Boundless Ambition—Part Process, Part Product

Boundless Ambition
Part III

March 30 - June 18, 2012
 

Part Process, Part Product 
 


The proponents of democracy must know that its practices are slow and inefficient in the short run, and that there is a price to pay in terms of infinite patience and continuous effort to make it work…. The ability to weigh arguments, emotions, and unexpressed considerations is one that grows slowly and only through practice. The ability to overcome timidity and say what one has to say as a contribution to the thinking of others is not one which comes easily and without practice.
Dolph Cheek
 
Rarely have we seen a school that so successfully "lives" its stated philosophy.
Excerpt from the New England Associations of Schools and Colleges, 1974 CSW evaluation
 
 
In 1939, The Cambridge School of Weston's faculty and students created the space and the mechanism for regularly occurring town meetings, and ever since, CSW students have been known for their engagement in scholastic government. This was something John French and Dolph Cheek emphatically advocated for as CSW was gaining its foothold as a private secondary school during its formative years in Weston. Following that lineage, Part Process, Part Product compares the artist's studio practice and its process/product continuum, with that of the rigors of democracy and its individual/community continuum. Though essentially autonomous, art and democracy are bound by similar conventions and concerns. Both are labor-intensive processes and both typically, but not necessarily, yield tangible products in the end. Both weigh arguments, emotions, and unexpressed considerations during the work session. Importantly, finding one's voice to, say what one has to say, and to say it in the best way possible is essential for each. But, it is also important to acknowledge a kind of inversion of methodology, with regard to the respective context for making concrete things. In art, the voice of one ultimately engages with a wider audience through the exhibition of the tangible product(s), and these can shape culture in the long run. In democracy, it is the voice of many that often results in the creation of a law, which for better or worse, shapes the greater culture in an immediate sense. Seen together, both individual and community become enhanced by the other, but only if valued equally. All these shared or otherwise related intersections are at the center of what this final installment of the Boundless Ambition series examines. This last of three exhibitions looks at the school's pedagogy during its 125th yearlong celebration. The seeds of the school's pedagogy are exemplified by the paintings of CSW alumni/ae Austin Eddy '05, Julie Oppermann '00, Jonas Wood '95 and Kelly Zutrau '06, and the sculptures of Chris Freeman '80, Jennifer Langhammer '89 and Niho Kozuru '86.
 
As the Boundless Ambition series has endeavored to create a triptych self-portrait of the school, Part Curiosity, Part Vision, the first show in the series, compared the rigors of student scholarship with that of alumni/ae who create conceptual art. While the second show, Part Dedication, Part Abandon, grouped the "work" of faculty and staff, not all of whom considered themselves artists, it emphasized the importance of participating in scholastic tradition while also pushing the envelope and thinking outside of the box. In turn, Part Process, Part Product links alumni/ae who work in varying degrees of abstraction, stressing the relationship between making things and the things that are made while metaphorically linking that activity to the challenges of a democratic approach. This continuum is not only essential for contemporary artists; it is crucial for our current students, who engage daily with these dialectic facets of learning.
 
Just prior to the advent of CSW's famous "mod system"—which in the early 1970s inverted the seven-period-a-day, three-semester scholastic schedule into seven semesters (mods) with only three periods a day—the art world was still contending with the developments of the 1960s New York School, namely Abstract Expressionism and Conceptual Art (among others). Ideas versus intuition. These two diametrically opposed areas of creativity serve our metaphor well, because each is vital and neither is better than the other. Both have added significantly to our ever-evolving culture. Intuition—which is largely at work, when abstraction is the end goal—is the perfect vehicle to dovetail with emotions and unexpressed considerations, but it takes a lot of practice and trial and error to get things right or workable. CSW goes out of its way to insure its students practice daily, because we believe making abstract art, like engaging in democratic process, is only good when its proponents stay present with the tasks at hand—long enough for malleable representations to materialize in concrete ways. In this way, the dream of democracy becomes actualized.
 
Part Process, Part Product uses a metaphor of abstraction to signify process in as much as it showcases work as evidence of successful contemporary art products, which often demonstrates out-of-the-box thinking. Literally speaking, Freeman's luminous tube ceiling installation, which involves interior and exterior gallery spaces, actually exists out of the box. For Freeman (Brick, New Jersey), who has to conceptually and technically plan his noble gas sculptures with great attention to detail because of the science involved, "it's all part of the process." Despite the need to plan, when he works with the nuance of bending glass, and, ultimately, weaving all the tubes together in his overhead installations, he always keeps a feeling for the site in mind as he is designing, and there is plenty of room to "paint" along the way. Making the tubes and placing the tubes is partly intuition-based work that begins with "taking it all in" and "weighing the options." Much of what Freeman does during those stages of the work is to play with intuitive gesturing—"as far as the materials will let me go."
 
While also interested in the play of light and color, Oppermann's interference paintings are difficult to perceive due to the intense interplay and proximity of one color to another, which appear to oscillate and shift whether viewers move or stand still. Putting down tape to corral paint is a meditative act for Oppermann (Brooklyn, NY), who appreciates that that activity leaves plenty of room for intuitive potential. Though she often uses a computer to calculate and play with moiré patterns, the choices for how to mix patterns are often mitigated by the nuances of unexpected accidents that occur during the process.
 
Eddy's unusual bold materiality, which turns low art materials—corrugated cardboard—into the stuff of high art, does so with a healthy dose of irreverence for art's canons, while respecting them and playing off them, with a potent sense of humor. Eddy (Brooklyn, NY) uses a static material with as much freshness as the fluidity of paint, but keeping his imagery playfully simple. His sense of play is exhaustive. Eddy is exceptionally prolific. So as not to over rely on a gimmick, he pushes his materials choices to great extremes.
 
