Department of Art and Art History Study Abroad

Students find la bella vita in Tuscany

Wed. August 27, 2014

Group of students on tour

Every summer, students in the Department of Art and Art History leave the confines of the UT Forty Acres for the Italian countryside. Through the department’s Learning Tuscany study abroad program, students spend six weeks in the region to experience Italian culture, see famous works of art, and surmount the hurdles of doing laundry in a foreign country.

“I want the students to ... push themselves to use both the challenges and charms of Italy to develop an increased self-awareness and confidence,” said Art History professor Ann Johns, who has managed the Learning Tuscany program since 2006.

Johns travels abroad each summer with a colleague from Studio Art—this year, professor Leslie Mutchler—and leads between 20–25 students through Italy. The program’s home base is in the small town of Castiglion Fiorentino, but they also travel to area cities such as Florence and Rome.

“I was striving to engage students in an active investigation of Italy and the phenomenon of travel through the process of making handmade books and zines,” Mutchler said, “I wanted our students to broaden their understanding of art (and themselves) in the context of travel.”

Mutchler asked the students to collect printed ephemera. They then constructed mobile wunderkammer to house and curate those collections. Cara Stamp, M.A. candidate in Art History, said of Mutchler’s assignments, “Her planned projects really forced us to get to know Italy and especially our hometown, and it was a much-needed push that really brought the trip to the next level.”

The students are not the only ones who face challenges in Italy. “It can be very difficult for me to talk to students on-site,” said Johns, “For example, we can't talk in the Sistine Chapel. We also visit museums, such as the Vatican museums or the Uffizi museum, that are so huge that it's virtually impossible to keep everyone together.”

To solve this problem, Johns created a series of venue-specific podcasts that serve as individual audio guides. She explained, “The podcasts allow students to move through large collections at their own pace and listen to ‘me’ when they've arrived, for example, in the Raphael Stanze in the Vatican Museums.”

Mimi Richardson, B.F.A. candidate in Design, found the recordings helpful. “It made visits in the museum pleasant, as you could tune out all of the distractions around you by just using your headphones. I loved that I could move at my own pace and linger on what seemed most interesting to me.”

Learning Tuscany students and faculty take group picture in front of building

Learning Tuscany provides a foundation from which the students explore Italy independently, Kristyn Coster, B.A. candidate in Studio Art, said, “By providing a few language lessons and allowing us to figure out certain aspects of Italian life on our own, we developed a closer bond with the culture and the people.”

"Traveling to an alien place has a way of erasing social barriers and allowing you to forge truly awesome friendships,” said Allie Swaar, B.F.A. candidate in Studio Art, “Sharing an incredible, terrifying, and wonderful experience with people I would have never come into contact with in Austin, but who will now remain my friends for years to come.”

More information:

  • An exhibition of artworks by the Learning Tuscany students will be on display September 19 through October 3 at the Visual Arts Center as part of Fieldwork Projects.
  • Meet the 2015 Learning Tuscany class with the Flying Longhorns on a 14 day trip with tours lead by faculty from the Department of Art and Art History.
  • Listen to Learning Tuscany podcasts on iTunesU (link will open in iTunes).

Adam Crosson prepares for inaugural exchange program with Royal College of Art

Wed. August 27, 2014

Artist stands in front of work in exhibition space
Photo by Daniel Cavazos

This fall Adam Crosson, M.F.A. candidate in Studio Art, will take part in the inaugural year of an exchange program between The University of Texas at Austin and the Royal College of Art in London. Crosson was also recently selected for the 2014 Umlauf Prize, which recognizes outstanding achievement in sculpture. As part of the prize, Crosson will present an exhibition that opens September 5 at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum.

We asked Crosson to talk about his work and future projects over email before he travels abroad.

Please describe your work.

The majority of my work is catalyzed by an interest in mobile spaces of transit and systems of transportation. I am interested in the psychological and social dynamics within these spaces and systems.

How has your work changed since you started the program?

My graduate committee as well as other faculty members, visiting artists and curators, and my peers have all been instrumental in the evolution of my work. A pivotal moment occurred when my committee chair, Kristin Lucas, suggested looking into the work of Dan Graham, which ultimately led to the discovery of Marc Augé's theory of the non-place.

This discovery created an opportunity for me to investigate my work through an established theoretical lens. I keep searching for the unknown to continue changing and evolving my work. Recently, I discovered the Keatsian literary idea of negative capability. This involves being comfortable with the unknown and leaving certain things unresolved.

