Visual Arts
Drawing together: Felice Koenig and Calire Schneider.
Drawing together: Felice Koenig and Calire Schneider.

Social Practice: Felice Koenig Collaborates at Big Orbit Gallery

by / Apr. 22, 2015 7am EST

Felice Koenig: Drawing Together

CS1 Curatorial Projects at Big Orbit Gallery

April 24-May 16, 2015

Our human inheritance is an invitation to inhabit life. Yet, contemporary experience that is increasingly virtual tends to separate mind, body, and space. Opening April 24 at Big Orbit Gallery, Drawing Together invites the community to experience the art of connection. Painter and educator Felice Koenig has been drawing with friends and family since she was a child. Along with curator Claire Schneider, the gallery will be transformed into a living studio where individuals may reconnect with the joy and ease of creative play that many adults have left behind in childhood. Engage with color and line in a collaboration with the artist using paper and markers. Consider scheduling a drawing session with her to experience this experiment of social practice. You may observe the collaborative process during live drawing sessions and projections of time-lapse video documenting these interactions. (To see an example of the resulting work, have a look at The Public’s centerspread this week.)

The beginning of creation has always been a joining of space, time, and matter. Human beings make things. Sometimes we call it art. Lewis Hyde wrote about the distribution of art as a gift exchange. Suzi Gablik called out for The REenchantment of Art. What is art for? Some will argue that art requires no purpose. Others seek self-expression or communication of ideas. Art practice is often restorative, healing, and a means to connection with heart and soul. This exhibition aims to utilize art process to revive interpersonal connections.

I recently met with the artist for a collaborative drawing session. After settling down at a table in her studio with tea and chocolate, we began to make marks with her abundant collection of markers and pens, turning the sheet of paper around now and then in order to work off each other. The casual atmosphere invites conversation or quiet, whatever is preferred. It was easy to relax into the experience and find delight in the emerging creation. No crossing out or starting over, but adding more layers makes this drawing experience a continuously changing process that is quite enjoyable. You may want try this with the people in your life, as I did—it works with three people just as well. 

I posed a few questions to the artist and curator:

Can you say something about “grounding interaction in space and time and material”?

Felice Koenig: In contemporary society so much of how we interact with others happens in virtual space with minds projecting and connecting in the digital ether. It is easy and quick to communicate through email, texts, and a wide variety of social media, but these modalities also potentially leave gaps in connection that can result in a feeling of disconnect. The practice of drawing together is an opportunity, an offering, to sit together in real time and give the gift of actually being together. We sit together and converse using the basic materials of pens and paper and in the end have a visual record of this experience.

Claire Schneider: In our world today, it is easy to look at a moment of connection by going onto Facebook for a quick fix. The beauty of this project is the human face-to-face interaction. Time is one of the most precious commodities today, so spending some of it in real space with another person encourages a deeper experience. The material aspect frames and grounds the relationship even further, taking the two people out of their heads and into their bodies.

“Removing the voice of aesthetic judgment” sounds so refreshing. How is this empowering?

FK: This is really both empowering for artists and for people who do not consider themselves artists. For artists, it is a chance to let go of the voices of our training and the thoughts about formal and conceptual goals that we tend to respond to with when working in our studio. For non artists, it is an invitation into the rich world of personal visual expression in a context of whimsy and play facilitated through the act of collaboration. For both, it is a chance to tap into an impulse that is often lost in childhood, the opportunity to create without judging the creation. Doing this together takes the pressure off both participants to make something on their own that they will judge as good. In fact, one guideline that facilitates this freedom further is the option of simply recycling the drawing if it doesn’t turn out well.

CS: We live in a world of judgment. This is often increased when people enter an art institution.They might feel as if they are being tested on what they know. Drawing Together, however, wants to remove this critical voice. So many people talk about how they wish they could be artists, if they only had more time or more money. But the point usually is just less judgment, more acceptance. By drawing with someone else, like doing anything we aren’t comfortable doing, it’s helpful to have a guide. In this way, the participant begins to trust his or her first instincts. Just like it’s easier to go to the museum with someone who reminds you that whatever opinion you have about a contemporary artwork is really the best place to start thinking about it.

I understand that prints of the collaborative drawings and a book will be produced. The show seems to be a hybrid between performance and public art. Help us understand social practice a little better. 

FK: For me, social practice work is art that is about engaging community in a format that is more about process than product. It is work that after its creation exists most wholly in the mind of the participants. This piece is all about the people who I will be drawing with. Without the community there would be no project. The performance aspect is the offering of myself to be sitting there together with the people who come to sit with me. People can also watch while we draw and they will also see the time lapse videos of the process of each session. In this way the mystery of creation is taken out of hiding for an even wider community to see. Prints will be for sale at a reasonable price making the product of this project highly accessible. The book will be a further record of the process that will ideally facilitate this project happening again in different communities and contexts.

CS: Social practice art is a way to frame personal interaction as art. Maybe because in-person interaction is becoming more rare, artists see the need to re-focus attention here. A lot of contemporary art after Duchamp was about framing everyday things. In the last twenty years, the focus has become everyday activities, whether it is sharing a meal or doing the same activities as one’s neighbors for a day. It forces us to stop for a moment to recognize these simple experiences as valuable and ones worth highlighting so we can appreciate their beauty and power.