I’m currently finishing my MFA at Columbia University in Manhattan, which has been an institutional baptism-of-fire. It was all very new to me. To keep up in conversation I frequently had to subtly Google an artist’s name or scroll a theorist’s Wikipedia page. It’d be preposterous for me not have heard of this or that seminal work, this 1968 essay or that cancelled show at the Guggenheim. I realise I’m probably articulating my lack of a basic art education (I have an engineering background) but often I feel that perhaps I couldn’t have prepared for this very specific experience; I’m required to throw myself into a New York-centric history that has the rhetoric of breadth but at times feels quite narrow.
The two-year programme accepts twenty-six artists per year and is structured around regular studio visits from faculty and visiting critics, group critiques (not cruel ones like Yale), and we’re also encouraged to take other Columbia classes. I’ve studied feminism with Rosalyn Deutsche, modern visual culture with Jonathan Crary and Rosalind Krauss, architecture with Mark Wigley and Bernard Tschumi. Over one week last month I had individual studio visits with Sarah Oppenheimer, Alfredo Jaar, Sarah Sze and Chrissie Iles. Last year I organised lunches at Gavin Brown’s house for Rirkrit Tiravanija (my supervisor) with Mark Leckey, Martin Creed and others. Last week a group from our class spent seven days exploring obscure museums with Mark Dion, gallery tours with Josiah McElheny were a few weeks prior, and this reflects only a fraction of the programme. Although I was first unaware who many of these people were, the importance of their work or their position in the art world, I now strangely consider many of them my peers.
At times I find it difficult to quantify the actual value of the programme, and question if it is worth the immense cost or whether is it even a productive environment for making work. I wanted to be dropped into this incredible world based on the assumption that it would give sufficient spotlight and access to the channels of power (alongside developing my art making) to amass the clout needed to have a sustainable and successful art practice in the future. Ever since the February 2011 earthquake pushed me out of the studio I’ve found myself working at a large scale and for now, outside of the gallery system. Manhattan is a wild beast, impossibly difficult to negotiate with, especially in public spaces. I’m excited to see what unfolds here. Who knows, I might even tip past the ten-year mark and graduate as an official New Yorker (or maybe I’ll be back in Christchurch working to the scale I began with).
My thesis show opened Sunday 24 April at the Fisher Landau Center for Art in Queens so keep an eye out for that. The work is based on research into the current housing crisis in the city (sound familiar?) and creating some visibility around its inherent inequalities. If any of you reading this are visiting here then please get in touch – I’d love to catch up for a coffee or beer. Also shout out to CNZ for supporting my final semester here. It has been a really amazing experience, I hope I can do Aotearoa proud in the future.