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KCAD Professor’s Ongoing Project Explores the Endless Iterations of Love

Posted March 16, 2018 in Drawing

The idea of ‘love’ transcends the bounds of history and culture. It’s a concept that is continuously evolving, all while imploring us to take risks in its name.

Since 2016, Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) Drawing Assistant Professor Danielle Wyckoff has been taking plenty of risks of her own in traveling to different places around the world to collect stories about love that inform her creative practice. Sitting quietly on a park bench with a sign requesting to be told a story about love, Wyckoff waits to be engaged by complete strangers. And every time she is, she has no idea what to expect.

Please Tell Me a Story About Love” is Wyckoff’s ongoing investigation of love as a shared human experience. These are “not love stories,” as Wyckoff is quick to clarify, and rightfully so: the phrase ‘love story’ implies the static structures and tired tropes rooted deeply in pop culture entertainment. Wyckoff instead favors the spontaneity and intimacy of authentic interaction. 

“I would say that all of my practice deals with the human capacity to love,” she muses, “I’m always trying to explore iterations of loving.”

Becoming a sort of travelogue in experiential research, Wyckoff’s explorations have led her from here in Grand Rapids to China, Chile, Canada, and most recently, Denmark. In each location, her process has been the same. The storytellers­—or “short-term collaborators,” as Wyckoff refers to them—participate in what is a very ephemeral and performative process steeped in the traditions of oral narration and written record keeping.

man and woman sitting on park bench with city in backgroundWyckoff interviewing a collaborator in Shanghai (credit - Courtney Kessel)

“If people choose to sit down with me, then that’s when the piece begins,” she explains. “I’m interested in the way that telling one’s story accesses self-creation. It becomes a self-affirming process.”

Each story Wyckoff has collected, however, regardless of its individualized experience, contains an essence that, she says, “works beyond cultures.”

a group of people on a park bench covered in mosaic tileWyckoffs listens to a story from a couple in Santiago, Chile (credit - Courtney Kessel)

“As I go to all these different places and ask for stories about love, indeed it is just different proper nouns, but most of the stories follow similar patterns,” says Wyckoff. “This performative project is a poetic gesture that has a larger meaning.”

a handwritten sign says tell me a story about love in english and in DanishSigns in English and Danish invite passersby to connect with Wyckoff in Copenhagen (credit - Courtney Kessel)

Once collected, the stories often reemerge as components of Wyckoff’s multi-faceted drawings, prints, and installations. For her 2016 installation “perception—reflection—reception—return,” an entry in ArtPrize Eight, she screen-printed stories in graphite powder on a wall in a room filled with hanging colored cheesecloth, free-form pools of red salt water, and sprawling expanses of reflective aluminum tape, forming an immersive metaphor of understanding as a reflection of bodily experience.

pink curtains strung from the ceiling with text screenprinted on them“perception--reflection--reception—return” by Danielle Wyckoff (image courtesy of the artist)

For “emerging, dissolving,” a 2015 installation at Soltesz Fine Art in Portland, Ore., Wyckoff transcribed collected stories by hand onto mulberry paper, and then draped them from the ceiling in a chaotic sprawl, with the focal point of the piece being a single pool of pinkish-red salt water sitting calmly in the middle of the floor.

strands of white paper hang from the ceiling and drape down into a pool of pink liquid(above and below): “emerging, dissolving” by Danielle Wyckoff (images courtesy of the artist)

a pool of swirling pink liquid

In these pieces, as in all of her work, Wyckoff seeks to lead viewers into what she calls “an experience of immersion, a sensation evocative of love.” The fluid scenes created by her installations combine with the stories themselves to address the ways in which our collective capacity for love both brings us together and pulls us apart.  

“Water, like love, is changeable,” says Wyckoff. “My projects acknowledge and elicit the shifting natures of love and water, their beauty and breathlessness, their terror and transience.”

It isn’t just about making new work for Wyckoff though. “Please Tell Me A Story About Love” has been a vehicle for professional growth as well. Her experiences abroad, supported by the Junior Faculty Fellows Program at Ferris State University, the KCAD Drawing and Printmaking Programs, and KCAD’s Office of Academic Affairs, have taught her to trust her own intuition and to keep exploring outside of her comfort zone.

Two women sitting in the woods at night laughing togetherDealing with language barriers was uncomfortable at times, but Wyckoff was able to work around them to forge genuine human connections, like this one with a stranger in Copenhagen (credit: Courtney Kessel)

“It is still a lot of discovery,” Wyckoff admits, “a lot of ‘I don’t really know what’s going to come of this.'"

Just as it’s deepened her understanding of her creative practice, “Please Tell Me A Story About Love” has also empowered Wyckoff to do more as an educator.  

“Everything I do, I bring back to the classroom,” she says. “Teaching skill and technique is a given; however, these kinds of experiences enable me to play the role of an artist-as-educator. My own practice gives me the understanding to guide students to adopt an individualized approach to art and art-making, allowing them to sharpen analytical thought and encouraging critical and creative inquiry.”

people standing around a table covered in paints, pencils, and other art suppliesWhile collecting stories Chile, Wyckoff (center) had an opportunity to connect with students at the University of Chile (credit: Courtney Kessel)

This kind of research-led teaching aims to provide students with the skills, confidence and knowledge to forge their own creative paths forward. The role of the professor, or artist-as-educator, is to teach flexibly, enabling students to draw on their personal experience to gain understanding, develop new knowledge, and articulate their ideas.

“I bring into the classroom many practical concerns for student artists and talk to them about what can happen post-graduation, but I also stress the importance of pushing outside of your comfort zone to explore and investigate ideas at a deeper level,” says Wyckoff. “If I’m not doing that myself, who am I to be giving students guidance?”

Wyckoff’s research into the spectral values of love helps her guide her students to make work that they believe in, ultimately empowering them to discover something that she hopes “they’re willing to commit their life to.”

While she isn’t sure where “Please Tell Me A Story About Love” will take her next, Wyckoff knows that transformative experiences await her there. And when she returns to KCAD afterwards, she’ll continue advocating the idea of learning through experience, providing opportunities to engage directly with art and art making, to experiment, to take risks, and to grow.  

“It is becoming. It is research. It is a work of art,” Wyckoff says, “but something else is happening with this performative project. And my fingertips are tingly from it, but I don’t know exactly what it is.”


See more of Danielle Wyckoff's work at daniellewyckoff.com.

Learn more about KCAD's Drawing program.

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