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Dresden Residency Part II: Ohio Artists in Germany

The Ohio and Dresden Residency Exchange is one of the longest-running artist exchange programs in the state. Two artists from Germany live and work in Ohio and two Ohio-based artists have the opportunity to do the same in Dresden, Germany. This exchange is culturally profitable on both sides of the Atlantic for both the artists gaining work experience and for the communities they call home during their stay. 

In the second part of our series on the Residency Exchange, we collect the thoughts of our Ohio artists abroad. Ron Abram and Christi Birchfield plugged back in to daily life to send their responses our way (and we're glad they did). Although it can be difficult to paint an accurate picture of a colorful experience like a residency abroad, like the true artists that they are, Christi and Ron have masterfully shared with us the spirit of collaboration, inspiration, and the impact the program will have on them for years to come.

 How did you find out about the Dresden Residency Exchange and what drew you to apply for the program? 

Christi Birchfield: I have been a long time user of Zygote Press and am currently on staff as the Production Manager out of INK House. For years I have been meeting the Dresden artists who come to Zygote each fall for five-weeks. I’ve loved working with them and seeing their work progress during their time in Cleveland.
Ron Abram: Friends such as Claudia Esslinger and Todd DeVrese first told me of their experiences on the program, and when I started visiting Berlin five years ago and began my current printmaking and animation project centered around individual identity and gay life in the GDR (German Democratic Republic). I was intrigued to come to Dresden, going deep into what was East Germany as well as to witness firsthand the baroque origins of Printmaking to develop the project further. 

Can you share a bit of your day-to-day life in Dresden? 

Ron: The Grafikwerkstatt is perhaps the most beautiful printroom I’ve worked in over my 35 years making prints. Its filled with the history of a shop that has transcended time to still remain relevant and exciting. 
Christi: The Graffikwerkstatt is open Monday through Friday 9-4pm. I do my best to get there when the shop opens to have a full workday. The shop is a calm quiet environment, conducive to concentrated work. The Peter, Torrsten and Udo are the guys who run the shop. There are so helpful and kind. The work days goes really fast. 
Ron: Christi and the other resident artists have formed a tight little community amongst ourselves and together with the incredible trio of printmakers at Grafikwerkstatt and the over-the-top generosity of the artistic community in Dresden. 

What differences and similarities have you noticed between your creative process in Ohio and in Germany? 

Ron: I’ve let go of the digital routine of checking emails, texting, Facebooking, and I’ve immersed myself into the realm of thinking with my hands--in the rich historical process of etching, lithography and letterpress bookmaking that is honest, intimate and authentic in all capacities.

I've savored the communal nature of working in a shop and the daily production/output of all our creative industry together.
I get as much excited about what the other artists are making on a daily basis as my own work..sometimes more. I feel incredibly proud to be printmaker here in Dresden, the city is filled with printmaking history, and Ive already visited so many small print studios in the city beyond Grafikwerkstatt. The medium is very much alive here. 
Christi: Dresden is shadowed by a deep history of war, destruction, political divide, and is currently dealing with conflict over the immigration of refugees. It is impossible to create work without this potent history in mind.

The conflicts of war and struggle is back-dropped by an incredibly beautiful city. This contradiction is hard to ignore.
How do you predict this residency will impact your work when you return? 

Christi: Practically, I have found very efficient ways to work while being here. I have gotten a lot of work accomplished in spite of the somewhat short workdays. I will take this knowledge I have gained in Dresden and apply it to my work studio practice as well as my position as printer at Zygote Press.

On another level, I will consider Cleveland and the history of my own city as an undeniable part of my practice. Though Cleveland might not enter into my work in overt ways, I will be more conscious of how the history of my own city is also quite potent.
Ron: Here in Dresden I've continued my ongoing project: a Queer retelling of Grimm Fairy Tales but in the form of a letterpress book with copper etchings and lithographs. I've taken passages from Sneewittchen (Snow White) as the text from a quite old publication of the stories using medieval letterpress. The book has the subtitle of “Fascination with the Foreigner.” Combined with the text , all the images are inspired by primarily baroque artworks I've seen here and speak metaphorically to not only issues of queer identity, but also being an foreigner in a new land. 

Beyond the time you spend at Grafikwerkstaat, what have you discovered in Dresden? 

Ron: Like all great cities, it is a city of contradictions.

It's a city that has its historical wounds but is surrounded with dazzling treasures of art and culture. The art community is incredibly generous to others and pursue artmaking with intellect, vitality and work hard.
Christi: The people are incredibly welcoming. There have been countless invitations to attend openings, garden parties, and artist studios.
I have been fortunate to experience the city through the lens of local artists mainly.
If you could give one piece of advice to the pair of Ohio artists who travel to Dresden next year, what would it be? 

Ron: Learn the history of the city before you come. You will appreciate the experience even more when you discover how rich and influential that history is.
Christi: Come to Dresden with a project in mind to work on but be open to what the shop has to offer. Be willing to shift gears and experiment.
Ron: Also, in your first week balance out your time in the printroom by going to Dresden’s museums and art galleries. Allow the influence of it all to inspire the prints you make here.

 Any thoughts, ponderings, or musings you would like to share? 

Ron: I'm so grateful to the OAC for this experience. It's been a rejuvenating printmaking experience to have during a fall sabbatical from teaching at Denison University. I'm already thinking about not only more future opportunities for myself in Dresden but also for my printmaking students. Also, it's been a real gift to meet and work alongside Christi. We'd never met before but we've really bonded. The vibrancy of her artistic process and generous character has made for a great comrade here.
Christi: This program is incredible valuable. I feel so fortunate to have this opportunity. I have loved working in the werkstatt. I am so grateful to the Ohio Arts Council, Zygote Press, the city of Dresden, as well as the Grafikwerkstatt for partnering to make this possible. I have also been blessed with fantastic co-residents. Ron (Ohio), Gittan (Sweden), Antonis (Greece) have become great friends and really made this experience such a blast.

Sometimes the question: Any thoughts you would like to share? Yields results that range from practical to poignant. Christi and Ron's collected thoughts help illustrate the impact of a creative space like the Ohio and Dresden Exchange Residency. If you're curious about the viewpoint of the German artists who came to Ohio in the exchange, you're in luck. We interviewed Svenja and Tony as they geared up for their exhibition.

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