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Nor Boat Nor Fish No River: Using Collaboration and Teaching to Create a Cast-Paper Installation

Summer 2019
Summer 2019
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Winifred Lutz has worked with handmade paper for over 43 years. She credits her travel in Japan and Korea to observe papermaking and tools with giving her a perspective that has allowed her to combine Euro-pean and Asian techniques to create unusual hybrid processes and unique paper-casting methods, and to research and experiment with alternative fibers. She has published essays and given workshops on all these topics. She is also known for her site-integrated installation sculptures, which underscore the ecological and social processes that determine the discrete history of a place. Lutz currently lives  and works in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania. As fitting for this issue, the writing of this article was a collaborative effort. The piece is presented primarily in the first-person plural voice, while iden-tifying individuals in an informal, third-person voice, and concluding with individual reflections in the first-person voice by each of the four authors.—Ed. Since the Spring of 2016 the KCAI Crossroads Gallery: Center for Con-temporary Practice has invited artists, curators, writers, and scholars to work at the Kansas City Art Institute. The Center for Contemporary Practice program is faculty driven so that residents work collaboratively with students on cross-disciplinary projects and develop community-related outcomes such as public events, performances, exhibitions, or publications. The facilities at KCAI Crossroads Gallery include an artist-in-residence apartment, two galleries, and a large studio space.

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From September 2017 to April 2018, KCAI faculty members Co-rey Antis (Painting Department), Marie Bannerot McInerney (Fiber Department), and KCAI Crossroads Gallery Director Michael Schon-hoff worked with invited artist Winifred Lutz, sculptor and innova-tor in hand papermaking, to develop an exhibition project that would provide KCAI students hands-on experience and exposure to Winifred's expertise in handmade paper and mold mak-ing. Together we designed the project to include a residen-cy, workshop, lecture, and exhibition that engaged faculty, staff, and 26 students at KCAI. The result was Nor Boat Nor  Fish No River/By the Missouri, a site-integrated installation pre-sented in the KCAI Crossroads Gallery from April 6 to May 5, 2018. The exhibition also included a presentation of process sam-ples, methodologies, and prototypes related to Winifred's paper-making practice, detailing the collaboration and decision-making throughout this project.  A significant part of our collaboration was the long, prelimi-nary discussions in preparation for the workshop and exhibition. We spent over eight months laying out our framework through conference calls and emails. We focused on integrating a high-shrinkage-paper-casting workshop with the making of the compo-nents for the exhibition. Winifred supplied handmade prototypes and patterns for the molds, detailed instructions, and supply lists. Michael secured and supervised the team to produce the two types of molds in quantity. Marie and Corey coordinated their classes, set up the paper equipment at the Crossroads studio space, and prepared pulp and molds with the students. One of the main goals for projects initiated by the Cen-ter for Contemporary Practice program is to provide space and time for students from various departments across campus to work together towards a shared goal. We decided early on that  Corey and Marie would focus on bringing together two elec-tive classes—Corey's The Drawing Book and Marie's Temporality Though Handmade Paper—so that the project could serve students from multiple departments and levels. The outcome brought to-gether 26 students from painting, fiber, printmaking, ceramics, and animation. The imagery and structure for the installation came from Winifred's research into the Missouri river system, its history, and ecology. Historically, the most dependable boats on the Missouri were dugouts made from the same massive cottonwood trees that created the snags that trapped and destroyed boats. Shovelnose sturgeons inhabit the length of the river. They are primeval, the ultimate survivors. Together, the dugout and the sturgeon became a way to define the river, as embodiments of the history, hydrol-ogy, and ecology of the river, and of the strategies of living to nego-tiate the Missouri's exigencies. The gallery provided the channel. Winifred designed the mold prototypes with three objectives in mind: 1. To demonstrate two methods of high-shrinkage-flax-pulp casting with molds that would guarantee results even though most of the students had little or no experience with papermaking.  2. To design the molds so that they were economical in ma-terial use, reusable, and simple enough in fabrication that they could be duplicated in quantity at KCAI before the workshop. This included supplying patterns and creating PowerPoints as manuals for casting the molds during the workshop. 