The number one question freshmen get asked during their first week at Vassar is “Where are you from?” Although this seems like a simple answer for first years, the meaning of hometown for many seniors changes after four years at college.
The complexity of this question is exactly what curator of the “Dis/Locating Home/Towns” series Kevin Ritter ’15, who is a Urban Studies and English double major, had in mind when creating his three-day-long performance series. Ritter described his project as a multitude of genres and mediums of art. He wrote in an emailed statement, “‘Dis/Locating Home/Towns’ is a library, performance series, reading series, participatory art installation, community dialogue, and hangout session that engages with the vast array of hometowns on Vassar’s campus and in the world.”
Ritter continued, “The event tries to resist easy categorization; to acknowledge the vast array of ways that people construct ideas of home, family, and memory; to complicate the viewer’s understanding of the ways that memory, geography, and sheer will can combine to create a sense of ‘home’ or the ‘hometown.’”
A member of Britomartis and a performer in “Dis/Locating Home/Towns,” Andrea Negrete ’15 wrote about her experience interacting with the idea of a “hometown” as a senior and through this series. She said, “I am a member of Britomartis and I heard about the project through Kevin and thought it would be an interesting way to explore my relationship with home which feels especially different now that I’m in my last semester of college.”
As a performer in the series and an English major, Katie Ewan ’15, commented on her view of the series and how she got involved. “This project provided the artists and larger campus community the opportunity to engage with the notion of a ‘hometown.’ Kevin’s vision offered participants a chance to examine more closely what is meant by home, by belonging, by memory, and by place-shaped identity… I helped to host the library/collaboratory space, and read a portion of my creative writing thesis on Saturday night.”
While the description may seem abstract, Ritter explained the background behind and motivation for hosting this series, which was surprisingly not even close to his hometown. Ritter wrote, “When I was studying abroad in London, I became quite homesick for Cleveland, Ohio, where I grew up. I became really obsessed with hanging out in this neighborhood in East London called Hackney Wick, which has a bunch of disused manufacturing and warehouse spaces. I really liked Hackney Wick because it looked a lot like Cleveland, but really didn’t have much to do with Cleveland. It aesthetically comforted me in a way.”
He continued, “In retrospect, I started to think about the ways that I was constructing my own idea of home, hinging mostly on the aesthetics of buildings, whereas another person’s understanding of Cleveland…could be quite different.”
With the inspiration budding from his reflections during his trip abroad, he turned his personal musings into more collaborative and interconnected idea. He said, “I also wanted to explore the ways that the American notion of the hometown is rooted in a nostalgia that doesn’t always cross classed, racial or gendered boundaries. Through bringing together a range of artists from a range of places, disciplines, and experiences, I hope to create a diverse understanding of the ways we construct our idea of home and heritage.”
He approached the idea of diversity from many different angles, “I tried to find presenters working in a variety of disciplines: performance art, creative non-fiction, poetry, storytelling, etc. I also wanted to feature students from a variety of places in the world. It was important to me to bring in a voice from outside of Vassar, so I reached out to performance artist Mette Loulou von Kohl to bring her gorgeous piece about her grandmother and Palestine, ‘As If They Were Mine’ to campus as part of the event.”
As a featured artist in the series, as well as a spectator of the event, Ewan noted the difference and diversity between the performers, especially in conjunction with her own experience. She wrote, “Many of the performers’ notions of hometown included both stunning and stark cityscapes, as well as the memories associated with moving from place to place.”
Another presenter in the series and a member of Britomartis, Derek Butterton ’15 wrote about his thoughts on the unique series created by Ritter, “I was one of the presenters in the series. I talked about my hometown of Newton, Massachusetts, both as the namesake of the Fig Newton and as the site of several formative elementary school experiences…My favorite part of the process was listening to the stories of the other artists and discovering the great diversity of our conceptions of home and the ways in which our upbringing impacts us today.”
On a more individual level, Ewan noted, “Personally, I feel deeply rooted to my home of Kentucky, to its people but perhaps even more strongly to its landscapes. My writing focuses on the land as a key and influential character, and attempts to explore how natural places both literally and metaphorically shape our notions of ourselves and our homes.”
Negrete was also able to speak to the participation in this series, as a look at herself and others’ experiences. She said, “I cultivated and created my own piece about my hometown and brought it to Kevin. We workshopped it a little and decided to jump right in knowing that all work is a work in progress…Each contributor brought severe individuality. We spoke and wrote from experience about something deeply personal and everyone was brave in that respect.”
Ritter was able to bring this idea of his to fruition with the help of other students as well as other groups and organizations at Vassar, showing the true support for student projects and ideas. Ritter commented, “I then applied for use of the Collaboratory, Creative Arts Across Disciplines’ new trailer space, and was approved! The great thing about CAAD’s program is that you don’t have to go through an org or department to use the space, so I initially was organizing the event by myself, but eventually reached out for financial co-sponsorship from the departments of English, Drama, and Urban Studies, Philaletheis, Unbound, and Britomartis.”
With the support from these organizations, Ritter was able not only to engage many more students in the performance aspect of his show, but was also able to include the audience in the series. “I also came to the realization that the event couldn’t exist solely as a performance series to fully encompass the many constructions of the hometown, so I added a library component, filled with books that informed my thinking in curating the event, and a participatory art piece, where I asked visitors to draw maps of their own hometowns in order to further engage with the public and the idea behind the show,” Ritter said.
As a testament to the success of this idea, process and final product which Ritter was able to bring to the community, Ewan commented on the experience after the series. “I think Kevin did a great job. This was such a creative idea, and definitely an ambitious undertaking, but I think the event ultimately–and successfully–looked at the notion of “hometowns” from multiple, vastly different but equally illuminating perspectives,” Ewan commented.