Artistic laboratory comes to life

Participants of “XS” discuss Artemel's team’s project — a disfigured talking toy.
Participants of “XS” discuss Artemel's team’s project — a disfigured talking toy. Photo by Saga Blane.


On Sunday, a man wielding a cordless reciprocating saw, a woman with a tiny microscope and an architecture student with a clove of garlic, among others, brought to life a new artistic collaboration that unites eight of Yale’s schools.

Assembled by Saga Blane ARC ’13 as her master’s thesis project, “XS” creates a space for participants — 41 Yale community members from disciplines ranging from architecture to environmental science — to share ideas and explore interests outside of their respective schools. Through an online collaboration system and a series of six workshops, Blane said she hopes the group’s yearlong discussions will culminate in a zine and a spring exhibition. The project’s budget is $20,000, of which only $4,700 has been confirmed, Blane said.

“There are so many excited and dynamic graduate and undergraduate students at Yale, and too often we get siloed,” said Jake Jeppson DRA ’12, who directed the workshop on Sunday. “To be able to come into a space and share our backgrounds from our various forms of training is only going to make the work more exciting and our own education more exciting.”

Blane explained that XS’ goal is not to create a polished final product, but rather to serve as an incubator for creativity. The exhibit at the end of the year, she said, will focus on presenting this process itself to the public.

This discussion will take place, in part, at the six workshops, each of which will have a theme drawn from the ideas in Daniel Pink’s book about right-brain thinking, “A Whole New Mind”: play, design, story, empathy, meaning and symphony. Sunday’s workshop, which about 25 of XS’ members attended, investigated “play.” To that extent, Blane said she hoped the participants would find ways to physically represent ideas they had discussed previously by making art on-site.

“Creativity happens with other people,” said Matthew Claudel ’13, one of five undergraduates at the workshop. “You have to work together, and you have to start somewhere. This was a good place to start.”

Jeppson began the workshop by asking each of the participants to share with the group a tool and a verb they brought that speaks to their creative method. Tools ranged from a permanent marker to a cordless reciprocating saw, and verbs from “to enchant” to “to everything.”

The participants then divided into the six small teams to which they had been assigned prior to the event. Jeppson gave each a black plastic garbage bag and duct tape. He also provided six unique items for each group to take, such as an inflatable dinosaur and a talking fur-covered plastic toy. After half an hour, the teams presented their work. One of the pieces consisted of the talking toy, with its fur and body parts removed and then melted back together, suspended with string over the backs of three chairs.

“This piece is called the Death of the Id, its insides displayed like viscera,” AJ Artemel ARC ’14 explained as he pulled out a long piece of yellow trace paper that he had stuffed under his shirt and let it fall to the floor. Asked if the toy’s voice had changed, Artemel responded, “not discernibly.”

Blane said she felt the event was a success, despite having been unable to predict exactly what would come of such a collaboration.

“I think it was good to get more comfortable, working with people and talking,” Claudel said of the event.

Blane created XS under the supervision of School of Architecture professor Eeva-Liisa Pelkonoen.

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