Fostering International Collaboration: CalArts Feldstärke in Essen

Kokerei Zollverein

Kokerei Zollverein was the inspiration of Toussaint Jeanlouis' group project. | Photo: Toussaint Jeanlouis

Feldstärke International is a project that lives up to its promise of breaking down borders through the common language of art. A joint effort administered by the international arts organizations CENTQUATRE (Paris), PACT Zollverein (Essen, Germany) and a third partner that changes every year, Feldstärke fosters international dialogue and interdisciplinary collaboration between advanced student artists and recent graduates. The majority of the art is completed in one-week residencies: Think of it as collaboration in overdrive.

Feldstärke artists visited CalArts (the 2009 partner) last fall with students from various disciplines, including design, dance, cinema, circus arts, landscape art, visual and plastic arts, music, video, theatre, numeric arts, creating work throughout the Institute. (Remember the pink Feldstärke bus on campus?) This semester, two students, Toussaint Jeanlouis (Theater MFA 10) and Ellen Reid (Music MFA 11), were selected as CalArts’ representatives for the winter session in Essen in late January.

Without much time to recover from jetlag, the Essen Feldstärke participants were asked to create art almost immediately. “We self-selected our groups and I worked with a Parisian percussionist, a Bulgarian dancer from Istanbul, a Taiwanese dancer from Germany and a German photographer,” said Reid, a composer with an interest in international art experience.

“Since there was no time for exploration, we tried to bring exploration into the piece,” she said. “We worked in visual and sonic camps, and I collaborated most with percussionist Lucie Antunes, recording collages and soundscapes.”

The group gathered wood and scrap metal, which were hung, and the final installation included percussion, singing, dance and computers. See photos (above) and listen to the piece she and Antunes composed to experience some of their final group project (below):

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The theme of exploration also permeated Jeanlouis’ group project. “Our first task as a group was to walk around the outside of an old abandoned coal factory–Kokerei Zollverein–and observe in silence,” said Jeanlouis, an actor who documented and photographed his group’s project (see photos above). “Being in a place of silence, color and sound become what you hold onto.

“It created a ‘frozen memory’ and that was something that we wanted the audience to experience in the installation; to look at the space a little differently.”

At times, the Feldstärke experience was more than challenging because of the shortness of time and the breakdown of language among participants. But those minor bumps were overcome en route to reaching larger goals.

“It is an experience where you learn your own limits,” Reid said, but added that more importantly, “Feldstärke was a way we could learn from other people.”

Reid and Jeanlouis head to Paris at the end of this month for the next Feldstärke session.

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