Oklahoma Contemporary's new digital residency program explores community and resilience in the time of COVID-19
It's a tough time to be an artist. With cultural institutions closing their doors to protect public health during the COVID-19 pandemic, opportunities to work and engage with the community have been few and far between over the last few months. That's partly why Oklahoma Contemporary is launching our new Studio-in-Place initiative, partnering with select Studio School instructors to create opportunities for teaching artists cloistered from the public during this time of physical distancing.
In addition to supporting artists, our new digital residency program is designed to continue our mission to connect the public with unforgettable arts experiences. Through biweekly interviews, livestreamed videos and other engaging content, you’ll get an inside glimpse into the creative working processes of contemporary artists at home and in Oklahoma Contemporary’s studio facilities.
This project, along with Camp-in-Place (weekly DIY #AtHomeArt projects), also allows Oklahoma Contemporary to continue paying some of the teaching artists whose camps or classes were canceled during the public-health crisis. Two artists per month will take on the Studio-in-Place digital residencies this summer.
“Studio-in-Place will not only give a behind-the-scenes look into the artists’ practice when they're quite literally trapped in the confines of their own studios, but it will also really allow us to address contemporary issues like COVID-19,” said Jaime Thompson, Oklahoma Contemporary’s new director of education and public programs.
June’s featured instructors are Calvin Pressley and Tess Elliot. While each artist's practice and project is unique, both will explore the possibilities and problems of making art during a public health emergency. “Both artists are exploring their own concepts tied to resilience or creativity in the strange new world we're living in, and creating opportunities to engage via social practice techniques with projects that they're doing during their time with us,” Thompson said.
Connected Conversations: Pandemic Portraits by Calvin Pressley
Calvin Pressley is a Studio School instructor who primarily focuses on subjective portraiture in painting and drawing. His Studio-in-Place project, Connected Conversations, will explore new ways we can make meaningful connections during this period of physical distancing.
"I’m curious about how things have shifted, or how things have maybe not shifted, over the past two or three months during the COVID-19 pandemic," Pressley said. "I think everybody has obviously felt some degree of change, but that degree is dependent on your community, dependent on what you do for work, stuff like that."
Pressley will sketch subjects from all walks of life during their conversations, ultimately translating them into oil-painted portraits. Combining inspiration from traditional artists with contemporary approaches, these finished paintings will capture more than just the physical features of his interview subjects.
"I think this is an opportunity to have a conversation about what a portrait of somebody really is,” Pressley said. “It’s not just a picture of somebody's face and the physical presentation of that person. ... If there's a likeness in the final product, that's great. But ultimately, through the conversations, I want to be able to create an artwork that contains that person's energy, so to speak, in a way that's more than just a picture of them.”
Infinite Oaks: Reclaiming Reality with Tess Elliot
In Infinite Oaks, Tess Elliot wonders, “How do we imagine futures through these emerging technologies? That’s the spectacle or the wonder of them: They're so new that it makes you think about the future, and what they can bring for the future.”
Armed with a background in painting, sculpture and technology, Elliot's Studio-in-Place project creates augmented-reality (AR) experiences to virtually reintroduce blackjack oaks, post oaks and other native tree species to the Cross Timbers region of Oklahoma. Infinite Oaks will be available as an AR app, free and accessible to anyone with a tablet or smartphone, which aims to connect the community to native ecology and each other through a shared digital experience. Elliot’s app will use GPS coordinates to "grow" digitally modeled, painted and animated woodlands within real spaces across Oklahoma’s central region.
“Infinite Oaks is optimistic, but it’s also caged around this desire to see these changes in the real world,” the artist said. “I would love to see more natural spaces and more protection of the native ecology of the region. And so I want to provide this kind of opportunity for the public to be able to experience a kind of utopian version of it. In order to ask: What do we want of technology? What do we want of our future? What do we value?”
These questions and many more will be explored by Elliot and Pressley, along with future Studio-in-Place artists, who will work with Oklahoma Contemporary’s Communications staff to create unique digital content that helps them engage the public with their respective projects and provides new opportunities to inspire, entertain and educate during this unprecedented moment.
“While we can’t currently bring the people to our building and our mission, Studio-in-Place gives us new ways to bring our mission — to encourage artistic expression in all its forms — to the people,” said Lori Brooks, director of communications. “From behind-the-scenes looks at how apps are made to portrait tutorials, Studio-in-Place will allow our visitors and viewers brand-new ways to engage with contemporary art from the comfort and safety of their homes.”
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