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FALL 2013 Programming at Milan's Il Bollate Prison

JULY 2013 Publicolor Student Day

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Random Dance workshop at Milano-Bollate Prison
Nicholas Fox Weber gives a lecture on Josef Albers to inmates at Milano-Bollate prison
Inmates listen to Nicholas Fox Weber's lecture at Milano-Bollate Prison
Josef Albers-inspired workshop at Milano-Bollate prison
Paper folding during a workshop at Milano-Bollate Prison
A drawing by an inmate of Milano-Bollate during the Josef Albers-inspired workshops
Jasmine leads inmates during Random Dance's workshop
Theresa leads inmates in a jumping exercise during Random Dance's workshop
Random Dance workshop at Milano-Bollate prison

Programming at Milan's Il Bollate Prison

The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation collaborated with E.S.T.I.A. Cooperativa to engage local prisoners in Milan through a series of workshops, lectures, and performances. E.S.T.I.A. is a Milan based non-profit that brings art and theater into local prisons. Our initiatives coincided with the exhibitions Josef Albers: Sublime Optics and Learning to See: Josef Albers as a Teacher, from the Bauhaus to Yale. This programming was organized in order to further our mission of bringing the art and teaching of the Alberses to new audiences, especially to those with little or no access to the arts.

Nicholas Fox Weber gave two lectures on the nature of seeing to inmates at Milano-Bollate Prison. The first lecture, on October 1st focused on Josef Albers, while the second lecture, on December 9th, introduced the life and work of Anni Albers.

Throughout the month of November, professors from the Academia di Brera lead workshops and seminars for inmates at Milano-Bollate Prison inspired by the teaching techniques and art of Josef Albers. These workshops were met with great enthusiasm by both the prisoners and the professors.

On December 2nd, a theater troupe comprised of inmates from Milano-Bollate Prison performed an original experimental theater piece at the Fondazione Stelline. The performance was inspired by texts, artworks, and the concurrent exhibition of and related to Josef Albers.

On December 10th, JAAF teamed up with Wayne McGregor's Random Dance to bring the prisoners of Milano-Bollate dance workshops. Random Dance, one of the leading international dance companies, does significant work to engage disenfranchised communities through dance. Their pedagogical mandate of learning by doing is very in line with that of the Alberses', and their time at Milano-Bollate was resoundingly impactful for everyone involved.

Nicholas Fox Weber leads Publicolor students down the driveway to the Foundation.
Samuel McCune's paper-folding station in the gallery.
Students experiment with paper folding.
Michael Beggs's matière and rearrangement station in the conference room.
Students rearrange, combine, and modify images cut from discarded magazines and exhibition catalogues.
Students create block structures with Eoghan Hoare near the construction site of the Foundation's new shed.
A student pauses during construction.
A student arranges various materials on a solar print at Fritz Horstman's photogram station.
A student attaches her fixed photogram to a cardboard display.
Jeannette Redensek's drawing station beside the Foundation offers ample inspiration.
Students take advantage of the unconventional materials, such as makeup, offered at Jeannette's drawing station.
Students utilize conventional materials such as pastels and crayons to enhance their creations.
A student exposes her print in the sun.
A student displays her finished rearrangement.
Students prepare to take their projects back to the city.
A young girl energetically engages with her drawing paper.
A young girl playfully examines a Foundation artifact.

Publicolor Student Day

On Friday July 19, the Albers Foundation welcomed sixty New York City high school students—participating in a summer program run by Publicolor—to a day of art and experience, conceived and run by Foundation staff members. We asked our staff participants to write their accounts of the day:

Nicholas Fox Weber
Executive Director the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation

On March 5, I read an article in The New York Times about "Publicolor", a non-profit organization in New York which had initiated a project to spruce up some fairly grim New York city schools by having students paint the walls in bright colors. Massimo Vignelli, an extraordinary designer and great fan of Josef's work, was, I learned, helping develop the palette, and had "decided to replace drab tan with colors with names like 'hot lips,' 'orange sky,' 'apple crisp,' 'lucky charm green,' and 'salsa.'" Publicolor's founder, Ruth Lande Shuman, "saw painting as a way to prepare students for the world of work, and developed 'a multiyear continuum' of academic tutoring and after-school workshops to sharpen skills that teenagers may not learn in class." I wrote to Ruth Shuman and Massimo Vignelli, saying that I would like to find a way for the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation to be of some use to them.

It was the start of an exciting collaboration. Massimo and I both gave lectures to Publicolor students in their summer program at the Pratt Art Institute; we are awarding a Josef Albers Scholarship to enable a Publicolor student to continue his or education. And we suggested a day of workshops at the Albers Foundation, inspired by the teaching philosophy and practices of Josef and Anni Albers. The day in Bethany described here is the happy results of that collaboration with this splendid organization.

The staff of the Albers Foundation worked with great enthusiasm and creativity to make the visit of some sixty Publicolor students a fantastic success.

Jeannette Redensek
Catalogue Raisonné of Josef Albers's paintings

We knew the bus would not make it down the driveway—a gravel drive that cuts sharply downhill to the Foundation from the main road, with two hairpin turns along the way, and no place to park or turn around at the end. The bus would unload the students at the top of the drive and they would walk the final quarter mile.

It had been humid and hot, really hot, tropically hot, all that week. With the summer's intense heat and heavy rains, the Foundation's forest of black birches, ashes, and oaks had become dense as a jungle. From the blazing hot of the asphalt road, the students would descend into the comparatively cool shadows of the woods.

