“Les CAMACois” (September)

The lovely town of Marnay-sur-Seine, the beautiful residency facilities, and the artwork I created only tell half the story of my two months at the CAMAC Centre d’Art. So much of my experience was defined by the amazing people I met there, my fellow artists-in-residence who I feel so lucky and honored to know. We were a hodge-podge group from all over the globe, working with different mediums, techniques, and ideas, but we didn’t have trouble finding common ground. We shared meals (and many bottles of wine), we talked about our lives and our art, we swam in the Seine, we took walks through town in the golden light of late afternoon, we watched movies (and ate more popcorn than I care to admit), we went on excursions out of town, we helped each other with projects, and we spent A LOT of time laughing. When I think back on CAMAC now, I think of the people first – the town, the landscape, and the art are all incredibly important, of course, but it was getting to know these wonderful people that ultimately brought me the most joy. We jokingly dubbed ourselves the “CAMACois” (like “Québécois,” get it?), and I’d like to tell you a bit about them now…

(And just a quick technical note about this post:  We did a lot of photo-sharing while at CAMAC, so it’s a bit hard to keep track of who took which photos.  I’ve done my best to credit those that I didn’t take properly, but dear “CAMACois,” please forgive me if I’ve made any mistakes!)

As I was at CAMAC for two months, and most people stay for only one-month residencies, there were two distinct groups during my tenure – the September crew and the October crew (with the exception of two artists who stayed for both months, like me). I’ll start with the September crew…

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One of the first artists I met upon arrival was Harold Guérin, a young visual artist from the Champagne-Ardenne region in France (the same region where Marnay-sur-Seine is located, as a matter of fact). He spent the month preparing an exhibition in the gallery space, particularly a large installation piece which occupied most of his time. Harold is friendly, funny (his impression of Americans speaking French is HILARIOUS), and incredibly kind (he’s always willing to help out when he can, and was very sweet to act as my informal French tutor). He is very serious about his work, and it shows – his portfolio is quite impressive, and I urge you to check out his website

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Photo by Maja Pegan

Harold looking tough as he drilled holes into many, MANY stones for his installation…

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The completed installation, “Landslide”…

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One of my favorite pieces in the exhibition, “Magnitude”…

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Detail from “Magnitude”… In this piece, Harold’s photographs are mounted to sanders that have been connected to a motion sensor – when you approach the piece for a closer look, you are surprised by the sudden sound and movement of the sanders turning on. You’re forced to see these static photographic images in motion…

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From the series “Summer Trip”…

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Detail from “Summer Trip”… During several road trips through Europe in the summer of 2012, Harold attached paper (glazed with adhesive) to a custom-built support on the front bumper of his car, which collected all kinds of debris (yes, those are bug corpses).  The results look like abstract prints or drawings…

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Ken Steen is an American musician, composer, and sound artist originally from NYC, now living and teaching at the University of Hartford in Connecticut….

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 Photo by Maja Pegan

Ken and I shared a building (where our bedrooms and studios were located), and unfortunately the dividing wall on the second floor did not reach the top of the ceiling for some strange reason (which still remains a mystery – Did they just get bored building that wall? Just didn’t feel the need to finish?). Poor Ken had to endure the sounds of me singing in my studio for those first few days, until he very politely and diplomatically asked me to stop (he is a sound artist, after all – having a quiet space to work is pretty essential). Even with me using headphones and singing veeeeeery quietly to myself, he still could hear me – that place is just an ECHO CHAMBER, there’s no way around it! Lucky for me, Ken is one of the sweetest people alive, so there were no hard feelings.

