March 23, 2014: At The Draftsmen’s Congress, New Museum, NYC
On Sunday, March 23, Elena and I joined artists from Art Kibbutz at the New Museum in New York City to participate in The Draftsmen’s Congress, a public art project created by Polish artist, Pawel Althamer. Art Kibbutz is a residency for international Jewish artists founded by Patricia Eszter Margit in 2012,
Althamer originally conceived and executed Draftsmen’s Congress for the 7th Berlin Biennale in 2012 to engage participants from diverse backgrounds in a ‘conversation’ through images, rather than words, on issues that were relevant to them in contemporary society. He invited groups of artists as well as a wide range of social and political organizations from the local community to mark the walls and floors of the installation space with a variety of drawing and painting materials. After each group completed its collective drawing, the next group to participate in the project worked over what was done previously, so that the space became a layered representation of the entire community of participants. Similarly, the blank white space of the New Museum’s fourth floor gallery has been transformed over the course of two months through the gradual accumulation of drawings and paintings by Museum visitors and invited community groups, including Art Kibbutz.
Prior to our one-day residency on March 23rd at The Draftsmen’s Congress, 20 participating members of Art Kibbutz from all over the US, France, Netherlands, South Africa, the Former Soviet Union, Argentina, Georgia, Japan and Korea met with Judaic scholars for two learning sessions to develop an approach to the project that was founded on Jewish values and practices. Using the Kabbalah and the Torah for inspiration, the group focused on the Torah’s fundamental concept of “loving your fellow as yourself,” to underscore what Althamer’s exhibition is trying to create: a non-judgmental, harmonious conversation among a diverse community that fosters dialogue and understanding. Over the course of the day, Art Kibbutz artists pulled instructions previously contributed by members of the group from a hat and handed them off to each other for execution. In this way we were creating a community of images that represent an interactive exchange of ideas.
When Elena and I arrived at the New Museum, the Art Kibbutz group had just begun creating a series of large circles over the existing images that encompassed three walls of the gallery. Although each circle was distinct and embodied the artistic style and color choices of its ‘artist,’ the cumulative visual effect was bold, dynamic and unified. I contributed my own series of circles while Elena began to create three ladders that spanned from floor to ceiling.
What Did We Conclude About The Experience?
We were amazed by how quickly the collective ‘drawing’ was transformed. By the time we left at the end of the day, our circles, marking our physical presence, were being modified and taken over by other images, similar to the way in which incoming waves erase previous marks made upon the sand. We were once again reminded that the process itself of making art is often more important than the creation of a single, ‘precious’ object. And, most importantly, we experienced the richness that can come from building a community by participating in public art.