April 23, 2010
In a restored sawmill building on the historic mine site at Silver Star in Park City, sugar balls are being brewed, felt cornhusks are being sewn, and a 20-foot millipede is slithering along the walls.
Spiro Arts is hosting three visual artists and one writer as part of its spring artists-in-residence program. Now in its third year, the program offers artists the chance to live, learn and create in Park City for one month with 24-hour access to studio workspace.
According to programs director Justin Parisi-Smith, Spiro selects three to five residents for each of its twice-yearly terms. The artists submit applications and a jury selects participants based on their proposal, resume and samples of their work.
The current residents include Greg Wrenn, a writer from Missouri; Dawn Gettler, an installation artist from Illinois; Sjors Vervoort, an animator from the Netherlands; and Faith Hagenhofer, a feltmaker from Washington. The artists arrived in Park City on April 3 and they’ll be in residence at Spiro Arts’ facility at Silver Star through the end of the month.
On Wednesday, April 28, Spiro Arts will host an open studio event from 6 until 9 p.m. The community is invited to meet the artists and see what they have been working on. For more information, call 649-6258 or visit http://www.spiroarts.org .
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During his time in Park City, Wrenn has filled a spiral notebook with what looks like the penmanship of students learning how write.
It’s actually an experiment in releasing his more childlike, less-inhibited thought processes. Wrenn, a poet for more than 10 years, is working on his first novel, tentatively titled "Decide When I Breathe."
The book is about a closeted, married Evangelical missionary who falls in love with a Buddhist monk during a service trip to Sri Lanka.
Whenever Wrenn feels he needs to dig deeper within himself, he switches to writing in print rather than cursive (which he has done since third grade) or tries writing with his less-dominant hand. Hence the hardly legible lettering.
Wrenn grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., and currently lives in St. Louis, where he teaches writing at Washington University.
He attended a meditation retreat about two years ago and had a revelation about his writing. "I was just sitting there, watching my breathing and bwam! I had this vision and I knew I had to write a novel," he explains.
He drew from his fascination with religious fundamentalism and his personal experiences to develop the content, which includes the main character’ s letters to God and pages from a workbook designed to cure homosexuality.
Wrenn found out about the Spiro Arts residency program from a former resident. He was actually in the midst of research in Thailand when he received news that he had been selected. "I was very, very excited," he says.
Before he arrived at Silver Star, he had come to a logjam of sorts in his storyline. Being able to fully immerse himself in writing in Park City has enabled him to push through that obstacle.
"It’s been awesome," he says. Whenever he gets writer’s block, he walks from his living quarters down to the studio where the other residents are working. "I’m the only writer, which is great because sometimes writers don’t get along. It’s really liberating, actually," he adds.
Wrenn hopes to finish a draft of his book and start searching for an agent this summer. His experiences in Park City have sparked an interest to write a second novel from the perspective of an LDS girl who is accused of murder.
His time at Silver Star will also lend stories to share and processes to test with his students. Maybe he’ll teach them to write with the wrong hand. "It’s all grist for the mill," he says.
When Gettler arrived at the Spiro Arts studio, she had a bit of a breakdown. "What I thought I was going to do wasn’t going to work," she says.
She was forced to reinterpret her approach and, now that the residency is coming to an end, she’s glad she had to work through it. "I have aesthetic control issues," she says. "It was good for me to have that wrench thrown into it."
Gettler is an installation artist based in Chicago. She was born and raised in Iowa, earned a degree in printmaking, and then took a job as a teacher’s assistant before realizing that she needed to flex her creative muscles.
She returned to art three years ago after being accepted into a resident program at The Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Nebraska. It was there she decided that, as an installation artist, she wants to focus more on creating spaces rather than images a memory of a piece rather than a memento. "I’m definitely more interested in evoking an emotional response," she says.
Her installation at Spiro, called "Silence will speak for her," consists of three separate pieces.
For one piece, Gettler built a wooden grid that hangs from the ceiling. The structure reflects the architectural design of the building in that it is made up of smaller grids. The rows are lined with sheets of paper, and the artist plans to use a fan to achieve motion resembling a sigh or a breath.
