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Sky Globe (working title)

OCT 21, 2006
I am really excited about the first project we are doing for my MFA studies at the Bauhaus. We are working with public and private light and architecture. For the first project I want to make a camera obscura. I want to simply project the sky onto the ground or onto a table. I have always been fascinated by lenses and how they project an image, especially when it is a live image and not just a slide. I think the miniature glowing image is so seductive, it really draws me in. I can imagine reaching under the lens and holding the sky in my hands. I feel like I can put this miniature world in my pocket. Like a snow globe. Or if I project big enough on the floor, I could walk and lay in the clouds.

Another thing I am fascinated by is the fact that light is literally being projected in both directions at the same time. So at the same time that the sky is being projected on the participant, the participant is being projected on the sky! The only difference is that the ambient light in the sky makes it impossible to see our projection onto the sky. But it is there, light is always traveling in both directions through a lens. We are able to see the projected image on the inside of the camera obscura because we block out all of the ambient light and we place a surface at the correct distance in order to focus the image.

I talked to some friends about the project who are not studying art and they really liked the idea. For me that is important. My audience is not limited to artists and curators and collectors (ie people with a specialized knowledge art). I see my audience as normal everyday people, and I try to make work that everyone can relate to with out any specialized knowledge of art theory.

For me, public art is the manipulation of social interaction. Painters manipulate paint to create art. Potters manipulate clay. Public artists manipulate social situations and interactions. Of course there is also Art in Public Space which is different than Public Art. My Lunch Tag project is Public Art. Projecting the sky onto the ground might be more Art in Public Space.

OCT 24, 2006
So, I had a second idea with the camera obscura. I was thinking I could focus on places, buildings, objects in public space. Places where there is some public debate about what to do with the space. I would then invite participants to draw how they think the public space should be used. For instance, if there is an empty lot and someone thinks Jena needs a hospital, then the person draws a hospital in the empty lot. The image from the camera obscura will help them draw all of the buildings around the empty lot.

I am thinking of this as a kind of voting booth or comment box for public space. I would collect the drawings of the participants and exhibit them in a gallery. Perhaps also with photographs of the place(s) which I have focused the camera obscura on.

An interesting aspect for me is that I think this will reverse the power dynamics. Buildings and public spaces seem to dominate the people in them, at least to the degree that they are by necessity physically larger than people. The camera obscura miniaturizes the public space or building thereby allowing the viewer to feel a certain amount of power or dominance over it.

Looking back at what I just wrote, 'dominance' seems a bit strange to me. The word sounds sinister. I think this very playful.


I had another idea during class that I am excited about. I want to build a camera obscura in a room and use 5 lenses and project the walls and ceiling onto a miniature model of the volume of the space. This will effectively invert the room, literally turning it inside out. The 'outside' world now appears to be inside this little object as if we could pick it up, hold it in our hands, put it in our pocket, and take it with us. Like a snow globe.

For me this is about how we internalize the external world to construct reality.


Oh, and this last image is another variation on the camera obscura idea. I would find already existing sources of light, such as street lamps, and project their image, converting public light into private light, something you can hold in your hand. Again like a snow globe and about the internalization of the external world.


Here is a link to an interesting movie I shot of the blinds openning up to reveal the reflection of the sky on the back side of the bibliotek in Jena. [2.8MB]




Snow Globe / Schneekugel

FEB 6, 2007
The projected has developed quite a bit since the last time I posted here. Last week was my first week installing the camera obscura in a school in Jena. I will install in two more schools between now and March 6.

Friday was my last day in Angergymnasium and it was perfect. I arrived early before my first meeting with a class. I was getting things organized for the day and there was a group of younger students sitting at a table nearby, so I asked if they have seen the project yet. They said no so I invited them to go inside. After a long week of explaining my project to everyone (in German) I decided to just let them go in and experience it on their own. When they came out all they could say was "toll."

Then a few minutes later the same group of kids asked me to come outside and play basketball. I hesitated for fear of humiliation from my lack of skill, but then I decided why not. It didn't matter that I was horrible at basketball, what was important was that the kids could share something with me after I had shared my art with them.

