This Monday, our in-person summer camps and classes officially begin!
We wanted to introduce you to another new instructor at Saturday Academy: Jennifer Gwirtz. Jennifer is a performing, installation, and dance artist. She has taught dance workshops and classes as a working performer. Before that, she taught therapeutic Pilates, Gyrokinesis, and other movement modalities.
Jennifer is bringing her expertise into the classroom this summer in her Upcycling Clothing Workshop for students in grades 4-6. There are two sessions of Upcycling Clothing Workshop: one from July 5 through July 8 and the other from July 11 through July 15. Both sections will be held at Open School East.
We spoke to Jennifer about her history as an artist and teacher, her inspirations and motivations, and what she is most excited about this summer.
Check out the full interview below --
Could you provide some information on your history and background as a professional artist?
I am a performer, installation, and dance artist who has worked with my hands for much of my life. While I have mainly worked in dance, I have always been drawn to fabric as a material to build costumes, puppets, and installations.
What motivates you to create?
Usually, I start from the intersection of an idea with an image that sets me off on a path to working with my hands and movement. I love found objects, sounds, and situations - the idea that there is really nothing truly new, that what I discover while I walk down the street is the thing that requires my attention.
In bodywork, we often work with fascia, the soft tissues in the body that hold everything together and allow for the body’s integration. If you take out all of the bones, muscles, nerves, and organs, fascia holds the body’s form. To me, fabric has fascia-like qualities. It’s like a peek into the shape of the universe.
What influences or inspires your work?
I started knitting by the time I was seven because my grandmother’s generation were all knitters and needleworkers. It’s just something that they did when they were together. I suspect that it had something to do with a long heritage of Jewish women from Eastern Europe who worked with their hands. My great-grandmother’s maiden name was Needleman, and she made her living by stitching piecework and assisting births. My great-grandfather was a rag seller. My grandmother started me on needlepoint at 5. My cousin, who was nearly the same age, who was my grandmother’s best friend, taught me to knit at 7. My mother taught me how to crochet around the same time and how to sew clothing soon after. My mother encouraged me to make things with the many fabric scraps and leftover balls of yarn around our house and left me alone with my creativity. One of her favorite sayings, and I think, her philosophy, was “To make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.”
Fabric as a metaphor has always inspired me, like those phrases “the fabric of the universe” or “time,” or “space” and the fascial way it holds things together. As someone who has worked with bodies and movement for years, this is pretty elemental to where my ideas come from. For that reason, I’m including some of my dance and movement teachers, Anna Halprin for dance, Yumiko Yoshioka and Meshi Chavez for Butoh, Mari Osanai for Noguchi Gymnastics, Ohad Naharin for Gaga, Lizz Roman and many others for Pilates and bodywork, and all of my ballet teachers.
How has your practice changed over time?
As I get older all the threads in my life - methods, themes, modalities - that seemed so different and even contradictory in the beginning start to weave themselves together. Each method or idea or story starts to have metaphorical connections with others things because they have been in juxtaposition with each other for a while. I find myself more likely to put things together in richer and stranger ways.
What’s the best piece of advice you have been given in regards to art and creating?
Be where you are. Look for things where you might not expect them.
Tell us about your most recent showing of works with Ground Up: Art and Evolving Jewish Identity. What was the process for creating works for this showing?
This was a very complicated time for me. I was navigating my mother’s death and caring for my father. So I was thinking in a pretty deep and immediate way about time and Jewishness and this idea of the fabric of the universe. I was a member of the first cohort of Co/Lab’s Artlab, a year-long fellowship that included a week-long residency and monthly meetings, where we talked about art and studied Jewish texts. This year’s theme was around Shmita, the end of the seven-year agricultural cycle when Jews are obliged to allow the ground to lie fallow. During my residency, I thought a lot about the number seven and how iterations in base seven made me think differently about time and space. The installation that I created was called “Daven in Base 7.” “Daven” is Yiddish for prayer, which, for Jewish people has a lot of movement and mystical connection. The installation consisted of a video and many handwritten pages of notebook paper on which I counted in base 7 from 0 to about 50,000. There were also scrolls that visitors were invited to take. Each one included seven-movement prompts.
What are some major takeaways from the classes you are teaching this summer?
I am excited to bring clothing upcycling to Saturday Academy! This is a studio art class for middle schoolers with options for younger children. Each day will include structured learning time as well as independent studio time in class.
We will be bringing our treasure troves of old clothes and fabric items each day. One of my favorite activities, The Frankenstein Project, offers opportunities to learn sewing basics while we explore how clothing is made, and in turn, how bodies are shaped, by deconstructing our old shirts, pants, dresses, and skirts and then rebuilding them in interesting ways. Different levels of ability are accommodated - some kids will be focusing on basic stitching and smaller projects - decorated swatches, bags, and small sculptures, while others can dig deep into taking apart their old clothes and turning them into new ones. Another project focuses on repair through visible and decorative patching and mending techniques. We will explore different ways to adorn fabric, from embroidery and cross-stitch to canvas needlepoint, appliqué and patch-making, beading, and more. While we love clothing, there is also room to completely transform our garments into sculpture, small rugs, or hangings made of woven, braided, or knitted fabric strips.
What are you most excited for your students to learn or experience in your classes?
There is so much to learn from this kind of practice! We will
- learn techniques and methods of working with fabric
- learn to think in three dimensions and to think about our human bodies as three-dimensional structures
- learn to value all bodies and physical appearances
- make, as my mother used to say, “a silk purse from a sow’s ear.”
- have fun!
Thank you so much for sharing with us, Jennifer! Don't forget to check out the camps that Jennifer is teaching. See below and follow the links for more information:
The first section of Upcycling Clothing Workshop for students in grades 4-6 will run from July 5 - July 8, from 8:30AM-3:30PM, at Open School East.
The second section of Upcycling Clothing Workshop for students in grades 4-6 will run from July 11 - July 15, from 8:30AM-3:30PM, at Open School East.