The big decision for us was how to offer an engaging day of art for sixty students when we had no conventional classrooms or workshop spaces, not much in the way of read materials, and very little time to prepare.

We divided the class into groups of twelve or fifteen. Workshop spaces were staked out in and around the Foundation: paperfolding (Samuel McCune) in the gallery; rearrangement and matière studies (Michael Beggs) in the meeting room; photograms (Fritz Horstman) on the back porch; drawing (Jeannette Redensek) on a patch of shaded lawn; and building structures (Eoghan Hoare) on improvised tables set up in a wide section of the driveway.

Exploration, experimentation, and creative play were the goals of the day. Besides customary art supplies like paper, pencils, scissors, and glue, we focused on ways of making art with everyday and found materials. Photograms were made from rubber bands and paper clips, and screws, nails and fasteners gathered from the toolbox. The "bricks" for the building structures workshop were sawed from scraps of two-by-fours salvaged from the nearby building site. The Foundation recycling bins proved to be a treasure trove of discarded art magazines, auction catalogues, and newspapers to be used for the matiére and rearrangement workshop.

Alongside chalk and pastels, colored pencils and graphite, in the drawing workshop the students created studies with eye make-up and big chunks of charcoal manufactured from fallen trees on the Foundation property. A stack of gessoed paper offered a surface that magically made everything, from nails and copper wire to rocks and house keys, into mark makers. Even tightly wound scraps of the lead wrapping from wine bottles became implements for drawing.

Sheets of corrugated cardboard, folded into freestanding screens, offered a space to show examples of student work from the Foundation's collection (inspiration!), and a place for students to pin up their own work at the end of the day.

Nick Murphy
Projects Director

My favorite moment was overhearing two students in Sam's paper-folding group. "Hey, you're doing it wrong" said the first. Without missing a beat, his friend shot back, "Yo, I'm experimenting."

I was so taken by how many of the students were willing and excited to experiment with the materials provided. For many of them, it is not a usual classroom experience to be given the freedom to do whatever they wish. The disparate results and general excitement of the day proved the positivity of such activity.

Fritz Horstman
Artist Residency and Facilities Manager

In my workshop we made solar prints—using a type of photo paper that can be developed with only water—to make photograms. Students used washers, wire, paperclips, leaves, twigs, and many other items to create dynamic compositions on the photo paper. Each student made at least four prints, finding more and more advanced compositions as the subtleties of the technique were discovered. One of the best moments was when one student emptied an entire container of washers out, finding sawdust at the bottom. She then spread the sawdust around on her paper, making it thin in parts, and thick in others, while exploring the medium's abstract compositional possibilities.

Another great moment was to see a very young girl look straight at Anni Albers's large wallhanging, With Verticals, and to hear her whisper,

"This is future culture."

Allegra Itsoga
American Friends of Le Korsa Director

My task was to help serve lunch. That meant that I was free to observe all the workshop activities. I loved how engaged these kids were. I was so impressed at the way they interacted with both the group leaders and with each other.

Each group was excited by its project. In Eoghan's construction group I noticed one pair of students recreating a Jenga game board and attempting to understand why certain pieces made it collapse while others left the tower structurally sound. This type of critical thinking is something that they can apply throughout their lives and demonstrated a clear understanding of both the project at hand as well as the deeper theme behind it.

Several students were quite simply most taken by their surroundings. I overheard a group discussing the beauty of the forest. One commented that it looked like something out of a Grimm's Fairytale. I understood how unusual, and completely different from their accustomed New York City surroundings, the Bethany landscape was. Every leaf seemed to hold new meaning. Seeing the Foundation transformed by these young visitors was inspiring. Their energy was motivational and infectious!

Lucy Swift Weber Youdovin
Special Projects and Licensing

The Publicolor Day at the Albers Foundation gave me a chance to see my wonderful colleagues in a new light. As I was not teaching a workshop myself, I joined one of the activities and participated alongside the students, allowing me the chance to experience Jeannette as a teacher. Inspiring and encouraging, Jeannette was a truly wonderful teacher and I loved having the chance to be her student, if only for the afternoon.

Karis Medina
Guest Photographer

I documented the Publicolor visit with my camera, photographing the students as they arrived, gathered for Nick Weber's opening words, explored the grounds and buildings, and broke up into their separate activities. From their very arrival they seemed filled with nervousness and curiosity. "Why would you put a museum in the woods?" was a question I heard more than once.

Taking peeks at all of the students throughout the day I observed as they were confronted with diverse materials and the freedom to do almost anything. One student working very linearly in the block construction group marveled at his classmate who seemed to have a natural understanding of spatial structure. Another student in the solar print group was particularly focused on making an arrangement of objects that would create an intricate symmetrical pattern, while her neighbor experimented with only a few objects and varied exposure times. It was fascinating to watch initial hesitation give way to excitement and experimentation, allowing their individual hands to come through in their compositions and constructions.

Nicole Marino
Intern

Katabasis—a descent in search of enlightenment and understanding; a mythic journey to the underworld.

Sinking into the dense forest surrounding the Foundation during an intensely humid Connecticut heat-wave might have seemed like Hades to the Publicolor students, but it is the spirit of katabasis that imbued their visit to the Foundation. Equipped with Josef Albers's Polaroid camera, I observed and documented as my coworkers, along with the enduring vitality of Josef and Anni's works and teachings, led the Publicolor students through exercises that blossomed into a myriad of opportunities for creativity and fun. Hopefully the students' anabasis, their ascent up the Foundation driveway, out of the deep woods, and back into the city will allow them to carry and apply Josef and Anni's vitality well beyond their stay.