artist book

love letters from germany

One of the opportunities I am taking advantage of while living overseas is to get my work seen outside of the United States. My first experience was really positive with A House With Four Rooms in Frankfurt. Coming up: southern France in conjunction with Marseille-Provence 2013. Each year, two cities are selected to represent Europe as Culture Capitals. Tons of arts programming revolves around this honor in the Marseille-Provence region, including the PAPer'Art Project, a year's worth of paper art exhibitions.

My work is in three exhibitions, the first of which I highlight here.

Love Letters From Germany is inspired by Albert Camus’ essays, Four Letters to a German Friend, a set of letters that Camus wrote to a German friend who had joined the Nazi party. Camus wrote the letters to explain why he was ending their friendship.

I have written four letters to real people, exploring my experience of living as an American expat in Germany with lifelong ties to France. This work is a continuation of my use of wearable paper objects to explore memory, story, and personal experiences.

"Love Letters From Germany" by Kelly O'Brien (2013)

Each object in this set is a complete letter. A hat, scarf and mittens are indispensible items I have added to my wardrobe since moving to Germany. Wrapping myself in this experience, I am trying on and wearing the expat life for now.

The letters explore the following topics:

Hat: to my German friend and fellow-artist, Anna, thanking her for her friendship. I also express my surprise at being warmly welcomed by Germans in general, a reflection of latent prejudices against Germany that I didn’t realize I held.

"Love Letters From Germany" (detail) by Kelly O'Brien (2013)

Scarf: to Jacques & Ginette, my French host-parents who live near Montpellier, and who have been like family to me since the 1980s. I ask them about their long relationship with German friends through the twin-city rapport between Montpellier and Heidelberg. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Franco-German Élysée friendship treaty signed in 1963 by Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer. A recent survey exploring public sentiment in France and Germany about each other is reflected in this letter as well.

"Love Letters From Germany" (detail) by Kelly O'Brien (2013)

Mitten 1: to Friederich, an 85-year old German man who was in the German military and a prisoner of war. I ask him about this experience and what he knew, thought or did related to the Holocaust. The letter also addresses his post-war life, including a move to Peru to study art, and a distinguished career as a sculptor living in a town near my home in Germany.

"Love Letters From Germany" by Kelly O'Brien (2013)

Mitten 2: to a 19-year old girl, Martina, asking her about what it’s like to be a young person in Germany today. I’m curious about what makes young people in Germany tick, and how it might be similar or different from youth in France or the United States. Recent polls on this topic reflect that young Germans are generally a practical generation, focused on making good choices and gaining a solid education, but that there are vast discrepancies between opportunity for middle-class and poorer or immigrant youth. I ask Martina how it feels to come of age in a country with a bright future, but pressure to successfully lead the way for many others who struggle.

Through researching and writing these letters, my perspective on Germany has been updated, expanded, and become more nuanced. These are letters of affection and gratitude to the people I have met or known, as well as a reflection of a budding affection for my adopted country.

Love Letters From Germany will be on exhibit at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques d'Aix-en-Provence, Aix-en-Provence, France, March 7 - April 7, 2013.

house with four rooms: new work underway

Since returning from ArtPrize, I've been head-down creating new work for my first exhibition here in Germany. This opportunity came about as the result of a small, informal working artists' group that I formed earlier this year. We've been meeting more or less monthly as a way to keep our work moving forward and grounded.

There are three of us - Astrid Haas, Astrid Blasberg, and myself - in this show. Thanks to Astrid B's relationship with her former employer, Fachhochschule Frankfurt am Main (Frankfurt's University of Applied Sciences), our exhibition is part of the university's culture programming which brings arts onto campus through a series of monthly events.

Our theme is inspired by the title of Rumer Godden's autobiography, A House With Four Rooms:

There is an Indian proverb that says that everyone is a house with four rooms — physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Most of us tend to live in one room most of the time but, unless we go into every room every day, even if only to keep it aired, we are not a complete person. -Rumer Godden, A House with Four Rooms

The exhibition, sponsored by the master's degree program in Healthcare Administration & Contracting, will explore the notion of what it means to be a "whole person" through a range of media: artist books, painting, printmaking, and paper sculpture. I am working on four paper dress sculptures, each dress representing one of the four "rooms."

House With Four Rooms

November 14 - December 12, 2012

Opening reception: Wednesday, Nov. 14, 1:00 pm

Fachhochschule Frankfurt am Main

University of Applied Sciences

Nibelungenplatz 1

D-60318 Frankfurt am Main

moving parts still on the move

Freshly finished clamshell boxes for "Moving Parts" (image: Frederick Nunley)Two years ago, we launched Moving Parts, the yearlong collaboration between Pyramid Atlantic Art Center and CityDance. Since then, the ten participating artists and handful of tenacious volunteers have been creating an edition of 50 custom clamshell boxes that house each artist’s edition of 50 artist books.