My undergraduate architectural training is a blessing and a curse. Design processes in architecture can be seen as a series of logical codifications away from the self. Over the past year I have slowly begun to loosen the reigns of logic that were ingrained from architecture school.

In a studio visit with Rob Storr and Heather Pesanti this past spring, they suggested I spend time with Sol Lewitt’s sentences on conceptual art. The first sentence states, “Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach.” This was a profound discovery for me. It gave me a pass to radically undo my approach to making and become increasingly experimental with concepts, forms, materials, and processes.

Industrial sculptures hanging on wall and placed in gallery space.
Courtesy of the artist

You talk about putting yourself in unfamiliar environments to break your routine in order to increase your sense of your surroundings. Can you tell us how you began to work with this idea?

I think routine is ad infinitum. It is inevitable—ultimately it fuels a sort of conflict for me. When I was eighteen, I lived on the island of Kauai for six months where I spent time hitchhiking and camping. Eventually, I ended up caretaking for an older gentleman with a couple of friends. These experiences were out of the norm for me, and I learned a great deal from them. I learned the importance of vulnerability.

Being in an unfamiliar environment provides an opportunity to question one’s routine and one’s cultural and social norms and then to view these from the outside. It is a disruption and that disruption or destabilization is a part of the kind of vulnerability I seek. When I am vulnerable, it becomes a kind of overwhelming state that disturbs my routinized consciousness and creates a precipice.

Mass transportation systems are interesting to me because they allow passengers to either practice or escape routines. The same train an individual takes to work might be the train one would take to the airport to embark on a time of leisure. Michel de Certeau refers to this mix of imprisonment and freedom as an ‘incarceration-vacation’. I am interested in the cyclical nature of these spaces, of them being so normal but so dynamic with an ever changing cast of characters all the while traveling through space.

Participating in these systems is to fuel a combative balance of expectation and disruption—of things going as planned and things going awry. In these spaces, one has to negotiate control and vulnerability on a quotidian scale.

How does this play into your work?

I use materials and forms associated with buses, trains, airplanes, and airports as well as other modes of transportation. My processes range from casting techniques to metal fabrication, digital fabrication, and video work. These processes become methods for investigating objects and situations within spaces of transit and transport.

For example, I have used techniques of casting in order to construct objects relating to the subterranean and infrastructural. I have employed digital fabrication techniques to construct objects that investigate ephemeral or abstract qualities and I have combined steel fabrication with deconstructed off-the-shelf lights and fans to reference the incessant circulatory nature of these systems. Up to this point I have used video as a way to investigate my personal experiences within these spaces, but I am eager to push this further.

In your travels, how do you combat a sense of familiarity after being in space for a while?

There is always something so familiar but never quite the same, and I am interested in those subtle shifts of a ubiquitous setting. The bus or train is a publicly accessible space in which cycles of commuting are briefly recorded in the trash, detritus, and belongings left behind. It is a mobile space constantly being recomposed. Riding the bus or train, I am in a passive state of observation where I give up my identity as Adam and play the role of passenger. It is interesting to attempt to carry this state of mind further into other parts of my life. It is important for me to find the fiction in familiarity.

 

Industrial sculpture with flourescent light in exhibition space
Courtesy of the artist

What do you hope to experience while you are in London?

My hopes are to challenge the current state of my practice through an immersive experience and to have an opportunity to show my work abroad. Having conversations with other M.F.A. students at a residency this summer opened my eyes to alternative ways an M.F.A. student can hold a practice within an academic setting.

I plan to reevaluate my own practice in an urban academic setting. Being at the RCA will allow me to get plugged into some interesting communities around London. I am excited to have a multitude of museums, contemporary art galleries, and project spaces.

Ultimately, I think it should be a search for more questions.

What is important to you to accomplish while you are at the RCA?

It is important for me to question the current state of my practice and I plan to utilize the students and faculty members at the RCA to do so. I will continue in my conceptual interests and test those interests in a European urban center. It is hard to say exactly what will come out of the experience, but I am going to take full advantage of being around so many sculptures students in a compressed space.

From what I understand, at the RCA there is a large studio space that gets subdivided into individual studio allotments. The degree of privacy is up to the individual student and I am really interested in what it will be like to work in that sort of open setting. I have just started a book, Reading the Everyday by Joe Moran, and his introduction focuses on London’s bus culture which is of interest to me. I plan on a visit with Joe Kerr, a professor at the RCA who is interested in transportation systems and mobility. He is also a bus driver, and I plan on taking a ride with him. It could be the most theoretical bus tour one could imagine.

I want to get to London and react to my surroundings, identifying familiar and foreign trends within everyday commuter culture, and see where that leads me.

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