Friday, October 3, 2008

Project Proposal, in Case you're Curious

I thought I would throw my project proposal and personal statement in here, in case anyone's interested in what exactly I am supposed to be doing while I'm here. It's always really funny to reread stuff like this that you have to make yourself sound super awesome in... well i did this and that and won this... I probably should've also written about how productive and interested I was in school my senior year. Of course, Jordan (aka Tommy Eightball) and I did create classhole!


Sculptural Explorations of the Landscape's Roles in Icelandic Society and Culture

My goal is to create sculptural works of art that speak to the relationships that the people of Iceland have with their landscape, based primarily on the various roles of the landscape within Icelandic society and culture. I plan on exploring both the power that the environment has on a lone viewer, as well as the power that it provides to society. My growing understanding of the people and culture of Iceland will inform this project, as my work has greatly benefited from experiences in new environments and interactions with new people.

Ever since Iceland was first inhabited in the late 800s its people have encountered difficulty establishing a sustainable lifestyle. As the Pulitzer Prize winning author Jared Diamond explains in his book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, the seemingly lush and fertile land of Iceland that settlers first set eyes on was actually a very fragile and unyielding environment, due primarily to volcanic activity and the fact that ten thousand years were needed to create its initial lush beauty.

After centuries of hardships, however, Iceland has learned to live with its impressive and diverse landscape, containing active volcanoes, geysers, hot springs, glaciers, and waterfalls, becoming one of the richest countries in the world on a per­ capita basis, as well as being named the fourth happiest nation in a 2006 study conducted by the University of Leicester. Iceland is truly a land of both fire and ice and the people ofIceland today know, love, utilize, and protect their landscape. Approximately 85% of their homes are heated using renewable geothermal energy, while 72% of all needs in Iceland are met through renewable resources. Iceland alone can also boast plans for completely ridding the country of its dependence on fossil fuels.

The relationship that individuals share with their natural surroundings is also of the highest importance. The German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich is known for his oil paintings portraying individuals overlooking massive natural beauty, which refer not only to the enjoyment of a beautiful view, but also to an instant of sublimity that effortlessly evokes feelings of peace and unity. Additionally, the contemporary work of the Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson exemplifies the use of the senses to actively exploit the importance and beauty of natural activity. One of my favorite pieces of his, Double Sunset, juxtaposes the sun with a brightly-lit circular yellow billboard that causes viewers to appreciate the irreplaceable beauty and authority of the sun, an idea that remains with viewers even after the work has been taken down.

By experiencing Iceland's startling sites and deciphering what makes each a unique and inspiring occurrence, I can create work that speaks to the elements that make them so grand. An understanding of the many and varied ways that Iceland makes practical use of its landscape will also fuel my creative process. Landsvirkjun, one of Iceland's largest energy providers, has agreed to educate me on energy production and environmental issues in Iceland by giving me tours of their power stations, which are all based on renewable and emission-free electricity production using hydropower and geothermal energy. I am eager to explore examples of how an awareness of the environment contributes to the lifestyle of the Icelandic community. The Blue Lagoon, a heated swimming pool and famous attraction, was formed in the 1970s by the runoff from the Svartsengi power plant. I also understand that roads have been rerouted to avoid mystical activities tied closely with the landscape, which adds another interesting level to these relationships between the land and its inhabitants.

In addition to providing environmentally conscious energy, Landsvirkjun also sponsors competitions that result in the creation of public art at its various facilities. It is common practice in Iceland for families and businesses alike to purchase impressive sculptural works, as artists are viewed as the primary developers of culture. These connections between the environment, the people, and the culture of Iceland are what make it such a desirable place for me to develop my work. I hope to become involved in this unique situation by leaving some completed work with the people or groups that aid my project and its process.

The most noteworthy of my contacts is the Reykjavik Academy of the Arts, which has agreed to support my project in any way that it can. I have also been in contact with individuals from various groups within the Association of Icelandic Visual Artists who can help me acquire space, among other needs, upon my arrival in Iceland. Additionally, Eirikur Thorlaksson, a former director of both the Reykjavik Art Museum and the Fulbright program in Iceland, has proven to be a great resource during my preparation for this project and has agreed to continue aiding me through its completion. Lastly, a personal friend through Carnegie Mellon, Gunnhildur Jonsdottir, is a working artist in Iceland who can provide additional guidance for my time abroad.