Clamshell boxes drying under weight (image: Frederick Nunley)When you work on a project of this scale in 3-hour increments twice a month, of course it takes time. What a treat it was, then, to recently immerse ourselves for five full days in a near-final push to finish the edition.

We made a lot of progress, completing a fresh batch of finished boxes, and covering all remaining components (trays, cases, foil-stamping).

Once again, our über-volunteer Frederick Nunley was on the scene, lending not only his skilled handwork to the task, but steady and appreciated enthusiasm for the project.

A big thank you to Gretchen Schermerhorn for hosting us in Pyramid’s studios, and to others who showed up to help, including Kieu Lam, Sarah Levine, and Moira McCauley.

When I return to the US in a few months, we plan to finish the project. All that remains are some boxes and the project catalogs. With a little help from friends, these too will get done. And then it’s on to getting the edition into collectors’ hands, an even longer process!

book artists on the move

We're gettting there...ten book artists, each making an edition of 50 artist books for the Moving Parts boxed collectors' set. While some are finished with their edition, most of us are knee-deep in production. The artists of Moving Parts are: Beverly Ryan, Elizabeth Parthum, Gretchen Schermerhorn, Irene Chan, Kelly O'Brien, Kerry McAleer-Keeler, Leah Frankel, Moira McCauley, Patty Lee, and Paul Gordon Emerson

Here's a glimpse of what we're creating. All photographs are by Paul Gordon Emerson.


moving parts on the move

Things are happening with the Moving Parts project! We've now got an official blog, thanks to Gretchen, my partner in crime on this project at Pyramid Atlantic. And an upcoming documentary - a work of art in itself - complements of film maker Fransisco Campos-López and CityDance Filmworks. Check out the trailer:

We're making steady progress on the clamshell boxes, thanks to a growing number of volunteers at Pyramid and our "box jam sessions." It's been fun to teach this eager (and talented) bunch to make the beautiful boxes that will house each collection of artist books...and exciting to see the covered trays accumulate as they move through our production line. After only a couple of sessions, we're discovering who excels at the tricky corner cuts, gluing with finesse, and inventing jigs to speed our work. Production work has become fun!

Some launch-related events are planned, including a CityDance performance showcasing the pieces reflected in the Moving Parts artists' books on December 4 and 5, and a launch party at Hillyer Art Space on December 11, including artist talks, a CityDance performance, and Moving Parts boxed sets for purchase. Speaking of which, check out Paul Emerson's beautiful photos of the project.

making an impression

Looking forward to the annual Friends of Dard Hunter conference in Atlanta in October. I went for the first time two years ago and was impressed with the creative, scholarly, innovative papermakers and book artists I met from around the world who attended.

I'm excited and honored to have my work included in this year's member exhibit, Make an Impression, at the Robert C. Williams Paper Museum, Georgia Institute of Technology. The exhibit opens on October 16 and runs through January 4, 2010.


handmade mart a success by any measure

Survived my first craft fair recently and, boy, did I learn a lot. A huge thank you to my hubby for being there with his heavy lifting and moral support - before, during and after the actual event. My BF Mandy showed up twice to help with set up, midday support and homemade snacks. Friends, family, neighbors and collegues stopped by. I was feeling the love!

Lessons learned?

  • There is waaaaay more work than meets the eye to pull this off. It took me two days to recover.
  • Setting up my booth in our empty spare room 2 weeks out was key - there's no way we could have created what we did without the dry-run and blueprint that time and space afforded me. However, I hadn't anticipated what 25+mph winds would do to my display! So glad I invested in the heavy-duty sandbag weights for my tent.
  • It's not all about sales (for now) - just completing my first fair was the goal; that said, I didn't sell much. The few vendors I had a moment to check in with were having mixed results. My guess is that because this was a first-time event, the crowd was going to be iffy anyway. The seasoned craft fair vets told me not to base any decisions off my first time out (at a first-time fair).
  • It is about finding the right niche. Not sure the indie craft scene is mine, but we'll see. I hope to get into a couple more juried fairs this fall, one (Art on the Avenue) of which might be a better fit.
  • AND...I'm thrilled that this fair got me exposed to the women behind ArtSpring, the reincarnation of the Pyramid Atlantic Store that opens this July in Silver Spring. We met, they took a bunch of my work to sell in their store, and I'm excited to work with their merchandising manager on a creative store display that's inspired by my booth.