Every time Matthew Chrislip ART ’13 enters his living room, he is reminded of the Yale Symphony Orchestra. Since beginning a design residency with the orchestra in September, Chrislip designated a wall of his apartment for sonic and visual experiments. Today a six-and-a-half foot tall scaffold occupies the space, which Chrislip called “a physical diagram to manipulate and to work with.”
Chrislip is not “in residence” in the traditional sense. Rather than an established artist visiting the University, he is a second-year MFA candidate. He proposed the residency to the YSO, which had never appointed a designer-in-residence before. And he receives no pay for his experiments.
Anne Fadiman, the Francis Writer-in-Residence, described her appointment in 2004 as “one of those mysterious Yale things.” A committee of mostly English department faculty shortlisted Fadiman before she had even heard of the opening.
There is no grand strategy to residencies at Yale. A donor may approach Yale with a strong idea about the character of the residency, as Fadiman said occurred for her — or the Yale Office of Development will initiate the process. A lucky alumna could attach her name today to an artist-in-residence fellowship envisioned by the Development Office, just for $300,000.
NO COMMON THREAD
Chrislip’s residency is the newest chapter of the YSO brand, orchestra manager Brian Robinson said. Robinson reviewed School of Art portfolios and approached the students he liked. He ultimately offered Chrislip a yearlong, paid contract to design the posters last month. After accepting, Chrislip said he wanted to explore design’s relationship to music beyond the confines of an 8.5-by-11 flier — so he proposed a “residency.”
“I liked the idea of an organization supporting an individual in a context that they end up supporting each other,” Chrislip explained.
“We definitely had to ask him for clarification,” Robinson said. “We were very curious about the idea. It was a new thought for us, a new way of going about it … Getting a wider artistic purpose [was] intriguing.”
Since the YSO’s founding in 1965, the orchestra has hired artists like Christopher Pullman ART ’66 — now a professor at Yale — to create collectors’ items as much as advertisements. The posters were in such high demand that the YSO had to rip the edges of posters — known as “the YSO tear” — to deter their theft prior to concerts, Robinson said.
Megan Jenkins ’14, the YSO’s president, said she thinks Chrislip’s residency will create continuity in this brand.
“By the end of the year, you could look at a poster and know that it was part of this YSO series of posters,” she said.
Chrislip described his non-poster projects as “extracurricular,” and said he is careful to bill the YSO only for hours spent on poster design. But he also spends time diagramming, recording and researching music for the residency, he said.
The Yale College Dean’s Office provides a quarter of the YSO’s budget, from which Chrislip’s paycheck is drawn, Robinson said. The YCDO also manages the funds of the Francis residency, paying Fadiman’s salary and once subsidizing snacks at a public reading. The Dean’s Office manages other residencies as well such as the Rosencranz writing residency, held by poet Louise Glück.
But the oversight of residencies is far from transparent. Jane Phillips, the director of development for the School of Art, directed questions about the artist-in-residence fellowship to Art Dean Robert Storr, who didn’t know enough to comment. Dean of Undergraduate Education Joseph Gordon GRD ’78 said he couldn’t comment on managing particular funds either.
The duration of residencies varies as well. The Tokyo String Quartet, a group in residence at the School of Music, came to Yale in 1977 and decided to stay until 2013. Fadiman said she received a three-year contract but has since signed two five-year extensions.
In that time Fadiman has made the residency her own, innovating beyond the contract’s loose requirements. She meets with her students individually for an hour every other week. She makes a point to go to her students’ plays. She created the “Francis Conversations,” to bring esteemed writers to her class.
Fadiman is an example of an artist who interacts with the student body and enjoys a creative benefit from the experience. Every week she spends a night and two days on campus.
“When I’m at Yale, Yale is my universe,” she said. “I don’t have my family there. I don’t have any of my other work there. And I’m also not grading or preparing classes or reading when I’m at Yale. I spend every second when I’m on campus with students or faculty.”
While this devotion may not be the norm, it explains why the University has so much at stake investing in residencies.
Chrislip drew three circles — one solid, one dashed, one dotted — in a compact Venn diagram. Below he drew a rhombus inside a rectangle inside a rhombus. It was a fractal. To make his first YSO poster, Chrislip had studied the composers featured in the YSO’s Oct. 6 show. He said he translated their techniques like counterpoint and polyrhythm into geometric designs.
But Chrislip said he does not want to peg his work in its early stage.
“It’s the sort of project that only will be completely transparent if you follow from the beginning to the end, because there is a recycling of ideas and a recycling of the same visual problems,” he said. He noted that he recycled musical concepts even in the layout of his website.
No one has tried to pigeonhole Chrislip, however. Excepting the YSO’s managing board, no one in the orchestra even knows who Chrislip is — the YSO has yet to announce the residency, Jenkins said.
But Chrislip’s work may be too esoteric to help the YSO brand.
“There is sort of a level of obscuring what I’m doing. It’s neither intentional nor unintentional,” Chrislip said.
Most of his work is abstract. He provides some explanation on his website: a popup shaped like a question mark, links to Wikipedia articles on melody, harmony and fractals. He also said he’s open to reaching a greater audience.
“It’s sort of hard for me to get a sense of what [Chrislip] was doing,” said Gabriel Levine ’14, a bassoonist in the orchestra.
Levine said the first poster was not concert-specific. The design didn’t suggest “Brahms,” for example.
“I’m sure it’s very well-thought-out, but it doesn’t seem immediately compelling or evocative of the spirit of the music we play in the YSO,” Levine said.
The YSO residency may well end with Chrislip. Robinson said he would consider a residency next year, so long as the new designer met the needs of the orchestra. If the orchestra had enough funds, it probably would prioritize a composer-in-residence.
But for now, and for a year longer, Chrislip will test the orchestra’s visual identity as he tests his own ability. Fadiman agreed: A residency is a creative exchange.
“I feel that teaching is just as creative as writing,” Fadiman said. “And the success of students after they graduate of course is incredibly exciting to me; it’s much more exciting than my own success would be.”