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Art Project Furthers Columbia’s Connection With German Sister City

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Mahrlein Intercalé II 2009 steel granite 13x14x6 in copy.jpeg

Reiner Mährlein’s Intercalé II will show at if ART Gallery as part of the Heimat/Home exhibition.

There’s an enormous work of art under construction this week at Stormwater Studios on Pendleton Street, but no one — least of all the 10 artists from Columbia and Germany who are working on it — has a clear idea of just what it will become.

They do have a vague concept of what it might be. One of the artists, Clark Ellefson, has created a basic structure: three slabs of steel welded together to resemble a kind of abstract building of two walls and a roof, with a separate hanging awning above. The walls have cut-out squares and holes that suggest windows.

From there, this international group of painters, sculptors, and image-makers have been working all week to turn this vague sort of house into some kind of home — or at the very least a work that will surprise everyone involved.

Columbia painter David Yaghjian wouldn’t have it any other way.

“That’s the way it should be,” he says. “If you know exactly what you’re doing, it’s not that much fun. If you’re producing something that’s already a full blown idea, then you’re just manufacturing.”

The project, which began on Sept. 30 and is due for a public unveiling on Friday, Oct. 11, will be the latest result of an artist exchange that has been going on since 2000 between Columbia and its sister city of Kaiserslautern, Germany.

Besides Ellefson and Yaghjian, the Columbia artists are Eileen Blyth, Michaela Pilar Brown, Stephen Chesley, and Mike Williams. The Kaiserslautern artists are Jörg Heieck, Reiner Mährlein, Silvia Rudolf and Angelica Steinmacher.

This year’s program, under the name Heimat/Home — the German and English words that mean nearly the same thing — commemorates two signal events.

One is the 100th anniversary of Bauhaus, the German art school which would exert an enormous influence on architecture and design throughout the 20th century. The other is the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Besides the finished artwork, this year’s program will also feature lectures about Bauhaus and German art before and after the Berlin wall, an exhibition of current and past exchange participants hosted by if ART Gallery, as well as artist panels about the benefits of international artist exchange.

And Columbia artist Janet Orselli and poet Al Black will give performances and readings with other local poets and musicians.

For if ART owner Wim Roefs, the benefits are obvious.

“On a basic level, Columbia gets another public artwork out of it,” he offers. Besides that, the exchange provides “a good opportunity for the artists from here to have a discourse and an interaction, an exchange of ideas with people who come from a very different background, but who bring a good bit of talent to the situation. I think that is something that helps develop and energize a cultural scene.”

Dickson Monk, executive director of the Columbia World Affairs Council, agrees.

“That cross-cultural exchange, in itself, people to people, meeting each other from other cultures, I find invaluable,” Monk says.

For the artists themselves, being a part of this particular gesamtkunstwerk — or collaborative work of art — is inspiring.

“There are a lot of ideas that are influencing the whole thing, and the bigger work also,” says Silvia Rudolf. “And you get to know your companions and their ways, and how they work much better. I know the work of most of them so I know how they work but nevertheless it’s different.”

Reiner Mährlein — who co-created the public sculpture at the corner of Lady and Lincoln streets with partner Klaus Hartmann during a previous exchange in 2014 — echoes Rudolf’s sentiments.

“I think in a situation like this,” he says, “it’s always something exciting and something which can also push your own work in a different direction.”

Jörg Heleck, the lone photographer, says working with a group is a welcome break from his usually solitary camera work.

“I like to talk about art with new people, and also see different views of the world,” he offers

“Collaboration is difficult,” says longtime Columbia painter Mike Williams, “because they’re all good artists. I know them personally. They have careers, they do their work, they’re all devoted to their craft. A collaboration means give and take.”

It also might mean trusting fate, but that’s fine with him. 

“We’re all fairly experienced and we all understand that there’s a goal and there’s a time frame. We made progress today and settled on some directions. It’s rolling.”

Heimat/Home Events

Through Oct. 11

Creation of public artwork at Stormwater Studios 

Friday 4

Artists’ Reception for Heimat/Home exhibition at if ART Gallery, 6-8 p.m.

Tuesday 8

Benefits of International Artists Exchange (a panel discussion with artists participating in the Columbia–Kaiserslautern Exchange) at if ART Gallery, 7:30 p.m.

Wednesday 9

Since 1989: New Art in a Multicultural Germany (talk by art historian Peter Chametzky) at the University of South Carolina School of Visual Arts and Design, 7 p.m.

Friday 11

Presentation of collaborative public artwork, performances and poetry, followed by artists’ reception at Stormwater Studios and Lewis + Clark Studio, 6 p.m

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