Remote Learning with Gina Siepel: Representing the Moment Through Art

Gina Siepel, lecturer in studio art foundations in the art studio department, works with a wide range of objects, installations, drawings, videos, photographs and collaborations with other artists and communities. She spoke with Sasha Nyary on April 1, 2020.

On what her curriculum looks like now

What we’re teaching now is somewhat different from what I was teaching two or three weeks ago but it’s equally valid. I’m trying to design some assignments that acknowledge what’s happening. So, in Drawing I right now, they’re working with interiors and we’re talking about confinement and isolation. What does it mean to be in an indoor space for all this time, in a way that’s completely different from how we are used to living.

My cross-disciplinary Seeing, Making, Being class is where I made the most sweeping changes. As artists, we are always focused on the interaction of the artistic process with other things in the world — the realities of time and place, social and political realities. What’s going on now is very concerning and frightening, and it’s also a historic moment we’re living in. So I’m interested in having my students document their own personal experiences. I asked them to imagine showing their work to young people in 50 years, when describing what it was like during the pandemic. Will the work they make now represent something about what this moment felt like?

We spent the first several weeks of the semester drawing and I usually spend the second half of the semester in sculpture. But I didn’t want to teach sculpture to them, since they had not studied it at all previously. So I decided it made more sense to do videos. They can actually make video art and upload it and look at it together online and comment on each other’s work. Their first assignment was to make a video of their journey home. 

Gina Siepel zoom class

On teaching remotely

Art classes are two and half hours long. You engage students on a one-on-one level and you talk to them about their process and how their work is going, the thing they’re making right there in real time. So now it makes more sense for me to record video demos and I’m using a lot of Google slide presentations so I can give examples. They’re going to make work on their own time and upload it to the class’s Moodle forums. I’m creating small clusters of five or six students where they’ll give each other critical feedback on the pieces they submit. My plan is to give them feedback as part of the forums, just like everybody else, because that’s what we do in critique. I’m also supplementing these asynchronous structures with weekly group Zoom sessions and individual meetings in office hours so that they can get one-on-one Zoom feedback on their work if they want it. 

On the value of making art under challenging circumstances

I said to one of my classes that I went to an art school with amazing facilities and I was in the studio all the time. Then I graduated and I had to figure out how to make art in the world after college, and that was a really challenging transition. What this time offers our art students is a chance to do that in a supported way, with the support of their school and their faculty and their peer group. They have to meet a new set of challenges, like, how am I going to continue with my work under circumstances that aren’t perfect. How do I draw in my house, how do I draw when my younger sibling is watching TV. You have to be really adaptable and resourceful. This is a chance to learn how to do that. I told them I made art in little Brooklyn apartments for over a decade. We’ll figure stuff out here.

Gina Siepel class illustration by Marina Li