Essentially, this project is about relationships, and although I have referred primarily to the relationships with the landscape, its success will also rely much on my immersion in Icelandic culture. Traveling to unique places with the goal of creating art is an important part of my practice on its own. Similar to my artistic goals of highlighting valuable, but often overlooked, aspects of life, experiencing new cultures calls direct attention to dimensions of myself that allow me to reevaluate my surroundings in new tenns. Even the public art I have created in varying neighborhoods requires a consciousness of an area's cultural makeup and identity. During my experiences abroad in Ghana, where English is the national language, a working knowledge of the local tongue, called Twi, allowed me to more deeply connect with Ghanaians, as my efforts were viewed as an attempt to further appreciate and understand the culture.

With this in mind, it is crucial to me that I do what I can to learn more about the language and culture of Iceland before I venture to the island, even tbough most Icelanders speak English quite well. To this point, the more I learn about the culture the more intrigued I am by it, particularly by the depth of history and lore that accompany the unusual landscape. Through the use of books, films, and online tools, I plan on continuing to gain such knowledge. I am also currently seeking out a local tutor that can provide the necessary human element to the language process, as well as any other sources that could prove helpful.

The people of Iceland have shown a consciousness of their landscape that should be shared with the rest of tbe world. I want to continue my sculptural practice and education in Iceland, a setting that will by its very nature expand my ideas and desires, allowing me to return home with knowledge that will enhance the possibilities of my future practices.


When I look back at my childhood I see a wide variety of things. One thing I don't see much of, however, is toys. My idea of fun was rarely to play with something someone else had made, unless you count soccer balls. Instead, I see my father's woodshop and box of scraps, freshly plowed mounds of snow, and moist piles of fall leaves, all pleading me to transform them into something more, whether secret hideouts, futuristic pirate ships, or inspired sculptures.

I have also been interested in human relationships and other cultures for some time. Even as a child I felt the need to work problems out with those around me, understanding that most disagreements are caused by a lack of appreciation for others' situations. During a semester abroad in Ghana, I chose to spend a month alone in a small village where I learned Ashanti woodcarving under a mango tree during the day, played soccer with the village children in the evening, and visited with neighbors at night. My desire to create paired with my interest in the lives of others has materialized into a degree in fine art with a minor in psychology from Carnegie Mellon University.

Likewise, the projects I have participated in tie closely with my desires to build and inspire. I just completed working with a group of fellow Carnegie Mellon students on a sustainable house that runs on solar energy for a competition in Washington D.C. called the Solar Decathlon. In collaboration with three other artists, I designed and constructed what we call the greenscape of the house, which is a tiered, planted system that connects the house's landscape to its green roof, utilizing rainwater to grow plants that provide shade, insulation, and natural habitat.

I have also been involved in many public art programs. The ability of public art to actively affect people that do not seek out artistic influence is what makes it so valuable. I volunteered with the Industrial Arts Co-op in Pittsburgh, constructing a large public sculpture built from salvaged steel as a tribute to Pittsburgh's industrial past. I participated in the Doors of Oakland Project, sponsored by the Oakland Buisness Improvement District, which is consisted of ten artists painting unused doors in the downtown Oakland area in an attempt to beautify and reclaim the streetscape. Additionally, I am currently working on a 700 square foot mural in Greenfield, a Pittsburgh neighborhood, in an attempt to heighten the sense of pride and community in the neighborhood. The mural depicts porches and facades from the neighborhood fitting together like a puzzle, connected by stairs with no definitive up or down. It will be the first piece of public art in Greenfield.

My work is predominantly about appreciation for our surroundings. I want my viewers to value things that are often taken for granted. In a piece titled Persistence, the beauty of moss growing in the cracks of a weathered sidewalk is emphasized by its location on the wall as high art. My piece Untitled (Tree Swing) presents a nostalgic childhood swing in an emotionally charged and surreal horizontal position, asking questions concerning function, value, and youth. By referencing commonplace things, I can be certain that the ideas behind my work will be repeatedly sparked in the minds of its viewers. The success of many of my works lies in the fact that they allude to things much more beautiful and grand than themselves, often tied in some way to the natural environment.

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