This is exactly the kind of spontaneous interaction and exchange that I had hoped for, although I had not imagined that I would be playing basketball. But the day got even better. Later after the first group of kids went of to class, another slightly older girl sat in the canteen studying alone. I struck up a conversation with her as well and invited her to see my camera obscura. It turned out she is from another country as well, so we ended up speaking English. She stared asking questions about the optics so I asked if she wanted to do an experiment. We replaced one of the lenses with a small pinhole, then with a larger hole about the size of a button, and compared the results. She was fascinated that you can make an image without a lens.

Then came time for my first class of the day. It was the oldest students in an intensive English language course with the director of the school. All week while doing optical experiments with the younger students and chemistry with the middle students I had been explaining the meaning and philosophy of the work in very simple terms, limited both by the level of the students and the level of my German. Now was a chance to discuss in depth the ideas of my work.

But I didn't start straight away in English. I thought it was important to first gain their trust and respect by first speaking in German as best I could. So I introduced myself and explained as much as I could in German, then I switched to English. I first spoke about my challenges in learning German and how I dealt with them. I spoke about the fear and the embarrassment and how by actively working on expressing and releasing these emotions I am leaps and bounds ahead of the other students.

Then we spoke about the work and a second intensive English class joined us. They had wonderful questions. One asked how I thought the students in different schools would see the walls differently. It was a good question because it brought up the fact that the camera is literally focused on the walls. Because I do not know the German schools very well, I began to talk about American schools. I told them that I had once taught for two weeks in a very poor inner city public school. I was so excited to share a wonderful gift with the kids but they fought against me every step of the way. While the students in the Gymnasium see the windows in these walls as windows of opportunity opening out into a world of possibilities, I think that the kids in this inner city school would see those walls as a prison and sometimes it literally is because if they don't go to school their parents will go to jail. The structure of the educational system is literally oppressing them, holding them back, and keeping them poor. It was a very passionate moment for me to explain this to the students and I got teary eyed as I described my experience in the inner city school.

Maybe now is a good time to talk about my strategy for connecting with the students of different ages. Gymnasium covers years 5 or 6 through year 12, so there is quite a large age range. I decided before hand that I would not be able to engage every student in a philosophical discussion. My strategy for the younger students was to engage them in a process, to do handwork. With the younger and middle groups we made handmade paper. With the middle and upper middle groups we mixed the chemistry for cyanotype photography and made photograms. I am giving them practical experiences that critically challenge the social norm by engaging them not just as consumers of culture but also as producers.

As if all of this interaction was not wonderful enough, Sophia, a student, came to visit me after lunch. She had many question, not just about the art but also about the USA and the war in Iraq. This was the second time that she visited me after her classes in order to ask me questions. We talked for 2 hours; it was exactly the kind of engaging interaction I was looking for, and a perfect ending to the week.

Two friends stopped by to see the project just at the end and we cleaned up together and went home so I could finally get some sleep.

I would also like to recap what took place all week.

Physics and optical experiments with focusing the lenses
I showed up on Monday not knowing what to expect. The school had arranged a schedule for teachers to bring their classes to see my project, but I didn't know what subjects and what ages would visit me on Monday until I arrived in the morning. It ended up being mostly younger physics classes. I took groups of 3 or 4 students into the camera and explained the my project. We compared the image from a pin hole with the image from a lens and we experimented with focusing. I pointed out that not only is the image upside down and backwards, but the focusing is backwards as well. To focus on something far away you move the lens closer to the image, to focus on something close you move the lens farther away from the image. One teacher brought 4 separate classes to see my project and she even had a handout with questions about camera obscuras for the kids to work on while they wait their turn to go inside. By the end of the day I figured out that it worked better to have the teacher go inside with the small groups and explain the optics while I stayed outside and talked to the students about the project and the meaning behind it. I explained the idea of internalization in simple terms, limited both by the intelectual level of the students and the level of my german. For these younger students my strategy was to focus on engaging them through an interactive experience rather than through philosophical discussion, but I think it was important to present the concepts and I think they are fully capable of understanding the basic idea.

