Making Lightly: a communal residency
Atche Art Space
By Genie Davis
A communal art residency is a living organism. It shifts, changes, alters its appearance and alters those that come in contact with it, whether through creation or observation.
When Diane Williams, Arezoo Bharthania, Nicole Stirbis, and Sophia Allison invited artists to work together in Williams’ 120-foot art space, Atche, the two- week experiment and exploration that resulted from the invitation focused on the experience of non-material creation, interaction between artists, and the mutability of the work created. The idea of the project at its core was to challenge the possessive nature of creation that has become what Williams terms a “cultural default.”
The Atche space itself is part of an equally radical and deeply pleasurable project, The Shed Collective, which calls itself the “alternative to alternative galleries.” The name refers to a group of small “sister galleries” located in tiny spaces. The concept began as a joke between founders Kristine Schomaker, Cathy Immordino, Sheli Silverio, and Williams, but has become so much more: a way to offer fresh, fun art in non-traditional space.
What inspired Williams and her co-creators to helm Making Lightly completely fits the spirit of The Shed Collective. “We had come together to talk about doing a show with each other, and in an epic hours-long session, we introduced the idea of an interactive communal project, and expanded on it from there,” she says.
The communal experience affected the art in a variety of ways, Williams attests.
“There was collective making and collective editing that happened organically without a preconceived structure or plan of execution. There was one true collaboration, but ultimately the art was made in a call-and-response of addition, reaction, subtraction.” She adds “Although we were practicing releasing preciousness in making the art, it is more challenging to make changes to a communal work than we anticipated.”
Those challenges included many unforeseen shifts and changes in the shared experience.
“The art was changing daily depending on what the artists added, reworked, or edited,” Williams relates. “Some of the artists used this residency to experiment, and work with materials they wouldn’t normally use in their individual practice. There was a collective response among the artists about the social aspect of the project. Many friendships were formed and opened up for future collaborations.”
In all 25 artists participated in the project, proving that many great art makers and much great art can be fit into one diminutive work space. Artists included: Diane Williams, Sophia Allison, Nicole Stirbis, Arezoo Bharthania, Heather Arndt, Paul Evans, Sarajo Frieden, Susan Tompkins, Suzanne Adelman, Mariah Anne Johnson, Chelsea Dean, Marjan Vayghan, Max Presneill, Michael Blasi, Carolyn Castano, Michiko Yao, Narsiso Martinez, Cindy Rehm, Diana-Sofia Estrada, Stacey Wendt, Dawn Ertl, Amanda Mears, Alanna Marceletti, Aaron Kimbrell, and Maya Mackrandilal.
The materials they used came from each individual artist as well as from the exhibition facilitators.
Along with the art materials and the space to exhibit art, the project included a space for contemplation – with a typewriter, on which participants were encouraged to write their thoughts. “The typewriter was another mark-making tool and a conversation piece,” Williams reports, noting that “Artists found it difficult to write down their thoughts on a typewriter.” Perhaps it’s the digital age demanding a glowing monitor rather than a set of keys, or perhaps visual art made statement enough for the group.
Williams is exploring the idea of documenting the experience in another fashion, including photos, audio, and video to share the interactions of participating artists.
The project was fluid, intimate, non-judgmental, and always lively. “Each day was a different mix of artists and that became a changing social landscape; but everyone was all in, making and unmaking art, and spending time with other artists. A few people mentioned feeling skeptical about what it would be like, or expressed that a group of artists working together can go a lot of different ways, but there was not the level of ego you might expect,” Williams explains.
The frankly jubilant experience of creating was in and of itself the perfect outcome for the exhibition, with mixed media wall art and sculptures shifting and transitioning as the artists worked. The overall look of the space was vivid, bright, highly textural, and exploratory by the concluding reception date.
“What started out as an exercise in letting go of the ego and what we deem ‘precious’ in artmaking became a social experiment,” Williams asserts. “Art as material creations was secondary. Instead, art became a tool for fostering relationships and an approach for changing the way we think and work.” In a way, the exhibition served as a mirror to the ways in which art itself when viewed can foster change and forge relationships.
Williams and her collaborators created this experimental residency to co-create and provide a mini-community experience, and encourage risk-taking in individual practices. But ultimately, she says that their mission was to promote networking opportunities for artists and cross social boundaries. They invited artists with different methodologies, career paths, and art world experiences to provide an exciting dynamic that stretched beyond the confines of one exhibition.
In the culminating closing reception – and in the words of participating artists – the joy, friendship, safety, and freedom of creating in the Atche space was palpable. Art is an expression of wonder, internal light, provocation, inspiration, and beauty; and in its purest form, it is a cosmos created anew by each maker. Sharing that cosmos, dividing it, altering it, and seeding it, makes the experience of creation and the experience of viewing that creation fresh, exciting, and as expansive with possibility as the universe itself.
Plus: it was a lot of fun.
Making Lightly’s first iteration is just the beginning. “Half-way through the residency, we realized that if we change the site, duration, artists, or even some of the parameters, the whole dynamics and shared experiences would be varied.”
An exploration of these possibilities is undoubtedly forthcoming; Williams and her collaborators are writing proposals and looking for a space they can use for their next communal residency, while continuing to work on their individual art practices.
So stay tuned: this joyful exhibition and the reception revealing the work is just the start.