ago was like a homecoming adventure for both of us; we found all the Barbizon paintings we had seen as slides during our art history studies.

Baltimore is a great place to work as an artist: there is plenty of affordable studio space and ample public space in which to interact with the public. That's exactly what this city has in common with Berlin: spaces for interaction, room for creative people. Actually, it would make a lot of sense to export our "Art Goes Public" class to Berlin, discussing similarities and differences, having an exchange, reinforcing the impact and outreach of the arts in and on Baltimore. We and our students share the goal of creating a Web site to comment on these issues, inaugurating a Berlin/Baltimore discourse that overcomes geographical, psychological, and cultural gaps.

You visited MICA in March 2007 to present a lecture -- "Memory, Art, and Public Sculpture" -- in which you explored how memory functions in the social sphere and how it is reflected symbolically in the space of the city. You also asked the audience to consider how the intrusion of art in public space affects everyday life. What will you discuss in your public lecture this semester? Do you have a title and date yet?

Our public talk at MICA is called "Berlin / Baltimore" and is scheduled for April 29 in Room 110 in the Main Building, starting at 7 p.m. For this occasion, we have created a new presentation that connects our art to our teaching concept at MICA. We don't want to repeat ourselves, and this time we have invited two additional speakers to complement our presentation. Tom Freudenheim, former director of the Baltimore Museum of Art and a key figure at the Jewish Museum in Berlin for some years, has written about our projects, "Places of Remembrance" and "Bus Stop," in the Wall Street Journal. It will be very interesting for the audience to learn more about Baltimore and Berlin through Mr. Freudenheim's discussion with Frieder. Renata will speak with Stephan Wackwitz, program director at the Goethe Institut New York, about the new Berlin, German cultural and political outreach, and how Stih & Schnock fit into this picture. We are very much looking forward to those talks and discussions.

You are the focus of the 2009-10 Exhibition Development Seminar at MICA, which mounted "Follies, Predicaments, and Other Conundrums: The Works of Laure Drogoul" during this academic year (2008-09). What do you anticipate the experience will be like working with MICA students in such a collaborative way?

George Ciscle has created an outstanding model with the Exhibition Development Seminar (EDS). This last exhibition, completed by the students in conjunction with Gerald Ross and their course leader Glenn Shrum, was astonishing. It is incredible how professionally these students handled the most diverse contextual and technical curatorial matters. The presentation was better installed than those done by trained professionals in many galleries. We were given a great tour by participating students, and this taught us a lot about the elaborate educational programs and the great community outreach activities that accompanied and indeed extended the show. It's a fantastic project, and we are really enchanted about particiatping in next year's collaborative opportunity.

Will you share with the students your own ideas about the direction the exhibition should take? Or do you plan on leaving entirely up to them?

There will be all sorts of communication and input from our side, but we will welcome whatever their eventual input and strategies are. Ideally, we should bring the EDS team to Berlin first to make them understand why our art is so political and how it relates to that city. We plan to make a strong statement here as well by connecting MICA's resources and Baltimore's urban structure in a complex overlay. That procedure is our trademark aesthetic, and it relies on various participants and support.

What do they need to know about your art-making to create an exhibition that truly exemplifies your work?

We are going to share our experience with them, introduce them to our art, our points of view, to the way we work, to our way of life. They are smart enough to turn it into a functioning "exhibition scenario."

Anything else you would like to add about your time at MICA?

We have met fabulous colleagues at MICA, learned a lot about Baltimore's urban structures through the department of art history, theory and criticism's lecture series, "Shaping the City" lecture series organized by Dan d'Oca and "Art@Lunch" series organized by Jennie Hirsh, made some new friends in the city and are very happily working and living at Kramer house. It is truly an inspiring and memorable time for us and hopefully for the students in our classes as well.



Founded in 1826, Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) is the oldest continuously degree-granting college of art and design in the nation. The College enrolls nearly 3,500 undergraduate, graduate and continuing studies students from 49 states and 52 countries in fine arts, design, electronic media, art education, liberal arts, and professional studies degree and non-credit programs. With art and design programs ranked in the top ten by U.S. News and World Report, MICA is pioneering interdisciplinary approaches to innovation, research, and community and social engagement. Alumni and programming reach around the globe, even as MICA remains a cultural cornerstone in the Baltimore/Washington region, hosting hundreds of exhibitions and events annually by students, faculty and other established artists.

Artists' Talk Explores How Memory, History Combine in Site-Specific Projects