Me and Ken at a champagne “cave” (more on that little adventure in a future post)…

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 Photo by Raquel Esquives

Ken is a walker, and spent a lot of his time at CAMAC exploring Marnay, its outskirts, and the neighboring towns on foot. He uses found sounds (like the creaking of a gate or the hum of “The Nuke,” for example), and distorts them to make his compositions. I’m really not doing his work justice – it’s much smarter and more complex than I am able to describe, so please look at his website for an ACCURATE description of his work (particularly the page on the work he made at CAMAC, here)…

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A fuzzy-hatted microphone in Ken’s studio.  I have no real reason for including this picture, other than the fact that this little guy makes me smile…

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Also hailing from the States was Kristie Bretzke, a painter and sculptor from Minneapolis. She worked exclusively in paint during her month at CAMAC, creating plein air landscapes and beautiful portraits. In fact, she began portraits of several “CAMACois,” including yours truly…

 Portraits in progress…

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Maja, Harold, and CAMAC Director, Jean-Yves…

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The landscapes in the foreground of this picture depict the Seine river in Marnay…

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Kristie’s studio…

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Like a true Midwestern gal, Kristie is one of the most friendly and warm people I’ve had the pleasure to know. She’s got a great smile, and an even better laugh – she’s a lot of fun to talk with, and is always willing to lend a hand when you need one. Please visit her website to see more of her beautiful work!

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Moving further west across the good ol’ US of A, you’ll find Denver, CO – the home of lovely Laura Guese. Laura is a young painter who creates surreal skyscapes, often depicting thunderheads and clouds. Her colors are stunning, and it’s easy to loose yourself in her work (be sure to check out her website).  At CAMAC, she began and finished one large painting… 

“Crépuscule Impossible” (Impossible Twilight)…

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A detail shot…

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The small study she created before working on the final painting…

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And Laura’s very BLUE studio table…

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Laura is a sweet and gentle soul with a serious case of wanderlust – she left the CAMAC ‘compound’ just about every weekend to travel to places like Brussels, Paris, and Luxembourg. She has a degree in French, and was also kind enough to act as one of my informal French tutors. And a fun fact about Laura: the woman can do some serious Irish jigging! A few of us got an impromptu performance during one of our ‘field trips’ to the city of Troyes, and I must say that I was impressed!

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Also from the great state of Colorado, is the poet and Colorado State University professor, Mary Crow. Mary is fluent in Spanish, and has done extensive translation of Latin American poetry in addition to her own work (make sure to visit her website here). She’s traveled and researched on three Fulbright scholarships, and has been just about everywhere – extensively throughout South and Central America, Europe, and Asia, as well as Israel, Morocco and Egypt. (She told me an incredible story about arriving in Cairo en route to a residency outside the city just days after the Arab Spring uprisings began in Tahrir Square, staying in a hotel only about a block away). Mary is independent and courageous, and one of the things I like about her most is that she began her globe-trotting adventures in her mid-40’s. As a 30 year old who feels a bit ‘late to the game’ of travel, I find this incredibly inspiring…

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Photo by Raquel Esquives

Sabeen Raja, originally from Pakistan and now living in Virginia, joined us for only two weeks in September. She is an incredibly talented painter who creates painstakingly detailed works using (and subverting) traditional South Asian imagery, as you can see here and here. During her short stay at CAMAC, she worked on two small drawings. From the short time I spent with her, I found Sabeen to be a quiet, sweet, and tender-hearted woman who will surprise you every now and then with unexpected stories and jokes…

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Detail shot…

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Now that I’ve told you about all of the artists who left at the end of September, I must introduce my full-time ‘partners in crime,’ Raquel and Maja. The three of us were together for both September and October, and became very close during that time…

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We jokingly dubbed ourselves “The Trinity,” mostly to boost our spirits on the slightly sad and lonely weekend when the September crew had gone and the October crew had yet to arrive. It wasn’t all bad, though. We cooked delicious meals for each other, and screened movies in our little D.I.Y. cinema for the first time (which became an almost nightly ritual with the next month’s crew)…

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Maja told me that for years while she was growing up in Slovenia, it was tradition to air “The Labyrinth” on television for New Year’s Eve.  Let the record show that I am in FULL support of this, and think we should adopt this tradition in the States immediately!

