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OF THEIR OWN MAKING AND WRITING: An Integrative Interview with Kate Teale and Nancy Roach
From the Integrative Seminar / Studio 1 course descriptions: Memory is an action or process of commemorating, recollecting, or remembering a person, object, or event. How do these actions and processes shape identity and our understanding of the world? Integrative Studio 1 and Seminar 1 share concepts and assignments, bringing together reading, writing, and making in a manner that is essential to the creative work of professional artists and designers in every discipline.
Parsons ADHT’s Casey Haymes met with Nancy Roach to ask about Catherine Teale. Then he met with Catherine Teale to ask about Nancy Roach. What follows is an intersection of the two conversations.
Casey: Speaking of memory, what was the first conversation?
Nancy: Kate ‘“asked me out!” She and my husband had gone to grad school together, and we’d known each other for years. She was struggling with titles for her work in an upcoming solo show. We had this really great coffee meeting where she, I think, expected me to give her titles for her work.
Kate: So there I was, thinking Nancy would solve all my problems and come up with titles for my show. And she would not. She asked me the kind of questions that made me work it out. I immediately thought she would be fantastic for the Integratives course. She’s the most amazing, creative mother who enjoyed her kids’ childhoods, and she’s good with adults. She’s going to be good with students.
C: What rules does she break that you uphold?
K: Nancy’s not a rule breaker because she’s not really a rule person.
N: She teaches me how to break rules. Which is what’s so exciting about being in this pair from different disciplines. If I stayed within my own discipline, I would be overwhelmed by the rules of writing as I know them. But seeing the way she works as an artist allows me to observe through another medium the ways I can break rules. She has taught me the entire art of breaking rules simply by being an artist, who, every time faced with a problem has to come up with a unique solution. It’s not that writers don’t do that, but there are a lot more conventions about being bound on a page that make us (writers) think we’re not doing that. I would say she taught me to think like an artist about how you attack problems. And gave me artist problems to solve in writing. This whole course is predicated on the idea that reading, writing, thinking should be a critical part of art making. Well if you’re going to do that for students, then you have to seriously engage with the kind of art they’re making. And the kind of problems they’re going to face in their art making. Design your assignment around that. On one hand, I’m given a whole list of criteria to meet by the university. But on the other hand I want all that criteria to meaningfully apply to what they’re doing in Studio.
C: Is there any room for silence in the student work created between you?
N: Where did you come up with these questions?
C: New York City.
N: You just went right to the thing that’s hardest for me, the thing that I study—How do you make silence? Ask the question again.
C: Is there any room for silence in the student work created between you?
K: It’s really not part of the Parsons experience, as far as I can tell. We encourage the students to speak for their work rather than saying “the work speaks for itself.” But we had a student last semester who created this wonderful manifesto—white on white, quiet, almost nothing there. I think silence holds possibilities.
N: Obviously the students have an enormous amount of silence in the contemplation of the assignments. How do they approach the assignment, and how do they make it their own? That happens in a silent space that is supported by a lot of talking and writing in my class and making in Kate’s class. But of course their own making is quite a silent affair. Silence, I would say, literally only happens in my classroom when they’re writing and thinking. They do a lot of free writing in Seminar. And I’ve become better at not answering questions all the time. I’ve become better at letting the silence sit until somebody else fills it. Everything we do is aimed at making space for students to make meaning for themselves. But I’ve never thought of it as silence; I’ve thought of it as providing a space to think in.
C: What is the intellectual conversation this semester between Seminar and Studio? Who speaks louder?
N: I hope neither of our classes speaks louder. The Integratives conversation is absolutely a give and take.
K: It’s possible Studio speaks louder, but clearly it’s a match, a dance—it’s an INTEGRATED course. I wonder if Nancy said Seminar, if only because it’s longer. (Studio has six hours per week; Seminar has three.)
C: In terms of the sentence structure, which class is the subject? Object?
N: I like to think about what writing means to artists and designers who need to incorporate language around what they do rather than to think about writing as an end in and of itself. It’s an exercise to get you somewhere. And depending on where you’re trying to get, there are different exercises you can engage in.
K: The idea behind integrating writing with their studio work was that they would see connections, and they would also think about the same questions from different parts of their making brains, beings, selves. I’ve appreciated working with Nancy, where she sees the writing as being in support of Studio, but it’s definitely a back and forth. Many of the students are here because they want to be makers and designers. That’s their primary focus. And I think the course works better if Seminar works with that. What we’re trying to get them to do is to think creatively and develop their ideas and be able to express them. And there’s zero question in my mind that coming at that with writing and making vastly improves both.
