Studio K.O.S. Post-Workshop Dialogue
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Studio K.O.S. Post-Workshop Dialogue

The letters I M over layed on a page of printed text.
Tim Rollins and K.O.S., Invisible Man (after Ralph Ellison), 2012. Image courtesy Lehmann Maupin.

Art Resources Transfer and the Walker present a conversation with Studio K.O.S.

What does it mean to draw and collage directly on the pages of literary classics? Is this a transgressive act or a more profound process of interpretation and engagement? Hear from artist collective Studio K.O.S. in this special conversation with Wendy Tronrud and Nisa Mackie on their workshops involving reading and making, and the relationship between these two central mechanisms for learning.

Following recent sessions with teachers, librarians, and teaching artists across the Twin Cities, the group will unpack their process, including the significance of Ralph Ellison’s text Invisible Man—foundational source material the group had returned to throughout their decades-long collaboration. Insisting on art-making as a model of literacy that advances social justice, Studio K.O.S. is an extraordinary experiment in collaborative pedagogy with actual transformative impact. The group’s current members—Angel Abreu, Jorge Abreu, Robert Branch, and Rick Savinon—continue and reimagine the collective practice founded by Tim Rollins in the early 1980s, which merged the classroom and art studio to produce artworks developed through shared readings of literary classics.

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“To dare to make history when you are young, when you are a minority, when you are working, or nonworking class, when you are voiceless in society, takes courage. Where we came from, just surviving is ‘making history.’ So many others, in the same situations, have not survived, physically, psychologically, spiritually, or socially. We were making our own history. We weren’t going to accept history as something given to us.” —Tim Rollins

Studio K.O.S. (Kids of Survival) continues the collective initially formed by artist Tim Rollins and students from a South Bronx public school in the early 1980s. Rollins and K.O.S. developed a unique method of learning through art-making that involved painting and drawing on the pages of books or sheet music adhered in a grid to the surface of a canvas. Their influential work builds on diverse source materials, including literary classics by William Shakespeare and Mark Twain, foundational writings by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, as well as musical compositions by Felix Mendelssohn and Richard Strauss, and X-Men comics. Following the passing of Rollins in 2017, the group continues to evolve.

Studio K.O.S. is the 2020 Art Resources Transfer Distribution to Underserved Communities Library Program Honoree. A.R.T. will celebrate Studio K.O.S. by distributing over 25,000 free art books to 625 public libraries, schools, and prisons in the group’s name. In partnership with the Walker, and following workshops and public dialogue, Studio K.O.S. will co-create the fifth installment of A.R.T.’s Reading Resources teaching guides.

Wendy Tronrud is the associate director of teaching programs at the Bard Prison Initiative and a former high school teacher in New York. She has worked as an education consultant for A.R.T. for the past four years, where she has developed the Reading Resources critical literacy through the arts guides. She recently finished her doctorate in nineteenth-century American poetry and aesthetics at the CUNY Graduate Center.

Nisa Mackie is the head of Public Engagement, Learning and Impact at the Walker.

Art Resources Transfer is a nonprofit organization committed to documenting and disseminating artists’ voices and work to the broadest possible publics. Its three programs, A.R.T. Press, the D.U.C., and Reading Resources, activate the key components of the printed book—publication, distribution, education, and spaces of reading—to create more egalitarian access to the arts and literacy.

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