paper making, Jena TV reporter

Chemistry and photograms, Newspaper reporter

more paper making

philosophy discussion with english class, newspaper reporter


FEB 8, 2007
I am developing quite a relationship with the Hausmeister and his family. His wife even brought me a plate of homemade bread and cheese. And the daughter helped me all afternoon to make another paper box for the cyanotype photography. Then she showed me some of the things that she has designed. She did an apprenticeship where she learned graphic design and photography. She has all of the chemicals, paper and equipment for photography so we made plans for tomorrow to experiment with black & white photography inside the camera obscura. Her dad (the Hausmeister) said it was a good chance for her to learn english and much cheaper than taking a course.

My 2 day test exposure inside the camera obscura showed a trace of the windows, which was a good sign. I think that a 5 day exposure will produce even better results. Next week I will expose a paper box (with cyanotype chemicals) for the entire week that I am in the school. It will be a kind of record or evidence of all the light that entered the camera during the week at the school.

FEB 22, 2007
I have been writing a kind of journay most days after go to the schools, but I have not had internet access so I am just now able to post them.

Grete Unrein

My 3 day exposure on the handmade paper box worked! You can see a faint trace of the windows on one side and the light above.

Moving went well. The only problem was that the Hausmeister is on vacation so we had to go get one from the other school.

The installation at Grete Unrein was wonderful. I had 5 boys helping me and we had a lot of fun laughing and taking pictures while we worked. It makes me feel youthful and full of energy to be around kids.

We made paper today with a group of younger students. I really noticed a difference between the students in the gymnasium and at the gesamtschule. I could just tell that there was a different socio-economic demographic in the school. I also noticed a difference in the behavior, but maybe that is because it was a younger group and I mostly worked with slightly older students at the gymnasium. The students today seemed to need a lot more attention, or at least some of the students in the class. But it was a lot of fun. I did a pretty good job of keeping everyone busy, or at least keeping those busy who had lots of energy. I let the students use my camera the whole time to document the process. I can't wait to see how the pictures look.

Today I worked with the chemistry class. We had two students mix the chemicals, then one at a time the students brushed the chemicals onto a piece of paper while everyone else cut a snowflake from a folded piece of paper. At the end we put the snowflake on top of the light sensitive paper and put everything in the window. I will come back tomorrow and take them out of the window.

These students I am working with are amazing! We made B&W photos inside the camera and the students were so excited. Once I showed them how to make the first one they just take over. We are going to take more pictures again on Friday.

What I am really blown away by though is their talent as photographers. Martin gave me a CD with some of the images that he shot. He even included a slide show of the best ones. Not only were the photos amazing but he did a wonderful job with the sequencing and pacing to weave a story. I like it so much I showed it to my professors and fellow students. They were amazed and said "this kid will be a famous photographer."

Juliane had given me a web address with her pictures the day before and I finally got to look at it this morning. All I can say is Wow! This girl, this woman could easily be a professional photographer, today. I can see that she really takes her photography seriously.

I also met with an English course (Herr Boerner) and discussed the philosophy. It was great because at the end of class Herr Boerner said my line of argument matches perfectly with a movie (Dead Poets Society) they are watching and discussing in class right now.

Boy am I exhausted. Three weeks of taking the 7:06 train are catching up to me. I am looking forward to getting some sleep this weekend.

I was a little late this morning (I took the 7:21) but I think it was okay. The class that I was suppose to meet had begun other work, a girl was giving a presentation on surrealism and I got to listen to her finish. It was great because then I weaved it into our conversation about my artwork by comparing the way surrealism and my camera both deal with the concept of constructed realities. It is interesting because I find that I give a different lecture every time. I presented to a class with the same teacher later in the day and I wondered to myself what she thinks about my presentations being different. I had one lesson that I felt went really well, where I just was right on with my line of argument, and remembering all the right german words.