C: Trace the path for me of an assignment as it journeys from faculty to student, between Studio and Seminar.
K: We have a syllabus, a curriculum. There are a lot of points to hit. And it took us a long time, the first time we taught it, to figure it out. We had several brainstorming sessions and then Nancy would get super excited, and we knew we were on to something. And then we wrote the project and finessed how it all fit together.
N: In the eighth week of the Seminar course, the students began the ‘Memory Made Visual’ project. They looked at five different artists whose work would never be considered a memorial, and they were asked to think about why I chose these examples of the intersection of memory, object creation, and the experience with the viewer. They were asked to think of ways of intersecting the idea of memory with a viewer. The students proposed two ideas in Studio, chose one. For two weeks in my class, they researched a topic. They were asked to find three sources that related to their site. They summarized them, quoted them, and related them to their thinking about their designs in Studio. The students then designed an exhibition for which they produced a catalog, wall text, and the memorials. For the wall text, they did this kind of process-based thinking about where they started and ended up. About what made them change along the way and what the research brought to that process. For their catalog text they returned to the beginning of the semester and drew from all the creative writing assignments: found poetry, dream and memoir writing.
K: There are lots of crossovers between our classes. I always read what she’s assigning and refer to that. I put together a slideshow on different kinds of memorials. Nancy’s always expanding the idea of what this thing is. How it works for the students is, I think, they see a lot of back and forth between us. Nancy attends our critiques sometimes. We’ve taken field trips together. Did Nancy tell you about taking a drawing class?
C: No, I’m impressed but not surprised.
K: All Parsons students go through this First Year curriculum. We’re getting people in our class who’ve created art all their lives and possess great technical skills. We also get people who’ve never done it. I enjoy this as a challenge; it takes some managing. Nancy is very sympathetic to the kind of student who sees another student with incredible drawings and sees their own drawings and feels terrible. How do you manage that in a critique? On top of her busy life, Nancy took a drawing class at night. She wanted to know how they felt.
C: I was very clumsy when I went to art school, producing very basic drawings. And then in my second year something clicked and I learned to draw my own way.
K: That’s what I’m interested in, helping people find their own way.
C: What does she enact in her Memory course that you cannot teach?
N: If the students find a way to take advantage of it there is tremendously more freedom in Kate’s class to take an assignment and bend it to their will in terms of pursuing their own interests.There are so many skills and tools and formal things we’re supposed to do with writing that, although we break it and crack it open as much as we can, there are still these limitations writers can’t exceed.
K: Nancy’s just all about getting at the truth. I find that fascinating. She’ll keep pushing until she gets the students and herself to a place she really understands. I’m not sure if I do that in the same way. Freewriting is something very difficult for me to recreate in Studio. We start the semester with various drawing exercises that are not skills-based, like blind contour. I get them to diagram, draw their dreams. All the things that are not about creating a beautiful, well-rendered drawing.
C: What can you do in your class that she cannot do?
K: So often the art materials, if you’re open to them, will help you make what you need to make. Writers don’t have muck to mess with. It’s much more austere. But in Seminar, Nancy assigns found poetry and other exercises where stuff is supplied. She fills that hole. One of the main reasons so many of the students are here is they like to make stuff. And the thing about making stuff, it’s a conversation. I’m always trying to show the students new materials. Trying to show as many approaches as possible. Some say things like, “Oh, I love working with ink.” Or, “I love drawing with a sewing machine.” Or, “I never worked with monoprints.” So I’ve got the magic of materials in Studio.
C: Why does she teach at Parsons?
N: Oh, I don’t know, ask her.
K: I lobbied really hard to get Nancy hired. When she had her first teacher evaluation, she was worried, but she got such a good report. And now she’s a mentor for new faculty.
N: I know that we both love it. And that we love our colleagues and learn from them. Being in a world of artists making art is just to die for.
K: Our department has been very close. I’ve learned so much from older faculty. They’d show what they’d done, visit my classes. Nowhere else I’ve taught has it been like that. It wasn’t competitive. People really knew each other. I’ve been here sixteen years. There’s a lot of collegial stuff. Because it’s a foundational department, we’re all different; there are sculptors, architects, designers. We’ve had this ethos that we’re here for the students.
C: What are your differences in perceptions and how do you both work with them? How do the students factor?
K: When Nancy comes to the critique, she knows their writing. They had to do a lot of memoir writing assignments. She sees things that I wouldn’t ever be able to know. That’s really helpful. She has a great way of making them see that the way they write is really related to the way that they make stuff. And that’s a revelation to them. One of the most important things about a critique is helping a student see what they’ve done, which she excels at. Particularly if a student has written something she was really struck by. She can show them the relation to what they’ve made. That’s often a real turning point.