3. To create fleets of boats and of sturgeons to define the river through the gallery installation so that all participants would have genuine contributing authorship to the outcome. Winifred chose the method of laminate casting over a wood frame for the boats because it has more parallels with boat build-ing, and a pour-casting method for the shovelnose sturgeons be-cause the method produces a more fluid organic form. In both cases the molds were designed to guarantee consistency of shape while allowing for broad idiosyncrasies in detail that could be arrived at by manipulating the pulp surface. This allowed the stu-dents to recognize and implement the variations that attention to beating, forming, and surface manipulation can yield without resorting to pigments or other additives. The workshop process was designed to accommodate missteps/mistakes, thus demon-strating that it is attention to what happens that matters.  The wooden molds were fabricated at KCAI using replication technology. Michael coordinated this with master woodworker April Pugh and Crossroads intern Arianna Bonner. Arianna scanned Winifred's templates for mechanical milling on KCAI's CNC router; April assembled the molds. This created the parts relatively quickly. Fully assembled, the parts became a school of wooden sturgeon molds and a fleet of wooden boat molds to be used for the paper-casting workshop.  A large amount of high-shrinkage pulp from raw flax had to be prepared in advance of the workshop. Winifred and Marie shared samples and communicated over the phone about this prior to Winifred's arrival. To set the standard for the workshop pulps, we did a beat by phone. Our protocol involved Marie taking pic-tures of pulp appearance, dispersion tests, and formation/shrink-age tests at regular intervals, and emailing them to Winifred. We would then call and discuss how to proceed with the beating cycle (roll-to-bed clearance and duration before the next test). We used raw flax pre-soaked 24 hours. The pulp was prepared in KCAI's Howard Clark Twinrocker beater.  For the first six hours, Marie did hourly photographs of the pulp appearance and of dispersion tests followed by formation/shrinkage tests hourly beginning at the sixth hour of the cycle. The completed pulp was shipped to Winifred to test on her prototype molds.  Once a beating protocol was established, Corey's and Marie's students were organized into teams of two (one from each class) to share in preparing the pulp. Most had never beaten pulp before. Each pair began their beat cycle at 9 AM with Marie, and were given two days to complete an 11- or 12-hour beat. The students were also expected to do tests every hour, starting at six hours, so that they could watch the pulp transform. They completed three samples for every test so that each student would have a sample set and one set would be used as a reference for the workshop. This provided Winifred with an understanding of each pulp avail-able so that she could mix specific pulps for the sturgeons and the boats. Every pulp batch was different. One batch was a mistake; a team lowered the roll to cut too early and left it too long, result-ing in a pulp with little fiber length and extreme shrinkage. The virtue of this "mistake" for the workshop and the installation was  multifold: Winifred was able to demonstrate how the unexpected can be used if it is observed for what it does rather than being re-jected as wrong. Mixed with some longer fibered pulp, the "mis-take" produced a pulp that dried to a dark brown in contrast to the tan for the boats. We used it to differentiate the sturgeons from the boats. This helped to reveal the range of visual qualities that different beating methods and pulp mixes can yield with the same fiber. For the workshop, Corey and Marie transformed the KCAI Crossroads Gallery studio space into a papermaking workspace, and the two classes met there together seven times over three weeks. To preserve class time for the casting procedures, Win-ifred, Corey, and Marie mixed the two pulp types and Marie and Winifred formed sheets and prepared wet packs ahead of class time. Each boat required nine sheets, two of which were double-couched, and each sturgeon required two pours plus a double-couched un-pressed sheet for surface finishing. In all Marie and Winifred formed roughly 290 sheets, measuring 8.5 x 11 inches, for both the boats and sturgeons. We had additional help from two interns working to support this project, Kate Suchan, a soph-omore in the Painting Department, and Miranda Pratt, a junior in the Fiber Department. Winifred started every class with a PowerPoint that included directions and photos documenting the casting steps involved  so that every student could have an optimal view of what she would subsequently, physically demonstrate. All steps were print-ed and displayed in the studio for later reference. Winifred also posted shovelnose sturgeon pictures for inspiration. She wanted complexity for the boat surfaces, and sturgeons that were "simple but sinister." During the workshop the students dedicated great energy and careful attention to their castings. No boat or sturgeon was like any other. Infinite variation took place in the performance of each casting despite the apparent sameness of the molds. The installation of the paper castings in the gallery was pow-ered by a freedom made possible by our framework of coopera-tion. The process was simultaneously an atelier, an orchestra, and an expedition.  