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Three Festivals in Three Weeks: Exploring Art in Europe

June 28, 2018

Portrait of Prerna.

Portrait of Prerna.
Photo by Jacob Van Blarcom, CLAgency student

When a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity fell into art student Prerna’s lap, she seized it and found herself traversing Europe on a three-week group trip to experience three art festivals in July 2017.

Prerna graduated in spring 2018 with a BFA in art and an interest in interdisciplinary art. Before transferring to the University of Minnesota, she studied mass media in India, and has carried over her focus on communication into her art practice, using “whatever medium necessary” to best convey her messages in the pieces she creates.

A “Serendipitous” Scene

The original goal for the trip was for art students like Prerna to experience the Documenta art festival in Germany, but that soon grew into a more intensive itinerary. The festival occurs every five years and, in July 2017, it also happened to coincide with the Venice Biennale art exhibition, which is held every two years, and the Münster Sculpture Projects, which are public sculpture installations presented every ten years. Ysa Johnson, a student who traveled with the group, describes the coinciding dates as “serendipitous.” 

“It was like a miracle,” Prerna reminisces of the timing. In addition to the University-sponsored tour, she spent an extra week beforehand in Berlin and an extra week afterward in Italy, to continue to take advantage of the art scene.

To keep up with the exhibition scheduling, the group was up and moving from place to place every two days. Professor Monica Haller and international visual artist and friend Sonia E. Barrett were in charge of corralling six undergraduates and six graduate students from the U of M, along with two students from Minneapolis visual art center Juxtaposition Arts. They started in Leipzig and then traveled to Münster, before spending some time in surrounding countryside. From there, they moved into northern Italy, the Alps, and finally to Venice.

In addition to touring festivals and exhibitions, the group participated in creative exercises, using materials they found around them in the Bavarian countryside to create sculptures, performance art, and other interactive art pieces.

Prerna recalls that seeing the festivals and exhibitions as a group was crucial to their experience. “I think the group was really dynamic,” she says. “It’s a very specific art crowd that understand these exhibitions.” Prerna also recognizes that the tour was an important time to home in on the difference between critiquing and experiencing as a group and as an individual. The experience helped to solidify where she wants to go and what she wants to do with her own interdisciplinary art practice.

Departmental Dedication

Prerna makes sure that when it comes to the tour, credit is given where credit is due. “The art department really made it happen,” she notes, adding that as an undergraduate, she had not expected to get funding. She and her fellow travelers were pleasantly surprised to find out that the department was sponsoring each of them to go on the trip, and that they would only be responsible for their dining expenses. ​In addition to the generous funding from the department, the College of Liberal Arts and the Center for German and European Studies (via the German Academic Exchange Service) rounded out funds necessary to make the trip possible.

“The art department is really close-knit,” Prerna observes. “It’s a good space to be, like, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing,’ and explore. Everyone is really helpful with that.” The community of artists she has found at the U of M has stimulated and strengthened her growth as an interdisciplinary artist. “A lot of people are doing really charged work here,” she observes. “Art comes across as easy to do, but I don’t think it’s any easier than engineering; it’s just a different set of problems.”

Influences Behind & Ahead

More than ever before, Prerna is focusing on creating art with passion and intuition, and being around others making influential art. She is especially interested in critiquing spaces in American architecture, examining how they “hide or conceal and make things pretty” in comparison to other types of architecture and their purposes. She finds that it often intersects with the politics of hierarchy and bureaucracy, and the role of government.

Having now completed her bachelor's degree, Prerna reflects on advice she would tell her younger self: to be more proactive, to believe in herself, and to stand up for herself and her opinions. She recognizes that experiences like the tour will continue to influence her art for many years to come.

This story was written by an undergraduate student account executive in CLAgency. Meet the team.