Feature Articles

April 2014

Clemson University in Clemson, SC, Installs Public Site Specific Art Project

Atelier InSite is Clemson University’s new Creative Inquiry project that embarks on collaborative research to bring site-specific public art to new capital improvement projects on campus. Creative Inquiry is an educational initiative at Clemson University that engages undergraduate students in applied research and real team projects. Atelier InSite is unique in that it fosters a cross-disciplinary and inclusive approach that is predominantly student driven: “By students, for students.” The overarching goal is to create a “new paradigm for the administration of public art on university campuses.” The term “Atelier” is derived from a French word with a root translating, “workshop” or “studio.” Atelier InSite is a unique Creative Inquiry in that it transcends many departmental boundaries, taking the platform for cross-disciplinary research and field collaboration.

The project began in August of 2012 when representative faculty from the Art Department were invited by the Clemson University Master Planners Office and the Perkins + Will architecture firm to join the conversation for artwork planned for a new state-of-the-art Life Sciences Facility. They were brought on board for aesthetic consultation, but instead pitched the idea that the project should become a collaborative and interdisciplinary partnership under the Creative Inquiry initiative, which has its roots in applied student research. The project for implementing art for the Life Sciences Facility would be funded by a provision in Clemson’s Master Planner’s Design Guidelines. This provision states that ½ of 1% of the university capital improvement projects exceeding a budget of $2 million dollars would be set aside for funding a public art initiatives on campus.

Taking President Jim Barker’s advice, the faculty presented the Atelier InSite/Creative Inquiry initiative to Clemson’s Administrative Council requesting that the former provision, be made an official university policy. The measure was subsequently passed by the council, which now means that every future university funded construction project (exceeding $2 million in budget) on Clemson’s horizon will be funded and will thus foster the presence of art on campus. The Atelier group has received great enthusiasm from its onset: from President Barker, the university administration, and faculty, to deans of the various colleges. Dave Detrich pointedly shared that without the support, trust, and enthusiasm gained from the Master Planners Office and the Dean’s, faculty and students from the College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Life Sciences (CAFLS), the success of the project would not have been possible.

The new Life Sciences Facility was the first of these interdepartmental projects with the team effort composed of both the Art Department and CAFLS students. They were given the creative license and freedom to develop the project from the first meeting, drafting the initiative’s mission and guiding principles, to the building’s opening ceremony, complete with a Clemson “orange” red carpet, fireworks, and the Tiger mascot.

The student group, led by Art Department Professor Dave Detrich, Senior Lecturer, Joey Manson, and Lee Gallery Director, Denise Woodward-Detrich, which meets once a week and is comprised of 12-15 students each semester. It began in 2012 with 6 visual arts students and 6 life science students, but as the projects have expanded and evolved, so has the team. It is currently comprised of students representing the different areas of study that are directly related to the research explored in each proposed building and public art site. With new projects around the corner, the group now boasts student representatives from each of Clemson’s five colleges. Students are recommended and recruited by each college’s administration and faculty based on significant academic achievement, involvement, and ambition.

This project is “Uniquely Clemson” in that it is student driven: “By students, for students.” To date, over 28 students have been involved. They come on board for various reasons; from helping to bring art to campus that expresses “freedom and creativity” in their program, to getting experience in cross-disciplinary research leaving a unique legacy at Clemson. They value finding an avenue to be involved in getting experience in the field they may one day like to work in, learning about collaborative art initiatives, and community planning. Students play a role in every level of the process from research, to proposal, to implementation. They learn important skills about the ins and outs of funding, budgeting educational research, administrative communication, and public impact.

One of the many goals of Creative Inquiry is to bring students together from varied academic disciplines. From the beginnings of Atelier InSite none could foresee the degree to which these students would learn from and impact each other. The faculty dedicated the first few Creative Inquiry class sessions to this alone. The students came in prepared to share the basics of their educational backgrounds; Art students gave a presentation about the fundamental principles of art and art criticism and then gave the stage to the Life Science students who gave lessons on the basics of Biology and Life Sciences related research. The art students provided insight to the art historical influences, contemporary impact, creative technique, and overall aesthetic coherence to the art submitted, while the life science students provided the knowledge of the sciences and empirical research. This critical exercise started the important conversation of how the work in the space could be contingent upon the research done in the building.