C: Do you read their pieces?
K: She cues me toward something of interest; I don’t just automatically read all their stuff.
N: Working in a team is the best part. If I’m struggling or I see a student struggling in my class, and vice versa, I can ask Kate how they’re doing in her class. We have a whole other insight into students.
C: What have you learned from your shared students about her?
N: They love Kate deeply.
K: They love Nancy.
N: I’ve learned that Kate’s much tougher than I am. She has insight into things that might be going on with the student that I don’t see sometimes. She’s very perceptive.
K: We see a lot of our former students, which is always a pleasure. They love Nancy’s attention and affection. She’s kind. She’s rigorous but also motherly. They love that she’s doing this because she wants to do this. And she’s open to what they write.
C: What is harder to teach, written or visual expressions of ideas? Is the relationship between the Studio and Seminar components of the Memory Integrative course one of translation? Is she concerned with holding two realities that can coexist or does one need to become the other?
K: We have quite a lot of people in both our classes who have a very poor opinion of self academically whereas they’re absolutely brilliant. They think because they haven’t done well in maybe certain areas that they’re not clever. So I think the writing part is harder because very few of them, the people we teach, have come here to study writing. Nancy has the harder job. These two realities co-exist and merge into a student being able to express their ideas in many ways. That’s the ideal.
N: An idea can be expressed in multiple ways and should be approached that way. One of the reasons I like teaching writing in an art school is because I feel like it’s the place where students can experiment with thinking and process and all the things they’ll need to be artists in a space that is not what they really care about. At every moment where their art is being judged in their design classes there’s a referendum in the backs of their minds, Am I gonna cut it? With writing, I can practice all the skills they’ll need to be good artists over here in this writing space where they think it doesn’t matter, and just get it in there. They’re not looking. Parsons wants you to take risks and fail. That’s really hard to do if you’re being judged on the product. But if I make them take risks, if I make them fail, well, that isn’t me, they’ll think. I’m not a writer. I can get them to do what Parsons wants them to do, but over in the place where they think they don’t care.
After the interviews, Kate and Nancy invited Casey to their students’ Integrative Seminar / Studio show:
Quotes from a couple of Kate and Nancy’s student makers and writers who spoke with Casey about their work and teachers…
Aria Bowes: I can’t really separate how the project developed between Studio and Seminar.
Emily Dion: I didn’t really like writing until I studied with Nancy.
Photos courtesy of Casey Haymes.
Kate Teale was born in Hampshire, England. She received her MA from Oxford University, England; her Art Diploma from City and Guilds of London Art School, and her MFA from Hunter College, C.U.N.Y. She had a major solo show at Western Michigan University’s Richmond Center for the Arts in 2014. There is a catalog with essays by Lucy L Lippard, Sarah Schmerler and Don Desmett.
Kate is represented by Studio10 Gallery where she had solo shows in 2013 & 2016 and a two-person in 2017. Group shows include Gallery Ho; Monya Rowe Gallery and Jim Kempner Gallery, in Chelsea NYC and in Brooklyn at The Boiler; Bushwick Basel with Valentine Gallery; Storefront; Sideshow and Schema Projects. Her work can be seen at Pierogi Gallery flat files, Brooklyn and at Studio10, Bushwick.
In 1992, Kate received a prestigious Winston Churchill Fellowship to travel to the US and study the teaching of drawing in the US, from which she developed a lecture series in the UK. She teaches at Parsons, The NewSchool for Design (since 2002) and has also taught at Yale (Graduate drawing, School of Architecture), Pratt Institute, Hunter College, and elsewhere in the US and UK.
Kate received a Joan Mitchell Foundation artist development grant in 2013 and a New York Foundation of the Arts Fellowship in Painting 2008. She has written feature articles for the UK art magazine Contemporary Art. She is also a curator, most recently at the Kerr Gallery, Western Michigan University, but mainly as founder/director of Big&Small/Casual Gallery in Long Island City.
Nancy Roach teaches the Integrative Seminars at Parsons School of Design and tutors writers at the New School University Learning Center. She has worked in the film industry for more than twenty-five years as an editor, producer, director and film consultant. Roach holds a Bachelor of General Studies from the University of Michigan, and a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from The New School. She writes and lives in Queens with her husband, the artist John Roach, and two awesome kids. All this is a very stuffy way of saying that she has always been in love with words and images and never wants to stop learning from, about and with them.
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