I got to meet again with the group of students from the chemistry class. It was the last 15 minutes of their English class so this time I spoke in English. I am noticing that it is getting a little easier to switch from on language to the other. The photograms turned out wonderfully even though most of them stayed in the window for 2 days. I explained again and in more detail about the collaboration with the students of the school and most of the students donated their photogram to me to put in the gallery.

I am falling asleep writing this so I will have to come back to it.

A hot dog break durning installation.

February 22, 2007
I have some catching up to do on my writing.

Monday was simple, we just disassembled the camera and transported it to the Lobdeburgschule. The kids were a great help. They took charge of the camera while I packed up all my other things. Unfortunately someone removed my handmade paper box with cyanotype chemicals from the camera obscura which ruined my attempt at capturing a photo. Oh well, it is not the results that are important, it is the process. Oh, and Grete Unrein gave me 30€ to help pay for some of the supplies.

Tuesday we assembled the camera. Another great group of assistants, they were layed back and we just took our time. The teacher left them we me so it was just me and the students. We even put a fresh coat of paint on the entire outside and I finally finished painting some of the lens boxes. While we were working a couple of girls from the school newspaper came and interviewed me and took some pictures. I showed them inside the camera obscura and we discovered something really cool. The pedistal was not inside yet so when the girls walked in the images were projected directly onto them. It was beautiful and creapy at the same time and gave me an idea to experiment with for future projects. At the end of the interview the girls realized that maybe their voice recorder was not working. It was funny, I made such an effort to answer all the questions in German and the recording didn't work. Maybe we will redo the interview next week.

Wednesday I had my first meeting with a class. It was a Physics class of 7th graders and it was a double lesson. I tried something new today. I tried to give a really simple demonstration of why a lens of pinhole makes the image upside-down. I had one student stand as the object that we are focusing on and another student make a circle with his fingers to make the pinhole of our camera. Then I took a string and showed how if the light comes from the girls head, travels in a straight line, and through the pinhole (our lens) it ends up on the floor. I think it went okay, but for some reason I was not feeling totally comfortable this morning. Maybe because I was trying to explain something in German that I had never explained before and I didn't know the words. But I think it was something else. For some reason in the first half of the class I was feeling self conscious. But the second half was better. We went back to the class room and made a sample photogram. While the photogram was exposing in the window we spoke in English. I had noticed in previous classes in the other schools that students were very shy about speaking English, so I decided to make a game out of it. I made a ball from a crumpled piece of paper and we started passing it around the room. Who ever got the ball had to ask a question in English. It actually work. They started asking me questions, but not about the art, more about the USA or basic info about me and my life. That seemed to go really well and it put me in a good mood, which was a good thing because I spent the rest of the day lining up collaborations with more teachers.

Thursday I arrived early again. I have to catch the train at 6:29 in order to get to school on time. Today I worked with the Grundschule, kindergartens! They are so cute. They came in small groups and we cut pictures from pieces of paper to make masks for a photograms. The teacher had prepared an example of both a snow flake and a flower cut from paper. The first group was still working when the next group came but we had enough tools for everyone. Then another group came, and more and more groups kept coming. I quickly realized that I was not organized and wasn't prepared to have different groups working at different steps at the same time. I had a moment where I thought to myself, wow this is really out of control, but that is okay. I was really lucky to find a helper in one of the older students. She stayed after she finished her first cutout so she could do another. I quickly noticed that she was good at and really enjoying the paper cutting, so I asked her to be my helper and explain the paper cutting to the new students who arrived. Next week at the next lessons with the kindergartners I will ask ahead of time for helpers for each of the steps.

My day ended early and I headed to Weimar and took a little nap on the train ride home. My mom is visiting for the weekend and arrived on Wednesday night, so it was nice to have the rest of the day off to spend with her.

Raindrops on the window.

The images inside the camera are pretty amazing. They are so crisp and clear you can even see the raindrops on the window.

