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Collaborative Design

Adventures at UNTITLED.

On a cold and dark November morning, as the snow lay crisp and shiny, we pulled our fully loaded truck out of a parking lot in Grand Rapids and started off on a journey to warmer destinations. We were heading south to Miami Beach, but we weren’t making this 22-hour drive to work on our tans down by the ocean or bask in the neon nightlife; we had work to do, and serious work at that.

For the next five days, my fellow Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) student Eric Schroeder and I were given the opportunity to work with the Grand Rapids-based nonprofit art organization SiTE:LAB to install artist Julie Schenkelberg’s massive piece, titled “Lumerian Shift,” at this year’s UNTITLED. Art Fair, the biggest contemporary art fair in North America.

We arrived in South Beach with the truck ready to be unloaded. Julie, SiTE:LAB founder/curator Paul Amenta and builder/handyman Bob Rogers were there to greet us, and we were all escorted to our ocean-side tent by Miami Beach police officers. As we began to empty the truck, we quickly filled our part of the exhibition space with Julie’s materials, drawing attention to what would be the biggest installation at UNTITLED.

The physical installation was rather efficient, and the first two days flew by successfully. This is the true magic of working with a collaborative group like SiTE:LAB; stuff just gets done when a bunch of people contribute their own talents and insights. For example, the piece was mostly pre-engineered at SiTE:LAB’s current headquarters on Rumsey St. in Grand Rapids by one of SiTE:LAB’s master builders, Tom Simmons. Because of this preparatory logistical planning, we went down with (just about) every detail and item we needed to assemble Julie’s piece smoothly.

Because “Lumerian Shift” was so enormous – the work curated by Paul is often at a scale incomparable to most – UNTITLED officials had allowed us to begin two days early (in fact, the UNTITLED curator we worked with continually encouraged us to “go bigger,” something that made us all happy). It was a bit comical to see people’s reactions as this 25-foot tower of beautifully aligned rubble was more or less completed by the time other galleries came in to hang their paintings and position their sculptures just right. In the end, we actually finished helping Julie earlier than anticipated. At that point, she needed to take over and go into detailed perfection, but Paul kept us busy by connecting us with the Chicago-based Carrie Secrist Gallery, and Eric and I headed to their area to help Brooklyn-based artist Danielle Tegeder with her installation.

OK, so turkey sandwiches and gas station food in a hotel for Thanksgiving dinner was different, but I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. The experience was incredible, especially for a student such as myself who aspires to do similar work in the future. I couldn’t be more thankful to KCAD for their support of SiTE:LAB and helping make connections for students in the world of art and design beyond the classroom, and of course to the entire SiTE:LAB crew for being such an amazing group of highly-talented, smart and creative individuals. Not only was this trip an extremely beneficial learning experience that provided me with new insights into the art world, it also provided possibilities for professional networking that I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else, and in warm, sunny Florida no less – how can you beat that?

To me, our experience in Miami strongly showcases the importance of student volunteering, and demonstrates how those opportunities can open up doors rarely imaginable otherwise as an undergrad student. As a collaborative designer, I find it critically important to blur the lines between art and design, especially as I find myself taking quite the cross-disciplinary approach to a creative career.

Do I plan to become a fine artist someday? Maybe. Do I plan to work with/for nonprofits, collaborate with individuals of different backgrounds, travel, build stuff, engineer things and work my butt off until I’m drained? Absolutely. And it’s experiences like this that makes me feel as if I’m heading in the right direction.

Oh, and the great feedback we received from Julie didn’t hurt either. Here’s what she had to say when we touched base with her after UNTITLED:

“Eric and Ian’s involvement was instrumental in assembling the installation. They were present to offer their skills of organization, design and understanding of the artistic process. It was important to stay organized in a limited amount of space and time to assemble the installation. They efficiently arranged and pre-staged materials that were constructed on-site into the sculpture. Their sensitivity to being present and ready to help while watching me make a decision was effectively smooth for the whole process.”

-Julie Schenkelberg

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