Atelier InSite is not only a unique project because of its student centeredness, influential breadth, and promise of prodigious and long-term educational and community impact; it is unique in its unprecedented devotion to interdisciplinary collaboration. Detrich stressed why shared ideas, communication, and collaboration throughout the project’s entirety is so important, “This is not only by students, for students, but it is derived from a small collective for a very large public collective. When we enter an art museum or gallery, we make a conscious decision to be there, and in some ways, through interpretive material, etc., are guided in how to look at and interact with the art. [When we, in this project] propose and install public art, we in essence make that decision for each person; we decide where it goes and what they will encounter in their daily routine on campus. We endeavor to disarm apprehension about art in the public realm. This is why it is so critical to involve them –the administration, the students, and the faculty at all levels. This is an inclusive enterprise where everyone needs to be accounted for in some capacity… it is critical to give them ownership, otherwise we could never be remotely successful.”

The process of selecting an artist for a new space starts with a student led conversation with deans, faculty, and departmental heads, beginning with the question “what kind of work would be coherent in the physical space and accurately reflect the research of that program/department?” Students then send out a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) call to artists world wide, utilizing the established mission, vision, and guiding principles they initially composed as a guide. Typically hundreds of RFQ’s flow in and the students research each artist’s work, discussing disciplinary relevance and contemporary aesthetic ingenuity. Once the number is narrowed down, the Master Planner’s Office, the Deans of the participating college, facilities staff, and the departmental faculty and students are asked to join the conversation. The students then contact a small number of selected artists and request they send a fully budgeted and modeled proposal. It is then that one of these artists gets to play a role in a lasting legacy of Site-Specific Public Art on the Clemson campus.

The artist for the very first Atelier InSite Creative Inquiry project is San Francisco based artist, Klari Reis. Her artwork, “The Clemson Genus Project” will be installed within the three-level atrium area of the new Life Sciences Facility.

Reis received her MFA and Associate Research Fellowship from City and Guilds of London Art School in London, England. She also holds a BA from University of California at Davis and an AA from University of California at Santa Barbara. Her finished work will be comprised of 600 individualized paintings embedded in laboratory Petri dishes of varying sizes. Each of these paintings composed of powders, acrylics, dyes, and plastics has a unique aesthetic and different title. The artist has invited members of the Clemson community to participate in the project by soliciting title suggestions on a blog site. Responses on the site have ignited conversations based on individualized perception: What do you see in this abstraction? What emotive response do these colors evoke?

These brilliantly colored and characterized organisms have the capacity to intrigue any scientist, inspire any artist. They bubble, froth, and erupt in every color and organic form imaginable. The forms and colors divide and grow like cells, explode like galaxies, mushroom like fungus, branch like capillaries, pool like blood, bead like dew, spiral like the iris of an eye, buzz with the electricity of a neon fluorescent, flower like a rose, and sizzle like the yoke of an egg. The artist will be on campus Apr. 21-25 to install the work on site. The dedication for the project will take place on April 25 at 1:30pm. The public is invited and encouraged to attend. Klari’s other work can be found at the dailydish.com and a link to her blog can be found at clemsongenus.blogspot.com

The steam of this engine has been chugging away since the conversation began in 2012. Future projects have already left the station and projects have been planned out past 2017. Besides the Atelier InSite project for upcoming Life Sciences Facility dedication, the campus will next get to enjoy an installation outside of Lee Hall III, the young academic facility for Foundations Art, Architecture studios, and Landscape Architecture. The RFQ, which is the international artist invitational letter and call for qualifications and has been publicized for the placement of an artwork in front of the newly constructed Lee III. Artists worldwide have submitted nearly 200 applications for the outdoor site. The installation is slated for March 2015.

A project for the The Watt Family Innovation Center is currently being researched by the group and will be built near the recently constructed Academic Success Center and Cooper Library. It will be centered on academic collaboration and student engagement. The balance will enhance academic, scholarship and athletic programs, most specifically for the colleges of Health, Education, and Human Development; and Engineering and Science. The Creative Inquiry team has already brought engineering students on board for this initiative and the breadth of disciplinary background has never been so diverse. Future projects a few years out include the Spaulding Paolozzi Center at Clemson’s Architecture program Charleston location, a project for the Business and Behavioral Science College, and the proposed construction a Campus Core Project near the current Clemson House.

This “Uniquely Clemson” project has already gained notoriety from public campuses across the nation. While other Top 20 institutions indeed have initiatives for funding public art on campus, Clemson alone allows for the initiative to be a student driven project, placing an admirable faith in the professionalism, creativity, and ambition of their students. The legacy that it brings to the Clemson campus is the first of many innovative strides that will leave a cultural thumbprint on a proud, prospering, and ever progressing institution and continues to build on Thomas Green Clemson’s view of “The Beautiful Arts – the magic bonds which unite all ages and nations”.

For more information about Atelier InSite or the public art program at Clemson University please contact Denise Woodward-Detrich by e-mail at (woodwaw@clemson.edu) or by calling 864/656-3883 or by visiting (www.clemson.edu/centers-institutes/cva/public-art/).

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