Photo by Klemm Uwe, more photos at
One more thing. Last week at Grete Unrein a reporter came and interviewed me. I am still searching for a copy of the article. And I discovered that Angergymnasium has an amazing picture from inside the camera obscura posted on their website.
Tuesday, Feb 27, 2007
I noticed today the power of play. A simple game of catch really openned up a dialogue. I just waded up a piece of paper and threw it to someone. They ask a question and pass it on. I have used this technique before, but today it really hit me how powerful play can be in learning.
I also noticed something else. Inside the camera obscura in the distance of one of the projected images you can see 2 enormous smoke stacks. I find this to be quite a powerful visual symbolism, that the view out the window of the Regel schule is a factory.
I noticed this during an interview with two girls from the school newspaper. They were amazed that they pass by this window everyday yet had never noticed the factory before.

Today I had a really good interaction with the 7th grade physics class. It was a double lesson so almost 2 hours. First I introduced the project, then we looked at the camera. Next we discussed (I spoke about) the meaning and philosophy, but not to much since they are only 7th graders. I think they understand but in order to hold their attention I can't just stand there and talk for to long. So, since it was a physics class I transitioned into a simple and fun explanation of the optics. In the camera... Op, I have to get off the train now...

Friday March 2, 2007
The last two days have been good. Maybe because they were shorter or maybe because I'm getting good at this. Yesterday the physics classes asked good questions and were really engaged. Today I made B&W photos inside the camera obscura with 3 girls who are doing a report on Photo Art for their Abschloss profungs. It was nice to just work with a small group, much more relaxed. I took some really cool pictures in the darkroom with a 20 second exposure. The red and green from the safe lights looks great. It was nice, this school had a full dark room. No one is using it this year because there is no teacher, so I had to bring my own chemicals but it really makes a difference to have good simple equipment like trays, tongs and safe lights. They even had a working photo dryer.

Now I am riding home on the train and the sun is setting on one side as the moon rises on the other. The moon is surrounded by purple and orangish-pink clouds. The sun feels so good on my face when the trees break. I noticed that the days are much longer now than 2 months ago. It is a beautiful day and a beautiful sun set as my project is nearing the end.

  Saturday was the Tag der offenen Tür [Day of the open Door] or Open House at Lobdeburg Schule. I was there from 9-12 to show my project to the public. Lots of parents and older siblings talked to me about my project, and everyone asked if I will go to more schools. When I find funding I would like to go to every school in Jena to create a kind of portrait of Jena as seen through the structure of the educational system. Jena is very interesting both for its history with Optics and as a center for learning and progressive education.

Monday was amazing. I did this great thing with the kindergartners after everyone looked inside the camera. I had them close their eyes and I asked them to think about their bedroom. I asked if they could see a picture of their room in their mind. I had some of them tell me what they saw. Then I said, "I think... you are a camera! And you are also a camera! And you, and you, and you to. We are all a camera!"

So many people told me that the philosophy would be to difficult for the younger kids, but I really believe that on some level they get it. At any rate they smile like they understand when I tell them they are a camera.


Tuesday March 6, 2007
Well, we took down the camera obscura today. It is now sitting in pieces in my studio in Weimar. Jens Kolrausch and the kids from his construction group again provided the man power. Jens was kind enough to even transport the camera all the way to Weimar with is trailer. And he gave me a book titled "Horns Ende" by Christoph Hein. It is from the GDR times and it is five people telling their story of the same event, but each story is completely different and you can't say which version is true and which is false, they are all true. He said my project made him think about the book. I can't wait to read it. It will be the first book I read in German.

On another note I feel like I really overcame some personal challenges with this project. I have always had difficulty asking for money, but I was able to ask for financial support for this project, and I received it. In the past I may have given up after the first school was not able to help, but even though it was difficult I asked the other schools. In the end all of the expenses for this project were covered. This is the first time that I have not spent my own money to create a work of art and I think this marks a major turning point for me. The difference is that I see and truly believe in the value of what I am doing. I no longer think what I am doing is just for fun, but I see that it serves a serious and important function in the society. The role of transmitting the values of the culture, but of course it is still a lot of fun.

Before I left, Frau Wrede asked me to sign the guest book. All the people who visit and spend time at the school write something in the book. It was really touching because I feel like I will always be a part of the family there.


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