In the case of Zutrau's paintings, the artist separates delicate, mark making—usually the top layer and frequently narrative in feel—from textural, background or environmental markings. Both are often visceral and emotionally charged by personal memories, while the haunts of actual figures are reserved for the topical, more acute renderings. Interestingly, Zutrau (West Roxbury, MA) personifies these two distinct parts of her process as if to say that each supports the other, much in the same way couples do, or the way a landscape holds a figure, which in turn engages with its surroundings. If paint could breath, walk, talk, think and feel, Zutrau's autobiographical imagery would act as a living responsive diary. For Zutrau, as she notes in her artist's statement, "a painting is a problem solved. It is also a representation of that process (a picture of a problem solved)." But, the act of painting is also always an unconscious and intuitive endeavor for her. "Looking at my painting critically is tracing my unconscious mind's decisions."
 
Wood's depictions, although more obviously representational than the other artists' works, are rendered with hauntingly elegant Matissian simplicity, which foils the complexities of the odd domestic scenes he portrays. His imagery seems as freely rendered as a child's drawing, but his subjects are clearly too learned, too adult, too sophisticated, too weird and surreal to be so innocent. Wood (Los Angeles, CA) never really knows how the work is going to materialize, but in a Hawthorn-esque way, pushes his powers of observation to the point were his audience, too, wants to look at every detail.
 
Langhammer's organic structures, which are at once familiar and yet alien, pull you in visually, but also repel due mostly to the delicacy of an extremely fragile medium. With a dedicated eye on the lookout for the anomalies of nature, Langhammer (Vineyard Haven, MA) uses her observations of natural flora as her starting points, but the process of working with clay always yields to the unexpected accident and new ideas, which for the artist are the opportunities worth fleshing out. Much of her work is made with hundreds of handmade parts or markings, and the obviously labor-intensive process tends to blur the distinction between the natural and the man-made.
 
Kozuru's rubber casts of combined, common architectural elements, such as turned banister columns and finials, are exquisitely fabricated eye candy that pull out of context the structures that literally hold up our homes and buildings. Kozuru's totemic and rhythmic objects force viewers to take notice of what is often overlooked, but once seen, are noticed everywhere. Kozuru (Boston, MA) collects her architectural forms and makes molds of them with time-honored methodology, but she casts her forms in non-traditional, pigmented rubber and she works playfully as she stacks and juxtaposes her multi-tiered assemblages. For Kozuru, the process of making sculptures is largely about exploring the space around forms. Her process transforms that space into the tangible and concrete, which in turn allows her to make a copy of the original. Like contemplating the famous optical illusion of two portraits or a vase, Kozuru's process of making is similar to the process of visualizing the finished forms. In both the physical labor of translating wood into radiant rubber, via the mold-making process, and the viewing of completed sculptures in the gallery setting, viewers become acutely aware of the activated negative spaces.
 
As with every other show in the Boundless Ambition series, two planes of contemplation coexist: the temporal plane, which houses the art or work on view; and the historical plane, which houses the school's pedagogical foundations. Seen in tandem, the two provide a bridge halfway to the other. Such couplings catalyze a kind of mental mirror that tells us something about the school's past, the here and now, and our ambitions for a brighter future. Much in the same way microscopes and telescopes require several lenses to see things clearly, it is also true of CSW's Boundless Ambition. Thus, it has taken at least three sets of lenses seen together to achieve a view that offers a modicum of clarity. Central to this focus is the guiding principle, due process, which as illustrated above can commingle with concepts, materials at hand, memories, principles, accidents, etcetera. Democracy and abstraction alike are vehicles that eventually work out the problems associated with representation.
 
With this in mind, Part Process, Part Product focuses upon a group of contemporary artists who not only have their alma mater in common, but also a penchant for working with intangible impulses that result in the creation of tangible things. Visitors are invited to keep a keen eye open to appreciate how process yields products. Evidence is provided both in the gallery and outside it. Visitors are strongly encouraged to read the artists' statements, located in the back of the checklist, where readers will find insights into the artists' processes of making. Therein, the attentive reader will also find ample evidence of the school's processes, which seeded lifelong learners, such as the artists exhibited here. Although viewers cannot see the toil of the lengthy process it took these seven artists to evolve from emerging artist to professional, abstract work of this level of complexity and uniqueness takes that for granted. Proficiency, even in the face of blatant experimentation, only works when during the process all constituents have been adequately heard, all the impulses given opportunities to be voiced. Clearly, these alumni/ae successfully live that philosophy.
 
The Cambridge School of Weston differs from any school that overemphasizes product, in that we go out of our way to provide students with opportunities to practice and exercise student government, which is to say, we feel it is important to stress process, practice and the creation of concrete product equally. Students reside on just about every committee at CSW, including the Board of Trustees—which we proudly point out, of the two schools in the country that have student trustee representation, only ours has voting privileges. And so, in closing, we can more fully appreciate the school's pledge to combine curiosity, vision, dedication and abandon with a healthy respect for process and product—it's this multifaceted spirit that lingers and charges CSW ambition.
 
Todd Bartel, Curator
Thompson Gallery Director 
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The Cambridge School of Weston
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The Cambridge School of Weston is a day and boarding independent school, located near Boston, for students in grades 9-12 and PG. We offer an innovative and rigorous academic program that fosters critical thought, hands-on experiential learning and deep academic inquiry. Students choose from more than 300 courses through our unique Mod System; no two student schedules are alike.