BMC Symposium

Black Mountain College Symposium: Chance Operations
February 1-3, 2018

Vanderbilt University’s Department of Art and the Wond’ry present a three-day interdisciplinary symposium that will examine the contemporary relevance of Black Mountain College’s immersive teaching models on art, design, and education. Artists, curators, students and educators from various disciplines will illuminate Black Mountain’s unique pedagogical approach through lectures, roundtables, readings, concerts and performances.

Located in the foothills of North Carolina, Black Mountain College (1933-1957) was an experimental liberal arts college founded on the principles of balancing academics, arts, and manual labor within a communal environment. Equally influenced by the utopian ideals of the progressive education movement and the interdisciplinary approach of the Bauhaus, Black Mountain College placed the arts at the center of liberal arts education and believed that in doing so it could better educate citizens for participation in a democratic society. During the short period the college was open, it served as a testing ground for ideas and attitudes that would profoundly reflect and alter the intellectual and creative life of the twentieth century. A partial list of the maverick spirits attracted to the college includes Josef and Anni Albers, John Dewey, Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Jacob Lawrence, Buckminster Fuller, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, Kenneth Noland, Ruth Asawa, Ray Johnson, Susan Weil, Vera B. Williams, Ben Shahn, Franz Kline, Arthur Penn, M.C. Richards, Francine du Plessix Gray, Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Katherine Litz, Jonathan Williams, Dorothea Rockburne and many others.

Chance Operations is free and open to the public. The event is organized in conjunction with the Fine Arts Gallery exhibition, Looking Back (Looking Forward): The Black Mountain College Experience and John Warren’s Commons iSeminar, The Experimental Arts at Black Mountain College. The symposium is supported by the Department of Art, the Wond’ry, the Department of Theater, the program of Cinema & Media Arts, the Fine Arts Gallery, and The Ingram Commons. Parking information can be found here.

Thursday, February 1, 2018 

Location: Cohen Memorial Hall, Room 203

6pm | Ruth Erickson – Learning from Black Mountain College
Examining pedagogy at Black Mountain College, Erickson traces the ways that learning and living coalesced at the college to form a unique experimental environment. Erickson will closely consider a range of examples, including class exercises, campus architecture, performance workshops, and artwork by Ray Johnson, Robert Rauschenberg, Ruth Asawa, and Merce Cunningham, to illuminate the culture of “making do” at the college, which, she argues, allowed for increased experimental ingenuity on the part of students and teachers.

7:30 | Reception & Third Voice performance
At a reception following the talk, Intermission Arts and New Dialect will perform Third Voice, a research lab and performance program incorporating newly composed music, video installation, and dance. The collaboration offers an opportunity for emerging composers and choreographers to connect and develop new works, very much in the spirit of the work done at Black Mountain College. Collaborators include choreographers Rebecca Steinberg, James Barrett, Curtis Thomas, Spencer Grady, and David Flores, and composers George Miller, Christopher Bell, Nathaniel Banks (and Arlie), Spencer Channell, and Matt Kinney and Kay Kennedy. Five pieces will be performed for the site-specific event around Cohen that evening.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Location: Studio Art Building, Room 220

2pm | Creative Presentation – Cine/Poetics
Poetry became the dominant art form at Black Mountain in the 1950s with the arrival of Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, and the publication of Jargon and The Black Mountain Review. This creative presentation uses contemporary poetry and experimental cinema to look back at the Black Mountain School’s influence. Presenters include poets Meagan Crawford and Matt Johnstone, and experimental filmmakers Jonathan Rattner and John Warren.

3pm | Break

3:15pm | Roundtable: The Creative Legacy of Black Mountain College
A discussion with local artists who are, in different ways, continuing the creative legacy of the college. Panelists include choreographer Banning Bouldin (New Dialect), composer George Miller (Intermission), interdisciplinary artist Jana Harper, and faculty from Austin Peay, Michael Dickins and McLean Fahnestock, who participated in the {Re}Happening event at the site of Black Mountain’s Lake Eden campus.

Location: The Wond’ry, 3rd floor

4:45pm | Roundtable: The Pedagogical Legacy of Black Mountain College
A look at art and education today, through the lens of John Dewey’s progressive philosophy informed by BMC’s Bauhaus-inspired curriculum, organizational structure, and the core social justice values of its central faculty. Participants include Vanderbilt professors from different disciplines and departments: Barbara Stengel, Lutz Koepnick, and Gregory Melchor-Barz.

5:45pm Break

6pm | Eva Díaz – After Spaceship Earth
To Buckminster Fuller the interdependence of human technologies and natural ecologies was exemplified in the notion of “Spaceship Earth,” and his metaphor subsequently became one of the most powerful and enduring of the 20th and 21st centuries. It is also one of the most eccentric, conceiving of our planet as a monumental vehicle cum technologically reliant architecture authored by human expertise, useful above all for the purposes of interspace travel. If ever there was a moment to reassess Fuller’s techno-utopian drive to exceed the envelope of Earth, now is that time. In particular, a consideration of what future outer space colonies might be like is taking place in many quarters of contemporary visual art, in large part due to radical human alterations to the Earth’s environment that have come to be called the Anthropocene Era. Artists such as Dawn DeDeaux, MPA, Tomás Saraceno, Tavares Strachen and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, among others, are producing work, as Fuller did, prototyping new architectures for space travel and exploration, positioning artistic practice as a new kind of public science in which research and experimental procedures are made explicitly visible. Citing Fuller’s work but diverging from his hopefulness about extraterrestrial colony cities, recent projects by these artists register an elegiac sense that the era of space exploration as a humanistic program of knowledge acquisition, interspecies communication, and even intergalactic colonization—in short, the epoch of cosmic optimism—may have receded if not ended.

7:30pm | Outdoor Video projection @ the Wond’ry
McLean Fahnestock and Michael Dickins originally produced LAUNCH, a multimedia experience that combines video projection, audio collage, and a kinetic viewing platform, for the RE{Happening} at Black Mountain College. Following the development of the US space program, videos of launches rise into the night sky along with speeches about our endeavors in space and the rumbling bass of liftoff. LAUNCH ver. 2 will be shown without the platform component.

Saturday, February 3, 2018 

Location: Track One (1201 4th Ave S)

8pm | Third Voice {Re}Happening 
This multimedia happening will combine choreography, music composition, and video projection for a one-night-only performance held during the Wedgwood-Houston art crawl. This event will look back to John Cage’s 1952 Theatre Piece No. 1, premiered at Black Mountain College and considered to be the first Happening, while also looking forward to celebrate Nashville’s contemporary avant-garde energy.

Keynote Presenters

Ruth Erickson: Mannion Family Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. Her exhibitions at the ICA include “Mark Dion: Misadventures of a 21st-Century Naturalist,” “Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh, and Hesam Rahmanian: The Birthday Party,” and “Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957” (with Helen Molesworth). She has forthcoming exhibitions with Wangechi Mutu and Kevin Beasley.

Eva Díaz: Associate Professor of the History of Art and Design at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Her book, The Experimenters: Chance and Design at Black Mountain College, was released by the University of Chicago Press in 2015. She was recently awarded a grant from the Graham Foundation to work on her new bookanalyzing the influence of R. Buckminster Fuller in contemporary art. Her writing appears in magazines and journals such as The Art Bulletin, Artforum, Art Journal, Art in America, Cabinet, The Exhibitionist, Frieze, Grey Room, Harvard Design Magazine, and October.