Stirring the Structure: A Look Midway Through HPI 2018

By Sarah Marks Mininsohn (HPI ‘17)

“It doesn’t feel like a school. It feels more like a Person Orientation.”
–Kate Madara (HPI ‘18)

Eleven artists of different ages, backgrounds, personalities, and interests make up HPI’18. As these artists come together under a new program structure, they meet, watch, and get to know each other. As the program continues, weeks and hours are spent with all in the same room, and they get to KNOW each other. They provide feedback as new works begin, express controversial opinions on Fringe shows, and learn juicy details about each other’s personal lives. As each artist develops and changes, so does the group, and a dynamic unique to this class emerges.

It quickly became late October, and the HPI ’18 artists have moved from getting to know each other to getting to KNOW each other. Individual artists are shifting and reassessing what they want out of the program now that they’ve experienced a month and a half of it. I had the opportunity to chat with three artists from this class, Tina Zhong, Julia Bryck, and Kate Madara, about HPI ‘18’s group shifting so far.

Up to this point, I had heard multiple faculty members describe the group as “quiet” and “thoughtful,” likely comparing it to my class the previous year, which was pretty talkative from early on in the program. When I asked for their perspectives on the group dynamic, they told me about a significant moment of shifting in core faculty Shavon Norris’s class, “Mindful Making.” So far, Shavon’s class is a special space for HPI’18, a “community haven,” according to Julia.

At the beginning of the conversation, Julia agreed with the talk I’d heard: “It’s kind of a quiet group. I know the faculty’s been trying to give us a lot of space to sit in silence, where none of us have to say anything. I think it’s a very thoughtful group. When we have open studio time, we end up spending a lot of time together hanging out and getting to know each other.”

The group has been mainly using open studio time to work on solo work, between chats and check-ins. While this dynamic has been fruitful to some extent, the artists were growing eager for collaboration. Julia told me, “the program talks a lot about collaboration as a value, but the structure doesn’t support it right now for this specific group.” Julia had voiced this concern in Shavon’s class.

Tina chimed in, “Julia herself said this, but the whole group felt this way. Even though we’re always here, we haven’t been collaborating with each other as a group that much. We all felt that we need something that we work on together, and then it happened in Shavon’s class yesterday afternoon. We worked together, creating a piece.”

After hearing the artists’ concerns, Shavon provided them with a structure for making something together. It began with each artist creating an illustration, and turned into a traveling, dynamic, and silly group piece.

Kate described, “We each drew an illustration, and we put them in different places in the room. We all created a piece from one illustration to the next using movement. So, if my piece was there, and Julia’s piece was there, how do I get everybody to Julia’s piece? And then how does Julia get everybody to Tina’s piece? We all took turns as director.”

Julia added that the exercise encouraged the generally-thoughtful-and-quiet artists to take the lead without overthinking, to trust their instincts: “You have like three seconds to decide what you’re going to do. What does your instinct tell you to do? Someone taught a song really quick. Someone else had us crawl in a crab walk. I had everyone do a runway walk.”

Kate added, “we practiced each piece, and at the end, we put it all together. It was really fun to see how those movements changed as we practiced them.” She continued, “I think it illustrated how really different each one of us is, and pulled out the particularities of our selves and our personalities, in a really positive and low-stakes way.”

“It was a really joyful experience, with a lot of silliness,” said Julia.

“Definitely a lot of silliness,” laughed Tina, “I think now we are gradually becoming more comfortable questioning the structures instead of only questioning ourselves.”

The discovery that they could critique and adjust the structures of HPI has been opened new possibilities for the group. They’ve since chatted about using Friday open studio time to do something collectively, whether that involves making something together or switching off leading a dance technique class. We look forward to witnessing how new collaborations unfold.