About ten years ago, Ringling College Photography and Imaging Department Head Thomas Carabasi participated in a traditional faculty and student exchange with Sint Lucas School of the Arts in Antwerp, Belgium and discovered that conflicting academic calendars and logistical issues were making it clear that a different format might facilitate a better experience for all involved.
In Carabasi’s words, “Our challenge was to create an immersive and collaborative international art student exchange model focused upon the importance of art as experience and cultural context.”
Mapping a Site—In and Out of Context came together in 2012 when Tom and Kurt Vanbelleghem of the Sint Lucas School of the Arts finalized their plans for creating a truly engaging exchange experience for students and faculty. The program was designed to take place annually over the course of six years. Each year, participating students in Antwerp and Sarasota would undertake a seven- to ten-day intensive workshop abroad, with Ringling College students visiting Antwerp and Sint Lucas students visiting Sarasota. Students would visit specific sites in their new city and capture them in their medium of choice, from photography to fine arts and more, keeping that year’s specific theme in mind. The goal, in addition to providing students the opportunity to work collectively outside of the classroom, was to create a “map” of their artistic responses that spoke about each city by the end of the six-year partnership.
Visiting students were challenged to approach specific sites and themes in each city through their subjective cultural and artistic perspectives and exhibit the results within a week. At its core, the overarching premise of Mapping a Site was to imbue cultural exchange. Students learned about the areas they were going to represent with their art, while assuring an intense collaborative experience given the compressed time frame of the assignments and exhibition.
Environmental Art Professor Markku Hakuri of Aalto University defined Mapping a Site as being “focused on developing methods for understanding the complexity of the environments that surround us and are created by us. This workshop examines sites beyond their visual and aesthetic qualities and investigates the multiplicity of contexts that create a site.”
The innovative exchange program launched in 2012/2013 with Historic Neighborhoods as its inaugural theme. Faculty and students from Ringling College, Aalto University in Helsinki, Finland, and Sint Lucas School of Arts and the Royal Academy in Antwerp, Belgium collaborated in Sarasota and Antwerp. Participant expertise spanned multiple artistic disciplines, including photography, fine art, motion design, and graphic design.
Mapping a Site 2012-2013 Aalto student participant Salla Salin expressed her experience cogently, saying that “the intensive one-week process of mapping various layers of the chosen sites and sharing these perceptions within our group of international participants, as well as with the people of the respective cities, seemed to highlight not only certain specificities of the sites, but also themes of perspective and identity on a personal level.”
The 2013-2014 Mapping a Site: In and Out of Context program focused on Traces of Post-Colonialism; 2014-2015 on Spectacle; 2015-2016 onWaterways; 2016-2017 on Architecture and Memory; and 2017-2018 on Food and Ritual.
Over the six years of the project, students created “maps” of the two cities of Sarasota and Antwerp through the collective sensibilities of young artists and designers. The results took the form of still images, paintings, time-based work, sculpture, installations, and performance.
In the words of Philip Heylan, former vice-mayor of Antwerp, “The importance of art is that it has the potential to inspire people and expand their vision and awareness of society. The Mapping a Site – In and Out of Context project brought young artists and designers together from two cities with very different cultural heritages and gave them the opportunity to experience the many lessons of difference. This experience gave the participants a chance to grow as both artists and human beings and demonstrated my belief that, ultimately, we are united by our diversity.”
Mapping a Site – In and Out of Context represented the spirit of students from very different cultural contexts working together to explore both the expressive and descriptive possibilities of collaboration and mutual respect. The results, along with the experience earned, is a very unique tale of two cities.
By Rich Schineller | Photos courtesy of Thomas Carabasi
Rich Schineller is a communications and imaging advisor for Ringling College.