The second piece consists of words pasted on the windows of the studio. In the morning, the sunlight reflects the words on the floor of the studio in front of the grid structure. She stenciled the letters, cut them out and coated half in sugar and half in salt. The result is a bittersweet mixture of words like "please" and "thank you."
Gettler explains that her work explores the sweet, saccharine ideas about relationships, questions about compliancy, and how language is often sugarcoated.
In preparation for the third piece of the installation, she is cooking batches of sugar hemispheres made in a DIY doorknob tray. She microwaves sugar and corn syrup and stirs in cutout words before the half-spheres dry. She plans to arrange the pieces in a grid on the floor to complete the trio.
Gettler’s work is hard to describe, so she is creating stop motion videos to document her process and provide a glimpse of herself in her element. The videos and photos are also a way to deal with the installation being taken down at the end, she says.
To watch Gettler’s process in motion, visit http://www.dawngettler.com .
When the Spiro Arts programs director received a video of Vervoort’s work from a friend, he knew he had to extend an invite to participate in the residency program.
Vervoort is a 26-year-old animator from Holland who is currently living in Australia. His first animation video garnered responses from LucasArts Entertainment Company, the American video game developer, and a studio in New York that was interested in using his concept for a Google commercial.
Vervoort creates quirky cartoon characters and makes them come alive through stop motion animation. "For me, animation is a visual experiment," he says.
His favorite part is designing the characters. While in Park City, he has created a 20-foot millipede on panels of recycled cardboard. He will take a series of photos, replacing the panels in each to mimic movement, to create a short video that features the millipede and other characters in a real local setting.
Vervoort’s work is extremely tedious and time-consuming. "A lot of things can go wrong," he explains. "It’s a pretty crazy process." He says that although a lot of animation is digital due to time and cost considerations, he enjoys doing things the old-fashioned way. "It’s kind of fun to go back to basics."
"This is a perfect environment for me," he adds. "It’s just ideal for me to be here and to be able to focus without distractions."
Vervoort came to Spiro, his first residency program, with just a laptop, a pencil and an idea to challenge himself by creating a large-scale character. "I’m happy with the results so far," he says.
He is also creating time-lapse videos of his process so that people can understand what goes into his form of animation. To view Vervoort’s characters and a showreel of his past work, visit http://www.sjorsvervoort.nl .
When Hagenhofer tells people that she works with wool, they assume she makes clothing. And although she cut her teeth on making hats, she long ago veered away from woolen apparel.
Hagenhofer describes herself as a feltmaker. She uses wool to make 3D pieces of art. "I think what drew me [to working with wool] is the idea that it’s utterly transformable," she says.
Felt is a long-lasting material made from three layers of interlocking fleece. Hagenhofer has been experimenting with its uses for the past 18 years. "It’s just been an intriguing material and it continues to interest me," she says.
Her fascination with wool led Hagenhofer to start raising sheep at her home in Washington. She is also a proponent of the sustainability movement, something she says falls by the wayside in the realm of textiles. She uses natural dyes and features products of the earth in many of her pieces.
In Park City, for example, she has been working on a collection of woolen corn cobs that will be part of a larger project and a series of shapes that reflect the transition from Earth to material in the form of a tree to a ladder.
She is also experimenting with incorporating light into her creations, a project which could evolve into creating some type of lanterns.
Hagenhofer says the best thing about residencies is that they offer time, "an incredibly generous gift." They also present the capacity to push through obstacles, work spontaneously and dig deeper as an artist. "Having this kind of time allows the opportunity to be observative. I can look at things and see visual metaphors," she says.
In addition to artistic benefits, the residency has provided opportunities including having dinner with a local wool maker and visiting a juvenile detention center to teach youth how to make wool pouches. "I am coming away from this with a large body of work," she says.
When she isn’t working with wool, Hagenhofer is a librarian for a Native American tribe. She participates in solo and group shows at galleries around the country and next year, one of her pieces will be displayed in the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C.
For more information about Hagenhofer’s work, visit http://www.scattercreek.com/~offwhite/faith_website.htm .