Artists Sarah Fetterman '14 and Nicole Czapinski '06 returned to campus this autumn for a residency supported by the Woodbury Foundation.
“It’s nice to be back at Bennington in this different stage of life, but to still feel connected to this place,” said Sarah Fetterman ’14.
Fetterman, who practices performative sculpture, and Nicole Czapinski ’06, a fellow artist best known for her intricately stitched three-dimensional thread drawings, returned to campus for an autumn residency supported by the Woodbury Foundation.
In addition to providing the artists with a creative oasis, the residency offered an opportunity to connect with a new generation of Bennington students. Together, Fetterman and Czapinski critiqued classes on topics from drawing tattoos to pottery and worked closely with the advanced sculpture students along the way.
“Each Tuesday the students would present their work and influences and then we'd do studio visits to see their ideas in action,” said Czapinski. “This led to an in-depth exchange, to both hear from them and see what they’ve been working on.”
“We also shared our personal work with the advanced sculpture class,” said Fetterman. “Having the students come into my studio afterward to talk about my work was as deeply special as it was exciting and humbling.
Fetterman’s collaborative artistic practice blends metal sculpture with performance art, so students also had the chance to contribute to her work. This participation was mutually beneficial: Fetterman found a variety of people to photograph and video, and students were treated to an up-close, in-progress look at her art.
“It was nice to take that hour or two to chat with them and get to know them,” said Fetterman. “They’d preface their questions with, ‘I don’t know if it’s weird to ask you this,’ and I would say, ‘It’s not; you’re on the floor in a body cast. Nothing is weird right now.’”
Along with answering questions about their own art and offering feedback on projects, the Woodbury Grant recipients were able to address the logistics of pursuing an artistic life after Bennington.
“Bennington is an inspiring environment and offers a lot conceptually to students,” said Czapinski. “But there are so many practical things to think about as an artist, so this residency program helps to provide that bridge in a Bennington education.”
Fetterman and Czapinski found the experience and perspective they gained at Bennington vital to their own artistic practices.
“The open-ended education allowed me to explore whatever sparked my interest,” said Czapinski. “This became the foundation for how I still approach making work today.”
For her part, Fetterman remembers Idiosyncratic Tools, a Spring 2013 course taught by John Umphlett, as one of her most eye-opening classroom experiences.
“The course was all about finding how to ask yourself questions that never even would have occured to you,” said Fetterman. “All the prompts in that course were something like, ‘Do something you’ve never done before. Take 17 steps back from where you think your art practice should start, open up further there, and see where that leads you.”
The first lesson, recounted Fetterman, was held in Greenwall Auditorium. Umphlett led the class to the propped open door, through which only an open trash bag was visible.
“And he said, ‘Okay, crawl in!’” said Fetterman. “So we did, and it was crinkly. You could only feel where the floor was, and then all of a sudden, you came across two or three ways you could go.”
As the class entered the tunnel system, it started to inflate.
“Everyone navigated this colossal tunnel system, merging toward the center area, where there was a huge, blown-up plastic bubble as tall as Greenwall,” said Fetterman. “We had the first day of class inside that bubble. [Umphlett] made an idiosyncratic classroom to fit his desire of what a classroom should be. The key was starting outside of that door with a trash bag as an entrance instead of, ‘What kind of desk would you want?’”
This unfettered experimentation is also influential to Czapinski’s work, both as a Bennington student and upon her return as a visiting artist.
“It’s freeing to have this time to explore, to find a path you can take and choose each day, to have the freedom to research; it’s very Bennington-like,” said Czapinski.
Most recently, Czapinski was a 2016-2018 staff artist at the Vermont Studio Center.
“I’m inspired by science and the alchemy of simple materials to explore big ideas. What does a thought look like? Does it have an edge? What does infinity mean?” said Czapinski. “I’m interested in visualizing the invisible.”
Czapinski is currently participating in the 2018-19 Distillery 9 Studio Program at the Brew House Association in Pittsburgh, PA, and will have a solo presentation at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art during summer 2019.
Fetterman’s work centers around the body and its experiences, which manifests in various ways.
“Sometimes, I’ll map the body’s movement and memory on a wall very clearly with a person dancing, and sometimes that practice will be abstract, in their subconscious,” said Fetterman. “I investigate body memory through movement: how it exists and how it’s held, stored, and released.”
Fetterman recently installed her first public art piece, the twenty-foot-tall metal and fabric Vertebrae, in the Seattle Center.
“It was the biggest deadline I’ve ever had, so this residency has been a space to open up all the other ideas I had to put aside,” said Fetterman. “To play in a space I spent four years learning how to use, to have tools at my fingertips, and to work with John Umphlett and Jon Isherwood again as a peer is incredible.”
By Natalie Redmond, Associate Writer