day 17:: reflection // 5.31.17
It took another 11 days post trip for me to find a moment to think about all that had transpired and been created in Amsterdam. When I reflect on those 18 days I hear the sound of brayers rolling out sticky inks, the familiar “Alright gang,” shuttles too and fro on hot trams, fidget spinners, type cases sliding in and out, letterpress cranks, “BOOKARTS,” herring, Tony’s Chocolonely, buongiorno coffee, wood shavings, architecture, great typography and poster design, old dutch cheese and brood.
This was my first trip to Europe and I was well overdue for a travel abroad. To sweeten the deal of already fulfilling my love for travel, I was also getting to create and work collaboratively and interdisciplinary between print and design. Despite everyone’s and my own exhaustion from being only 2 days post finals, I was ready to hit the studios. I was floored to have a full schedule nearly every day. There was nothing I would take out of this trip. I have the utmost gratitude for my professors that spent many hours before and during the trip to make these connections with the studios, special collections libraries, and designer presentations that we were able to participate in during our time abroad. I am also so appreciative of our group and for everyone in it who inspired me daily and helped keep me laughing or giving me advice on printing a polymer plate. Finally, to all of our wonderful Dutch friends, printers, designers, and studio fellows that were gracious and felt like part of our family.
Beyond the many long hours at Wey Hall, I have never spent so much uninterrupted time with a group of print and design students. I feel that the most important part of this trip was working collaboratively. Prior to becoming a graphic design student, I mourned an assignment that involved group work. After I came into the graphic design program, I actively try to work collaboratively. Since working as a research assistant I have become more and more aware of how interdisciplinary design can be and particularly with printmaking. I was excited to widen this perspective with the added mix of students and a new culture to explore print and design in. I think the entire trip was a collaboration from start to finish and that made the most impact on me and the way I thought about our theme interrogation.
Collaboration itself is the action of working with someone to produce or create something. We as a group had begun collaborating prior to our departure. Mind-mapping the theme, linocuts, and sewing sketchbooks. Then we collaborated on traveling together, navigating both airports and cities to get everyone from point A to B. We lived collaboratively with both the color yellow and as bunk mates of six and in states of delerium even collaboratively sang songs or practiced mouth trumpeting before bed (Abby is now a first string). When we weren’t actively collaborating on a press we were exchanging ideas on what to do for the next lock-up or polymer plate. Being a part of these kinds of conversations or listening to them is how ideas develop into a cohesive piece. I recorded a lot of the conversations we had at Valiz, The University of Amsterdam special collections, GWA: Mark with NovoTypo and Lara with Kanat, Jan Van Eyck, which all inspired and informed my design. I even had unexpected collaborative moments when selecting an engraved jar for which my beverage would be poured into by a Van Eyck resident artist during the performative dinner. She, come to find out, is from Oakland, CA. The performative dinner itself I found interesting. I can’t say I fully understood it at all, but the journey to the food felt like a collaboration between wayfinding, movement, and direction mingled alongside conversation, placement, and balance.
Working collaboratively often has surprising results. From unlikely pairings or mixing materials, the ebb and flow of ideas exchanged between members is often never motionless. With every turn of the crank and fresh impression a new idea can be ignited. Collaboration was key for recording thoughts into blogs to further share ideas or the day’s highlights and moments were captured of the trip through many different lenses. Although being around a driven group on little sleep has its trials, they are far outweighed by the amount of creative exchange and output. I also got to create new connections and build upon pre-existing ones.
Although I came to Amsterdam with intentions of exploring several offshoots of the theme interrogations, I could not help but to take note of my immediate surroundings. I originally sought out to explore the unconscious mind and the various ways in which it can interrogate itself or subvert memories and thoughts. I was most interested in dreams and dream imagery, hypnosis, and telepathy. Although I did explore these, I felt a constant attraction to simply respond to my surroundings. As a graphic design student, American, and gay female, I had stepped into a culture and country very different from where I have resided these past four years in Boone, North Carolina.
This journey was also very eye opening and inspiring as to the limitless possibilities post graduation. It is these kinds of opportunities that broaden the scope of what you might want to pursue and help build connections internationally. From collecting type specimens, special book bindings, letterpress printing, publishing, exhibition design, studios, artist residencies, and more, there is so much to look forward to after undergrad and I am eager to continue this exploration.
Observing how other students work and bring their practice to a new place was also informative, both in knowing them and knowing how people adapt and continue to be creative. I found myself seeing my surroundings differently and more detailed. Even considering discarded materials after David persisted and eventually succeeded in breaking a drilled sheet of wood down to a portable size to be printed. The print turned out awesome and I still don’t know how he got that inked surface so darn consistent.
I feel this trip has helped me grow as a designer and how I approach my practice. It has also helped me reflect on a more personal level, on how I can be a more aware of the world around me beyond the U.S. and how I can take this experience and share it with others. I have learned and experienced working in multiple professional studios and shared spaces with my group members and the studio employees or volunteers. I have gained a bit more understanding on navigating space and group dynamic working and producing in large numbers.
After some writing and further explorations in various processes, I have decided to shift my focus of interrogation. I have become most interested in the idea of memories during the trip to NL and especially afterwards. We replay them, re-live them and at the same time fear that we will lose those that we value. We think of memories that haven’t been made yet and those that happened long ago. Memories inevitably fade. Not always completely, but the edges get worn and fuzzy. The clarity of the image or smell slowly fades until you only remember the details because you have told them over and over to yourself, but not because you actually see it or hear it clearly. Memories are saved not only as images, but as text. Journaling and dear diaries divulge inner thoughts of present moments or past ones or those yet to come to pass. Text could create image, smell, sound, touch, taste before pictures developed. Similar to the way letterforms contained images like in the specimens we saw at the University of Amsterdam special collections. I think of love letters from long distance lovers oceans apart or even the most dismissible note that is meant to help you to remember days from now to call Margaret back. Today we have digital calendars and the apparition Siri to organize our lives and help us to increase or memory storage space by putting it somewhere in a cloud or in an App.
I intend to interrogate what my 27 year-old nimble mind has collected from this experience. As a visual person, I like to think I have a strong photographic memory. I intend to explore the found images in my memories translated to drawings with as much honest detail as I can evoke. Then perhaps explore pairing these with photographs that others took, using their documented moments/memories. I might juxtapose my memory drawings with past memories or those of the future and finding relationships between them. Perhaps my reduction print woodblock of a dream-like self-induced telepathic hypnosis made in NL is subverted into the image described earlier of a memory projector beaming forth from one’s third eye. Or perhaps I relate my child-like wonder to explore and adventure through my viewfinder with my 27 year old self in Amsterdam, once future memories to be made, now past.
I intend to explore these methods further in relation to memory and see where all these ideas and processes come together to become more tightly focused and directed. I would also like to make an effort to continue the practice that was involved in so much of my recollections of Amsterdam that is language, culture, process and collaboration.