5 Fragen an Eric Peterson

Eric Peterson, Senior Instructor at Florida International University, brought an Open Studio to Dessau. He visited the Bauhaus in Dessau with students in the FIU Departments of Architecture, Art and Art History, Interior Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Environmental + Urban Design.

  • Your Studio is titled „Pedagogy and Production. Transdisciplinary Approaches to a Workshop-Centered Curriculum“ [Pädagogik und Produktion. Transdisziplinäre Ansätze für einen Workshop-orientierten Curriculum] and explores the Bauhaus Pedagogy. How will you take up this subject in your project?

The goal of the project is quite simple: to test elements of the classic Bauhaus pedagogy, become inspired by Bauhaus art and design work, and make our own contemporary projects once we return to Miami.

When we first imagined our engagement with Bauhaus Stiftung Dessau it was clear that we should use a trans-disciplinary approach in order to experiment with the groundbreaking Bauhaus curriculum. As such, we assembled a team of students and faculty from diverse fine art and design disciplines. I teach in the Architecture Department, Professor Pappano teaches in the Interior Design Department, and our students are both undergraduate and graduate level student in Fine Arts, Curatorial Practice, Landscape Architecture, Interior Architecture, and Communication Arts with backgrounds ranging from Graphic Design, Industrial Design, and Architecture.

Back in Miami we worked with our students for three weeks to teach the history of the Bauhaus and to introduce them to Bauhaus pedagogy. Immediately, we had them in the Workshop experimenting with materials, making models, and making  graphic designs, posters, webpages, and photographs in order to stimulate an energetic and productive environment.

Our practice here at the Bauhaus Dessau campus is to work on specific drawing, painting, movement, and building assignments that were developed in the 1920s to educate Bauhaus students while simultaneously discussing contemporary issues. All of these assignments are aimed at helping the students develop a design for a contemporary prototype that we will fabricate once we return to our own Workshop back in Miami.

  • What are the methodological approaches of your project?

Our approach is to use classic Bauhaus curricular exercises to explore fundamental issues of color, material, form, and composition. While engaging these exercises we discuss the concepts and metaphors that were dominant at the time that these exercises were developed, thereby questioning their relevance and applicability to contemporary conditions. Of primary importance for us is to situate our experience of these exercises within a contemporary framework that now underpins intellectual discourse and social life. For example, the concept of the crystal was a key generative metaphor in the beginning of the 1900’s. Lionel Feininger’s woodcut for the Program of the State Bauhaus in Weimar is a cathedral featuring crystalline qualities. The crystal metaphor was pervasive in the thinking of the time – geometric simplicity, purity, refraction of light into manifold colors, etc. But this metaphor no longer pertains to contemporary life: instead we rely on the metaphor of the web or network to make sense of our connection to nature, to ideas, and to one another. The existential threat of human induced climate change is another theme that dominates our thinking, all of our work both here and at home is influenced by this thorny problem. Looking back at the ideas that were held as common intellectual currency and how these ideas found expression within the Bauhaus pedagogy and its material production helps us to identify and question the ideas that underpin our own productive work. At the same time, identifying these themes encourages us to question the contemporary relevance of pervasive Bauhaus ideals such as formal purity, structural economy, transparency, etc.

  • What is the relevance of lecturing and learning methods at the historic Bauhaus for your interest in present-day teaching and learning concepts?

One of the things that is most exciting about the historic Bauhaus learning methods is the holistic approach to education. Broadly, we find the earlier Bauhaus pedagogical approach most exciting even as we recognize its inherent instability. These methods are very difficult to support within contemporary life – communal living, meditating, dancing: these are not the methods that students and school administrators of art and design schools find acceptable. The opportunity to test these approaches for a short period is incredibly valuable for us. Taking a group of students out of their normal framework, placing them in a foreign setting, and getting them excited to try new learning approaches – this is only possible at a place like Bauhaus. It is our hope that we will be able to identify successful moments within this experience and develop new strategies to foster holistic learning experiences for our students at home.

In my teaching practice I have been experimenting with similar methodologies for a more holistic education for designers. I manage a Fabrication Lab – a contemporary workshop with traditional wood and metalworking tools as well as CNC machines, laser cutters, and 3D printers. Many of my classes focused on prototyping and furniture making are held almost exclusively within these spaces, The atmosphere of the workshop has a profound impact on the nature of the learning outcomes within the class. The collaborative nature of our work – moving heavy materials, helping one another with milling operations, and the boring periods of necessary repetitive work encourage something different within the educational experience – something that is perhaps akin to the results one might achieve from communality, dance, and meditation. 

  • The Open Studios program enables students to work on-site at the Bauhaus. Do they feel respect for this place? Does working here differ from modern higher-education buildings?

My students are thrilled to be here! For many of them it is a dream of a lifetime. Even I get a thrill looking out of the window and seeing the red sign above the main entry! Of course they have respect for the place. At the same time, there are some challenges – they are used to being more casual with the furniture and the floor at our own school. But ours is not a protected historic cultural heritage building so spilling a little ink or paint on the floor is not such an issue at home. But fundamentally, educational spaces for artists and designers have not changed much in the past 100 years. Concrete floors, access to space and light, and sturdy desks are all that students really need. The Bauhaus building has been discretely retrofit with extra electrical outlets and the internet connection is sufficient… Working here is very easy.

  • What is life like in Dessau, at the Bauhaus? What will the students take home with them?

Personally, I find Dessau charming. I enjoy the sleepy pre-unification hangover that is evident in the architecture and the general atmosphere of the town. It forces one to confront the temporality of political ideals and ambitions that change too rapidly for the more slowly moving arts of urban planning and urban development. The Bauhaus itself is also quiet, but in an exciting way. At night, one can imagine the hallways of the dormitory populated with historic figures and in the daytime the rhythmic hum of machinery in the workshops dominates the imagination. The simple act of walking up the stairs is an opportunity to rub shoulders with twentieth century luminaries within an Oskar Schlemmer painting!

My students will cherish this experience, as will I! I am certain that my students will take home a poignant appreciation for the history of the Bauhaus and it is my hope that they will use the experience to not only question their own artistic and design processes, but also to question the cultural context within which they live and work.