When Will My Reflection Show Who I am Inside?

Abby Piette
day 17:: reflection // 5.31.17

Amsterdam was exciting, exhausting, inspiring, challenging, and… unseasonably warm. Since this was my first trip out of the country, almost everything seemed interesting: the 2 Euro coin, the multitude of bikes, the laundry hanging out to dry, the graffiti, the architecture, and pretty much every piece of printed matter I came across. I could have spent the entire trip taking pictures and never gotten bored. I loved looking at Dutch text; it’s fun to experience a language you don’t know because the words become merely form or you can imagine your own meaning. I collaged a bit in the studio using found Dutch magazines. It was an interesting extra step to Google translate words before I incorporated them into my work; there was an element of surprise to the process that I enjoyed. Although the Dutch language was intriguing, it also caused a bit of anxiety for me out in the wild, like when I couldn’t read a menu at a restaurant. Outsider experiences like these had a profound effect on me because I realized that I am privileged to be guaranteed the ability to communicate back in the United States. This made me think of those living in the US who don’t speak English as their first language and how they have to deal with that extra challenge everyday.

The most challenging part of the trip for me was working in the studio abroad, but I learned so much from the immersiveness of the environment. I found I had two options most of the time: be willing to ask a lot of questions or figure things out on my own, which were both valuable. With no previous printmaking experience, I printed my first woodblock and polymer plate at AGA LAB and ran a letterpress for the first time at GWA, which is pretty amazing looking back. I totally fell in love with letterpress (although it might have had something to do with how cool the people running the shop were). It’s been said a million times, but a letterpress print has so much more impact and tactile significance than one printed digitally. One day, I spent close to an hour setting three short lines of metal type that would have taken 5 seconds in Indesign. That fact, plus the process of rolling ink evenly onto the type, carefully placing the paper, and running the press correctly, made it feel like a tiny miracle every time a print came off the press. I pretty much screamed in excitement at each print, especially when we were experimenting and had no clue how it would look. The energy at GWA was positive and contagious; I felt right at home there.

I am grateful for the art and design related experiences I had while in Amsterdam: standing in awe at enormous Rembrandt paintings at the Rijksmuseum, peeking into rare typography books in the special collections of the University of Amsterdam, and visiting Ape to Zebra design studio and playing soccer in their back courtyard, to name a few. I wasn’t sure what to expect visiting a Dutch design studio and I was a little intimidated because Dutch design is highly revered. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how welcoming the designers at Ape to Zebra were. I was also impressed by how accessible their work was; it was excellent design, but not exclusively Dutch in aesthetics. Furthermore, the immediate reaction I had when walking through the doors was an immense sense of relief; everything from the posters laid neatly on the table, to the desk islands with iMacs, to the filled bookshelf spanning the back wall gave me a sense of familiarity in a new city. Our visit made it seem not so far off that I could end up in a place like that some day. I hope so!

I was blown away by the number of interesting museums in the Netherlands, even in comparison to the New York trip this past April. Although it wasn’t at a museum per say, the most impactful art experience I had in Amsterdam was seeing The Painted Bird exhibition at the Marres House in the southern city of Maastricht. The house was transformed into an immersive exhibit. The walls were painted floor to ceiling by a diverse group of seventeen artists, leaving each room with a unique style. On top of the show being visually immersive with paint taking up your entire field of vision, your journey was also sonically immersive with a companion audio track. Each visitor received a small tablet that responded to hot spots in each room to play the matching audio. The audio track was comprised of ambient sounds, like the rushing of waves, and spoken word in the form of poetry and stories. The sound was abstract enough to allow for interpretation, but provided context that helped guide you to further meaning. I love zoning out on a piece of art in a gallery, even moreso when there are headphones involved and maybe a screen to watch. Therefore, being able to have that zen kind of moment for my entire stay was like heaven. Walking from room to room felt like an adventure, not knowing what would be around the corner.

Although the art and design encounters I had in Amsterdam were very significant, I must say my favorite day was boat day! How special to be whisked away on an historic, wooden sailboat with some of my all-time favorite people. After two weeks of sweating in the studio and running around bustling Amsterdam, it was rejuvenating to be in the quieter town in Amersfoort and out on the water (and in the water for that matter because I spent a lot of time swimming). Scott’s wife is from Amersfoort and her father runs the boat with another guy named Ben, which is how we ended up aboard. Much like the time we spent at GWA, it felt like a genuine Dutch experience that many tourists don’t get to have (both of them happened to offer us the Dutch delicacy of raw herring). It might be because boat day was near the end of the trip and the scenery was so picturesque, but that day felt very sentimental. I was completely happy. 🙂

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