Seeing What Is: Exploring the Creation of Site-Conditioned Art

Taught by Jessica Nicoll

July 26August 1, 2020
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Jessica Nicoll teaches classes at the ArtEZ Arts Academy in Arnhem, the Netherlands.

Shaping “site-conditioned”rather than “site-specific”work means creating an artistic response that, as the artist Robert Irwin describes it, “draws all of its cues (reasons for being) from its sur­roundings. This requires the process to begin with an intimate, hands-on read­ing of the site.” What is the quality of light, sound, motion at different times of day and in different weather? Who lives here? What was hidden and is now revealed? What makes us laugh or takes our breath away? How does encounter­ing the unex­pected shape what we cre­ate? From these “readings” of sites in and around Parker Pond, we will build new perfor­mance works, individ­ually and collec­tively, in direct response to experience.

This workshop is open to all ages, abilities, and experiences. Each day begins with warming up the body and mind, incorporating vision and sound exercises with structured improvisations. Throughout the workshop, drawing and writing will be used to deepen our perception and understanding of place, building our capacities for what Robert Irwin calls “phenomenological receptivity.” Students will choose various sites to explore during the week and together we will determine how to shape a final presentation. We will use Bearnstow's unique setting to focus on ways to see what is both within us and around us wherever we make art; though the works made at Bearnstow will belong here, the processes uncovered and developed will belong to us wherever we are truly present.

Jessica Nicoll creates work for theaters and less conventional venues (e.g., a drained swimming pool, city piers, multiple floors of a Brooklyn brownstone) and calls upon deep Maine memoriesgrandparents’ home in Buckfield and 50 years roaming the woods and waters of Hatcase Pond in Dedhamwhile exploring how bodies and places intersect. A Sarah Lawrence College graduate, Nicoll works with artists in dance, theater, and opera (Kei Takei, Phyllis Lamhut, Melissa Shiflett, Ann Carlson, Claire Porter, and others) and builds costumes, sets, and sound scores inte­gral to her dance-theater investigations. Since 1981, Nicoll has pursued the inter-related arts of choreography/performance and teaching, winning awards for choreo­graphy and per­formance (Off-Off Broadway Review Award for Chekhov Theatre En­semble’s King Lear, 1999; Boulder International Fringe Festival Encore Awards 2007, 2008, 2012) and for teaching artistry (Linda LeRoy Janklow ArtsCon­nection Award 2004 and BAX10 Award 2007) and publishing her writing in books and journals. Since 2012, Nicoll and her partner Barry Oreck have worked annually at ArtEZ Arts Acad­emy in Arnhem, the Netherlands, developing responsive, cross-disciplinary approaches to teaching and learning in dance tech­nique and choreography, and helping students apply performing arts and choreographic skills to pedagogical prac­tice. More at

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They Might Be Napping from Barry Oreck on Vimeo.
Choreographed by Jessica Nicoll and Barry Oreck with Laura Livingston and Michael Durkin

Body Parts and Fugue State from Napping from Barry Oreck on Vimeo.

The 2019 Jessica Nicoll Workshop

Back row: Jenna Gross, Jillian MacLaughlin, Jessica Nicoll, and Peter Kyle;
Front row: Lucas Rollins-Page, Divyamaan Sahoo, Sandra Rivera, Laura Miola,
Heriberto (Chino) Mendoza, Ruth Grauert, Nick Brooks, and Don Andress