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Fieldwork Marfa launches international research in residence program

October 6th, 2011 under Arts


MARFA – Marfa will become a laboratory for critical thought in a new project that’s a collaborative effort among three major European art schools.

Sponsored by the ESBA Nantes Metropole, in France, HEAD-Geneve, in Switzerland, and Gerrit Rietveld Academie, in the Netherlands, Fieldwork Marfa is a program that gives international artists, art critics and art historians the opportunity to live in Marfa for residencies of two to three months, where they’ll consider a broad range of issues that relate to aspects of the region.

“This city has a lot of issues that are interesting for art institutes,” said Etienne Bernard, the project manager from Nantes. “This place will become like a tool for our schools to bring researchers and students from our programs to deal with the issues of Marfa.”

The program intends to immerse researchers into the community while they explore topics such as art in the public sphere, the alteration of landscape or the many-layered nature of the border. The old Galleri Urbane space has been repurposed for the Fieldwork lab, providing work and living areas. The program’s first two residents, Emily Bovino, an American who grew up in Hong Kong, and Wilfrid Almendra, a French artist, have arrived. A third resident is expected in a few weeks; a total of six researchers will cycle through over the course of a year.

Though art making can be part of the residency, it doesn’t have to be.

Emily Verla Bovine, Etienne Bernard, Mai Tran, Valerie Breuvart Culbertson and Wilfrid Almendra stand in front of the Fieldwork lab. (staff photo by ALBERTO TOMAS HALPERN)

“This is not an art center, but a research center,” said Bovino. “I’m interested in the idea of defining what artistic field work is for people. We haven’t defined artistic field work. What does it mean? Is there knowledge being produced or is it just experience?”

Bovino uses a fictional character, named RK, as a device to gather information. She’ll talk to area residents and explore the landscape through their stories. She may convey these observations into audio plays or a video diary, a radio broadcast or somewhere in virtual space.

“I hope to have people constantly interacting,” she said. “I want to meet with people and make a profile for myself of the landscape over time.”

Almendra is a sculptor interested in studying how humankind impacts the environment. The Sunbelt’s unabashed suburbia holds a special draw. He’ll travel to Phoenix for research and return here, a place without strip malls or box stores or cookie-cutter houses, for thought and action.

“Marfa is like a lab for me,” he said through translator Valerie Breuvart Culbertson, a Marfa resident who’ll act as the local liaison and project manager. “My interest may be to contrast places like the Sunbelt with the authenticity of a place like Marfa.”

Almendra has in mind building a reproduction of a 1960 structure by Dutch artist Constant Nieuwenhuys, a Situationist International member who constructed a utopian architectural project in a French playground.

“The idea is to rebuild it with materials that are gathered from typical, standard, suburban architectural elements,” he said. “It would be a contrast between the utopia of this architecture with the architecture of Constant, which was a different type of utopia living.”

The fellowship, which pays $3,000, lasts for one year; the Marfa residency is just a part of the researchers’ overall project. Local lectures, discussions or shows might be planned, depending on the researchers’ inclinations, facilitated by Culbertson, the Marfa liaison.

“We definitely want to tie these projects with the community and what’s happening here,” she said. “This may take different forms; there’s not one standard way of doing it.”

The researchers are expected to share their work and the information they’ve gathered at a symposium at one of the three European host schools. A publication of their research year will be produced annually.

“We offer time in Marfa and provide some resources,” said Bernard. “What we expect in return isn’t production, but a time of sharing experiences with our students. They’re sharing their research with us in our institute and laboratories in our schools. They feed our research institutes.”

In between research cycles, when the Fieldwork space is empty, students and teachers from the three schools will travel to Marfa for their own projects. Bovino predicts that the work done by researchers and students in the Fieldwork program will have a far-reaching impact.

“Marfa is playing a crucial role in the direction art will take in the next 10 years,” she said. “It’s exciting for the community to be in the center of something like that.”

(Fieldwork Marfa hosts an open house from 11am to 2pm Saturday at 212 E. San Antonio St., where you can learn more about the program and meet the current Fieldwork researchers and some of the staff. Everyone is welcome.

Artist Emily Bovino would like to meet local folks as a part of her research. Contact her Saturday or email:

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