Francine Affourtit had only spent a few days at Tyler School of Art before she had the opportunity to work with renowned Los Angeles-based artist Katie Grinnan.
In September, Affourtit received an email from Robert Blackson, the director of Temple Contemporary, letting her know that Grinnan – an artist in Los Angeles who specializes in mixed-media sculptures that incorporate photography – would be completing a one-week residency at Tyler. Affourtit decided to help organize the event, starting with recruiting other students to participate and spread the word.
Grinnan’s visit came just a few days before her work was to appear at The Print Center, a contemporary art gallery in Center City.
“I didn’t know many of the graduate students here at the Philadelphia campus,” Affourtit, a MFA printmaking major, said. “But I was very interested in working with both [a professional] artist, the department, other graduate students and Temple Contemporary, which has a program I really enjoy and support. I kind of started just stalking graduate students. I would send information to them and try to get them prepped for the project.”
The piece was finished by Grinnan with the assistance of students from many departments in Tyler.
“[The piece] related to a number of fields and in the end, we had painting grads, photo grads, printmaking grads [and] ceramic grads, all working that day in Temple Contemporary, and it was really fun,” Affourtit said.
The sculpture, entitled “For Your Information,” was a collaborative effort between Grinnan and the students, and utilized many mediums.
The printmaking graduates used a special form of paper to transfer images from YouTube video stills onto cement blocks, which were used to form the base of the piece. The videos were chosen in part by friends of Grinnan from Los Angeles.
The design of “For Your Information” resembles workout equipment but is intended to be a “research space,” Grinnan said, where viewers can participate in the work itself. It has been a two-year creation process that began when Grinnan asked friends in Los Angeles to contribute visual information.
“There were about 50 or 60 contributions,” Grinnan said. “People could bring anything they wanted to the piece, it wasn’t specific.”
Grinnan said she had always wanted the work to be a collaborative effort. After getting in contact with members of the Tyler community, she made the decision to engage students in the project, though she said she never expected such an enthusiastic reaction.
“[Affourtit] organized this amazing thing where students were coming in and rotating, so I met a ton of people,” Grinnan said. “The activity promotes a lot of conversation, so it really became a social thing. There were even people from other schools coming in.”
Being able to work side by side with students from various areas of expertise was something Grinnan said brought her even closer to the work. Some students even played instrumental roles in the success of her piece, she said.
“Part of my sculpture got really damaged in shipping and one of the students helped me repair it, which was so amazing,” Grinnan said. “It was actually really inspiring to see.”
Grinnan’s appearance on Main Campus was her first trip to Philadelphia, she said. Tyler students were not only able to learn from Grinnan, but she also learned from them as young artists. She and participating students said learning from one another was the best part of the experience.
“Tyler was really sort of an entry point into Philadelphia and getting to know the city a little bit,” Grinnan said. “I think if I didn’t have the experience, then in a lot of ways the piece would have failed for me. It would have been a disconnected relationship to the work and also to the people.”
Alexa Bricker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.