Guest Voices: Chelsea Ellsworth

Today’s guest post comes from former NMAfA intern Chelsea Ellsworth. Having joined the NMAfA team at one of the busiest and most crucial times – during the install of the show – Ellsworth got a first hand view of all the work it took to execute this ambitious exhibition. One of the most ambitious pieces, perhaps, was Moroccan artist Hassan Echair’s site specific installation Ascension. Not only was it one of the most ambitious pieces, it was also the first artwork at NMAfA installed via skype, with the artists supervising the installation in DC all the way from Morocco. Below, Ellsworth gives us an account of some of her experiences with this work and with Earth Matters.

My name is Chelsea Ellsworth and I worked as an exhibits intern at the National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C.  I helped the exhibits team to install the show Earth Matters from January to April and had the opportunity to work specifically with one artist in particular, Hassan Echair.  Hassan Echair created a piece entitled Ascension that was to be reproduced for this exhibition at NMAfA but, as he was located in Morocco, we had to prepare his piece for him remotely.

At the start of my internship, I was asked to source and purchase materials for Hassan to make this piece here at our museum.  As time went on, I was assigned additional projects in the preparation of this piece.  As I worked on these projects, I had many questions for Hassan that I sent via email.  Some of these were translated using an online translator but others were so complex that I sent them to some friends who spoke French so that they could translate them more accurately.  Despite the language gap and the physical distance, Hassan and I were able to communicate in order to prepare his piece for the exhibition.  Eventually, Hassan notified us that he would not be able to come and install the piece, leaving its completion to us.  As a result, I had the exciting opportunity to create and oversee this piece while working with the Exhibits installation team.

As the rest of the team was busy working on other aspects of this exhibition, I took responsibility for this piece and got to work preparing all of the components for assembly.  My supervisor, Kevin Etherton, and I worked together each day to assemble this piece and to prepare it to show to Hassan.

Image

Kevin Etherton and Chelseal Ellsworth installing Ascension

 

We continued to communicate via email with Hassan but we got to a point where photos and emails were no longer enough to get this piece completed.  We then scheduled a day when we could have a French translator and a Skype connection with Hassan in Morocco.

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Artist Hassan Echair supervises the installation of his work via skype

 

That day was very interesting as I was able to communicate with Hassan directly for the first time and see his reaction to what we had done with his design.  I was anxious to hear his feedback and worried that he would find something terribly wrong, but I was glad to hear that he loved the work we had done and was pleased with how his piece had turned out.  He gave us some minor alterations here and there and then sat down with me on Skype and demonstrated how to properly tie his bamboo poles together, something that would have been very difficult to figure out through email.

Image

Hassan Echair (b. 1964, Morocco)

Ascension, 2006, Bamboo, quartz, cord, paint

 

I loved working on this piece and I am glad to say that we completed Hassan’s piece and he was pleased with the results.  I loved having the opportunity to speak with Hassan and to see his reaction to our weeks of hard work and I am glad that we were able to create this fantastic work of art together.

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