by Celine Wong Katzman
After class on Thursday April 4, students from the School for Poetic Computation piled into rental vans and headed upstate toward the Catskill State Park Forest for a retreat to focus on writing their artist statements and beginning to prepare for the Student Showcase on May 11 and 12. The SFPC student retreat was organized and facilitated by teachers Taeyoon Choi and Lauren Gardner, and teaching assistant Celine Wong Katzman.
The participating students were Alexander Miller, Ariel Uzal, Bomani McClendon, Greg Sadetsky, Javier de Azkue, Juan Miguel Marin, Luisa Fabrizi, Margot Mcmahon, Melissa Holmes, Sara Khan, Sheldon Chang, Stefan Pelikan, Stefanie Schirmer, Vivienne La, Yehwan Song, and Joseph Wilk, who participated remotely. We were also joined by Otta, Luisa’s two-year-old German cockapoo.
The retreat took place at the Strange Foundation, an in-development space offering forward-thinking, creative people with computer-based practices the time, resources, and isolation needed to focus and think expansively. The Strange Foundation is a project of Willa Köerner and Daniel Morgan who live onsite in West Shokan among the mini compound of cabins in which SFPC students and teachers stayed over the course of the retreat.
This was the second SFPC retreat that took place at the Strange Foundation. Read about the 2018 SFPC Teachers Retreat here.
After arriving and settling in on Thursday evening, everyone met at the barn workspace and loft to cook dinner and meet Willa and Daniel. At SFPC we cook and eat together at least once a week because it allows us all (students and teachers) to demonstrate care for each other outside of the classroom. This creates a stronger community and heightened learning environment.
The menu for the retreat was planned by Taeyoon and consisted of mostly vegetarian fare. We organized the pantry, chopped vegetables, and took turns washing dishes. Celine and a few students drove twelve miles to the nearest grocery store to buy some missing essential items (beer, wine, and ice cream). After much preparation, we all sat down together to relax and eat a delicious meal of salad and Japanese curry with a fried egg on rice.
During dinner Willa and Daniel introduced themselves and told us about their work and how they decided to start the Strange Foundation. We learned that the barn we were sitting in was transported piece by piece from hundreds of miles away and rebuilt onsite by its eccentric former owner. There were not many barns in the surrounding area since the nearby landscape is not arable and quite rocky. The barn had been outfitted to serve as an art gallery with track lighting and art storage in the basement making it perfect as a multi-purpose site for continued creativity.
After dinner, Lauren led an exercise to help us get to know each other a little better. We split into pairs, interviewed each other, and reconvened as a group to share three surprising facts about our partners. The rest of the night was spent eating many different flavors of pie and sharing our feelings about SFPC.
The next day was the longest day of the retreat. It began with Taeyoon leading a group of students in cooking scrambled eggs with vegetables and cheese and beginning to stew vegetarian chili for lunch. We toasted toast and made countless pots of coffee together, enjoying the morning light on the pond outside of the barn.
After cleaning up, Taeyoon led class. It began with an exercise where students wrote for ten minutes about artists they admire and shared what makes their work special. Some qualities that stood out to us were:
- Redefining the area they are working in
- Willing to go to great lengths for their work
- Doesn’t allow a lack of technical skills to hold them back
- Able to successfully balance a studio practice and family life
- Curiosity and a unique perspective
- A sense of ethical purpose
- Supportive of others in the community
Taeyoon also shared some things he wished someone had told him when he began to make art, which is published as an open letter here. These ideas left everyone feeling inspired. Taeyoon led the students in a silent nature walk in order to give everyone time to think about what was shared that morning. Lauren and Celine stayed behind to plan their workshops for the day.
Upon returning, everyone was refreshed and ready to eat some hot food after walking outside in the cold. We ate lunch independently so the students could work on editing their artist statements with reflections and thoughts from the morning fresh in their minds.
After lunch, Celine gathered everyone together in a circle. She asked the students to slowly read the latest version of their artist statements out loud. After everyone shared their in-progress artist statements, we took a moment to acknowledge how difficult it is to write one and we commended everyone on their efforts so far. Following this, students asked general questions regarding artist statements and shared the type of feedback they hoped to receive during the next exercise.
Then, students broke into pairs to give each other detailed feedback for forty minutes. We met as a group again briefly to ensure that everyone had an actionable editorial plan based on their feedback and dispersed to work independently on laptops until dinner.
The snowy weather made us all very hungry which caused Celine to realize that we needed more protein. The taco dinner menu was amended to include chicken and vegetarian sausage alongside peppers, carrots, and avocados. We ate it all!
Next, Lauren gave a presentation about preparing for the upcoming Student Showcase. She shared some tips for planning a successful project in advance and managing stress. We looked at documentation of past showcases and Lauren and Taeyoon reminisced about a few of the many amazing projects that have been shown at SFPC. Finally, we cleaned up and went to bed after an extremely long day.
On Saturday morning Taeyoon woke up early to begin cooking pancakes before our departure back to New York. We took turns cutting fruit, cooking pancakes, pouring coffee and washing dishes. After breakfast we cleaned up the cabins and Willa and Daniel joined us for a group photo by the pond.
Thank you for hosting us, Willa and Daniel, we hope to visit for another retreat again soon!
Photos by SFPC Spring 2019 including, but not limited to, Javier de Azkue, Yen Song, Ariel Uzal, Vivienne La.