Practice and Process: Marwen’s Recent Teaching Artist Residency

The Exhibition Opening for the 1st Annual Marwen Teaching Artist Residency – showcasing work from our first two Residents, Gwen Terry and Danny Sanchez- is Friday, September 23rd from 5-7pm! Please join us in celebrating their work along side the Summer 2016 Student Exhibition.


Read about Gwen’s experience:

My work is known for being large-scale and mostly site-specific. For me, the creation of an art piece has been about the overall vision and its experience. It’s been about figuring out how to make it a reality with lots of parameters and limitations, based on the location and material, and being true to the vision, so that I can communicate it in the purest form.

Often this vision entails doing something I’ve never done before and have no idea how to do. I’m often motivated to do it in hopes that what I am learning will get me a few steps closer to that vision. Like most people, I’m hesitant doing things I don’t know how to do. I’m afraid that I’ll look bad in the eyes of others if I don’t do well and for a good amount of my childhood I avoiding the things I was most interested and challenged by, because of my fear of the opinions of others. This fear did not, and does not, serve me well in my personal or professional life. Perhaps it’s because of this that I’ve defined my role as the artist as an eternal child, wide-eyed, constantly learning, fearlessly moving forward even in the face of failure and disappointment. While I strive for this, it’s the ‘fearlessly moving forward in the face of failure and disappointment’ that’s the most difficult. It demands that I constantly challenging myself to look past my own self importance with the reward of discovery.


When I received one of two 6 week Marwen residences this past May and June, I initially thought of it as an opportunity to have a designated amount of time to plan out and design a large scale intensive project that will happen in October. It’s an artistically multi-disciplined project, involving original music, immersive theater, dance, multimedia art, and large-scale sculpture installations, integrated under the umbrella of classical scholarship. The project is a modern reinterpretation of Dante’s Divine comedy and is being produced by the University of Notre Dame Scared Music department, bringing individuals from various disciplines as well as locations worldwide. For the project, I am the designer of Purgatory, responsible for 2 of the 5 multimedia installations which will occur there and 10 masks. I knew that coming to Marwen every day to work 8- to 12-hour days would put me in a highly supportive environment that would give me the space and time necessary to explore and fail safely in order to make any necessary discoveries and plan accordingly. I had access to an amazing amount of floor space to spread out and work on several projects at once (something my home studio could not accommodate), access to various facilities and technologies (like 3-D printers), as well as a community of skilled artist and crafts people.

What I didn’t expect was my response to this supportive environment and its impact on my artistic work and process. This residency gave me the opportunity to reflect and identify where my art process has been, and where it’s heading. Before the residency, my process was more external – focused on the final product/object and I thought the creation of an art piece was about the overall vision and its experience. This isn’t incorrect but it’s like describing  a rose as only a flower, it’s limited and one note. Having the time and support to reflect on my process, it revealed a deeper, more thoughtful approach.

During the residency, my overall vision led the process of exploration and experimentation, and the discoveries from that process directly impacted the final product as evidence of traces or residuals. I discovered something not new, but profound, as an installation artist: how the intertwining nature between the visual demonstration inherent in materials, and the tactile, implicates the viewer into the process of making the vision visible. If we look at the materials used in a piece as being similar to the way in which words used to build a language, then the composition would be its grammar.  Knowing this, I can no longer rely on assumed meaning (found through the composition of elements) to communicate my message without consideration to the material. Instead, I must work with the materials in a way that’s open to perceiving how they are sensitive in the becoming of the installation.


An example of this can be found in one of the installations for the Dante Project called “The  Sands of War.” It will be a trench-like structure of 2 walls that people can walk through, assembled from bricks made of sand, that are engineered to disintegrate with exposure to the elements. Most of these bricks will be covered with resin which will retain a ghostlike structure and form of the walls, as the sand bricks break down. The bricks are highly textured and many of them contain various objects encased in resin, such as bullets, bones, gun parts, and L.E.D. lights. While prototyping at Marwen, one of the discoveries found during this experimental process was that the resin is a perfect amplifier for sound. Because of that discovery, the walls will be connected to several contact microphones which, as people touch the walls and the object imbedded in it, will create sound and give the sensation of the walls communicating with its environment.


All of these elements revolve around the idea of progressive Installations, meaning an evolving installation that is directly impacted and responsive to its space and environment. This is something that I’ve wanted to try and experiment with for some time, especially the visual demonstration inherent in materials, but never had the overall support to make it a reality until now, with sincere thanks and gratitude to Marwen and its community.


Gwen Terry About Gwen Terry
Gwendolyn Terry is a Chicago-based installation artist. She has worked professionally designing and installing theatrical sets, architectural facades, and retail window displays. In addition to creating commissioned objects and installations, she piloted an artistic internship program for a national cooperation, mentoring and training emergent display artists. Besides Marwen, Gwendolyn is also a Teaching Artist for CAPE, collaborating with CPS teachers to integrate art into their CORE curriculum. You can learn more about Gwendolyn and her work at:

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