Winifred had designed a layout for the distribution of the boats and sturgeons so that they would collectively evoke the Mis-souri river in the gallery: the boats were its "surface" (each hung with its gunwales 55 inches from the floor) and the shovelnose sturgeons swimming were its "depths" (sturgeons were suspend-ed with their backs 22.5 inches from the floor). Our river turned at the end of the gallery as it does at its confluence with the Kansas River in Kansas City. To reference the big keel boat that was part of the Lewis and Clark expedition, Winifred cast a larger long boat to lead the pack. In all, we had 27 boats and 28 sturgeons (Marie and Corey also made boats and sturgeons) plus Winifred's 45-inch boat, her "dark" sturgeon, and her "sturgeon with barbels," the prototype casting from a mold she decided not to use for the workshop. We printed copies of the flow-pattern plan with the boats and sturgeons labeled as a gallery map for visitors so that they could discover who had made each casting. At the gallery's entrance, opposite the river of boats and stur-geons was an installation of the gunwale silhouettes that were a residue of the demolding of the boats. These flat artifacts looked like a view of each boat hull from above. They were installed in a 12-foot-tall formation to describe a full-size dugout typical of the time of the Lewis and Clark expeditions. The smaller gallery revealed the educational process by pre-senting molds, beating tests, prototype castings, and continuous videos of the methods used for casting, drying, and demolding of the boats and the sturgeons. The beating-test records, with the actual test samples were on a long table in the center with the invitation for visitors to touch these. Winifred's prototype molds and samples of the molds KCAI produced based on them were on the walls with her prototype castings suspended next to them. Students also participated in the installation process. They were involved in preparing the castings for hanging and they ob-served the method we developed of mapping the gallery ceiling for positioning of the hang bars for the castings. At the conclu-sion of the project, we discussed at length the entire process with the students. These conversations yielded additional insights and possibilities for future collaborations. In conclusion, since none of us had done anything quite like this before, we wanted to close with individual commentaries. This project was about learning through collaboration. I found the opportunity to work directly with Winifred and our students espe-cially beneficial. Preparing pulp and engaging with someone else's process requires one to see beyond one's own criteria to observe in new ways. Our students were able to take part in nearly all aspects of the project. We analyzed pulp, reviewed freshly pressed sheets, and worked with a variety of tools. Through conversation and in-teraction, it was revealed how much we assume that others see how we see. In response we worked to clarify our observations, articulate our insights, and share information. This is a reminder of how nec-essary openness and trust are for any collaboration and I am grate-ful for the Winifred Lutz project for generating these discussions.  —Mary Bannerot McInerney, Faculty, KCAI Fiber Department The KCAI Crossroads Gallery: Center for Contemporary Practice serves as a laboratory for projects involving artists in residence, stu-dents, public engagements, and gallery presentations. It is unique in that it provides a decelerated space away from campus, where stu-dents can be fully present. By embracing collaboration and process-oriented solutions we challenge the notion of an ‘outcome.' We hope that by working this way with students we inspire correspondence and dialogue as well as trust in process, common goals, and em-phasizing each team member's strengths. One objective is to gener-ate different approaches to making, breaking down barriers between curator, artist, student, and teacher. Together, we are developing an-other way to learn (and teach) at KCAI through interactions and collaborations with established, respected artists like Winifred Lutz. —Michael Schonhoff, KCAI Crossroads Gallery Director This was the first time I have combined teaching paper-casting pro-cesses with creating a site-integrated installation. I wanted to blend the making of the installation with the teaching/learning process so that the whole experience would be more like composing and conduct-ing a performance with practitioners in training. The students' cre-ation of the boats and sturgeons with the molds and methods I dem-onstrated enhanced their understanding of the techniques, but it also made them genuine players in the ensemble. I gained valuable insight about my own techniques from seeing what many others did with it. It was important to me that the project allowed the students to ex-perience how the unexpected can be used rather than being rejected for being wrong. In fact, this became a refrain for teaching this work-shop: What happened? What does it do/look like? How can we use it? —Winifred Lutz, Invited Artist This collaboration emerged out of an investigation into how paper, book making, and site-responsive installation can change our aware-ness of process and space. To that end, the process that we constructed supported several complementary practices, where each participant— student, faculty, artist, and staff member—became both a storehouse of information as well as a voice for the exchange of views.  By using the Missouri River and its ecosystem as a guide, the stur-geon sculptures that Winifred Lutz designed directly questioned what a reference could be. In between the paper's development and the sculp-tures' construction and installation, a separate condition seemed to pres-ent itself for me. Not a copy of the fish, nor a diorama of the river, nor simply a procedural exploration of material—the success of this process and exhibition stemmed from a realization that our subject was our per-ception of these topics through discovery and collaborative authorship. —Corey Antis, Faculty, KCAI Painting Department