If someone were to create a Venn diagram with circles labeled "respected academic institution" and "punk-DIY-ethos hub," you'd find Visual Studies Workshop in the intersecting space. And that unique blend of international reach and dream-it-do-it attitude, along with community accessibility, is one of the reasons the Workshop is celebrating its 50th anniversary. VSW is marking the milestone with an exhibition, film screening, panel discussion, and art auction.
Founded in 1969 by the late photographer, educator, writer, and curator Nathan Lyons, the Workshop has grown from its origins in a lofted space on Elton Street — an indie school literally hand-constructed by its founder and students. Today, the institution offers graduate coursework through The College at Brockport, a thriving residency program that draws artists from around the world, a treasure trove of print, film, and video archives, and year-round exhibitions, films screenings, artist talks, and other community-engaging events.
Currently on view in the VSW Gallery is "Chronology: A People's History of VSW," an exhibition made of more than a thousand posters and photographs from the Workshop's institutional archives and provided by alumni and friends. Designed and installed by current workshop residents, the exhibition is a rich collision of layered materials ringing the space that could easily take days to absorb. Good thing, then, that "Chronology" will eventually be turned into a book. The show is the beginning of an oral history project that tells the story of the activities and people who have passed through the workshop.
A reception for "Chronology" will take place Friday, May 31, at 6 to 8 p.m., and the show remains on view through June 29. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Friday, noon to 5 p.m. and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Also taking place on Friday night at 7 p.m. is the first public screening of a newly restored 16mm print of "About Us," in the VSW Auditorium. The film was created in 1971, when renowned artist and filmmaker Robert Frank was in residency at VSW and conducted a workshop with six students. Over several months, Frank and the students collaborated on a project of re-interpreting the concept of the self-portrait to reflect the reality of the present, and the 38-minute film documents all sorts of antics, starring notable Rochester spaces (including the group's attempt to evade security and break into Kodak headquarters).