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Raquel Esquives is a prolific photographer, mixed-media, and performance artist from Lima, Peru. She has a blindingly bright smile, and absolutely loves to laugh. She is friendly, caring, and adventurous, and has been traveling the world completing artists residencies for some time now. She hates the cold, and packed at least five different jackets / coats for her stay in France. And even though I know she was miserable, I have to admit that I loved hearing the cute little moan she made every time she stepped outside – it’s one of those tiny things that I miss about her now. She adores the 80’s era British sitcom “ ‘Allo, ‘Allo, ” and it’s my personal belief that if she found the elixir for eternal life, she’d give it to her tiny dog back home, Pluto. Her positive energy and love of life is infectious…

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Photo by Maja Pegan

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Raquel at the champagne “cave” (again, more on that excursion later)…

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…and in front of Maja’s mistletoe-leaf installation (more on that below)…

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Raquel’s current work focuses on women’s bodies and feminism – she explores topics such as body-image issues, menstruation (the power to create life), and the strength women find in their connections with each other. She utilizes techniques that are associated with traditional domestic crafts, or “women’s work,” such as embroidery, sewing, and beading; warm reds and pinks dominate her color palette. Check out her bilingual website here

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Detail…

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Photo by Jón Özur Snorrason

One of my favorite pieces – each strand of fabric represents a year of Raquel’s life and each knot a menstrual period…

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Photo by Maja Pegan

Text written in menstrual blood…

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Raquel working…

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Maja Pegan is a photographer, painter, mixed-media, and installation artist from Maribor, Slovenia. She is wickedly funny, and has a dry wit that’ll keep you rolling on the floor. Her English skills are remarkable, so much so that I thought she was from the States when we were first introduced (she also speaks Slovenian, of course, as well as German). She loves good movies and television, and introduced me to some wonderful things like Jim Henson’s “The Storyteller” series, the aforementioned “ ‘Allo, ‘Allo,” “Shaun the Sheep” (from the creators of Wallace and Gromit), the gorgeously animated “The Secret of Kells,” and the amazing “Triplets of Belleville” (if you love animated films and haven’t seen this yet, do so immediately!)….

She makes wonderfully thin crêpes and a delicious veggie soup that’ll warm your bones on a chilly day. At CAMAC she waged a serious war against the many, VERY LARGE spiders that invaded her bedroom, and had a pretty intense love affair with the cat-in-residence, Frida (more on our feline friend a bit later). She likes to take long walks, and to talk about life, art, and just about anything else you throw at her. She also happens to be one of the silliest people I’ve ever met – an absolute GOOFBALL. We shared many good conversations, long walks along the canal, and MUCH laughter together – we’re already plotting when and how we’ll see each other again someday (perhaps by collaborating on a project together in Slovenia if the U.S. Embassy there will share some of its cultural grant funding with us – hmmmmm)…

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Photo by Raquel Esquives

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Gathering branches for her big installation…

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…and mistletoe…

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Making those yummy crêpes…

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And just being her silly self…

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Photo by Raquel Esquives

At CAMAC, Maja had her hands in several different projects focusing on the local landscape, culture, and community. These included small paintings, a large-scale installation depicting a woman’s body assembled with local natural materials, and – my personal favorite – an installation piece in which she covered the walls of a small circular room with mistletoe leaves (which, you’ll remember from my last post, Marnay-sur-Seine has no shortage of!) Be sure to check out Maja’s website here

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I love the earthy color palette Maja uses in her paintings…

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Another artist reacts to living “in the shadow of The Nuke”…

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One of Maja’s installations made from locally sourced branches, stone, and soil.  You can see sketches for this installation on the left side of the back wall…

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And my personal favorite – Maja’s wall of mistletoe!  Unfortunately, she didn’t have time to finish the entire wall, but I still think it was AMAZING…

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Detail shot…

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Several of us lent our labor to the cause from time to time – here I am helping out a bit…

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Photo by Maja Pegan

Maja working…

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As a group, the September crew had a wonderful dynamic – our dinners were filled with great conversation and raucous laughter, often lasting late into the night…

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Photo by Raquel Esquives

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Photo by Maja Pegan

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Photo by Raquel Esquives

And some of my favorite photos of this crew… Harold convinced us that we just had to check out the ridiculously enormous shower in his room – what a photo op!

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Photo by Raquel Esquives

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Photo by Maja Pegan

What a fun crew, indeed! Even the staff commented on how well we got along – apparently most groups usually don’t gel quite as well as we did. Maja, Raquel, and I were certainly sad to see our friends leave as September came to an end…

CONTINUE THIS POST IN “Les CAMACois” (October)

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