At Amherst College, art results from collaboration across disciplines

Art isn’t just about what you make; it’s also about where you make it.

That is the premise of “Art in Place/the Place of Art,” a program at Amherst College sponsored by the college’s Copeland Colloquium, an annual fellowship program that offers scholars, artists and performers the opportunity to explore a common theme while in residence at Amherst College.

The program, a yearlong collaboration among the departments of music, theater, dance, art and art history; Frost Library; and the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College, concludes April 13 with the “Arts at Amherst: Faculty Collaborations” in the Kirby Memorial Center. The performance will feature four performances by faculty organizers of this year’s colloquium.

The theme, “Art in Place/the Place of Art,” explores two questions, says Ron Bashford, a professor of directing, dramaturgy, voice and speech in the college’s department of theater and dance: What is art that is about different places, and what difference does art make in a place?

To help answer these questions, Copeland Colloquium fellows and guest artists have created collaborative art pieces that share their senses of place and what it’s like to create art in different spaces.

This year’s colloquium featured a wide array of visual and performance arts, with a focus on their relationships with the concept of place. The Copeland fellows for this semester included cyberperformance specialist Suzon Fuks, choreographer James Cunningham, director Poonam Brah, saxophonist Matana Roberts, filmmaker Catherine Masud, choreographer Idan Cohen and musician/sculptor Eric Leonardson.

A wide geographic range of guest artists also drove discussion of how place matters in an interconnected world. Visiting artists includes the NORTEC electronic music collective from Tijuana and performance artist Meredith Monk.

Experimenting together

Bashford says the April 13 performances are all the result of fluid collaborations.

“It’s a chance for the different arts to experiment and collaborate with each other,” said Bashford, who this semester is working with Five College dance professor Paul Matteson and theater and dance professor Wendy Woodson on “Waypoint,” a piece Woodson wrote that combines theater and dance.

The work “is about trying to find points of navigation,” said Woodson, who directs the piece. The collaborators started the project by improvising during rehearsals. They have revised the work based on Bashford and Matteson’s interpretations and movements.

“We’re finding out more about the piece as we go along,” Bashford said. “As we run it, we will probably have stronger feelings and opinions of what it’s about.”

“Waypoint” is about trying to find certainty, and attempts to abstractly explain phenomena like, “when you sense someone else is in the room but maybe it’s just you,” Bashford said.

At a rehearsal last week, Matteson stood close behind Bashford, acting as his shadow and mimicking his moves through dance.

“It usually starts like this,” Bashford said, reciting his lines. “There I am, standing at the intersection at the corner, or at the beach when I sense someone or something is there.” Then Matteson ducked. “I turn around and there’s no one,” Bashford said.

After each scene, Woodson asked Bashford and Matteson how they could further edit the script or movements. Bashford said the text has gotten shorter as they have incorporated movement.

“One of Woodson’s greatest strengths as a director is her ability to re-think things and keep an open mind,” Bashford said.

Also on April 13 will be a performance of George Crumb’s “Black Angels” by the local Erebos String Quartet (Sarah Briggs and Joseph Jewett, violins; Delores Thayer, viola; and Rebecca Hartka, cello); an improvisational piece by David Gloman, resident artist in the art department, in collaboration with Jason Robinson, music department scholar, on saxophone and electronics; and piano duets by orchestral composer, pianist and associate professor of music Eric Sawyer, performed by pianists Judy Gordon and Alissa Leiser and accompanied with visuals by Betsey Garand, senior resident artist in the art department.

Bashford said even though “Art in Place/the Place of Art” is a one-year interdisciplinary arts series, “The faculty in the arts department have gotten to know each other a lot better this year and we’d like to keep collaborating together.”

“Art in Place/the Place of Art” will be performed April 13 at 8 p.m. in Kirby Memorial Center on the Amherst College campus. Free.