Five Questions for Isabel Czerwenka-Wenkstetten and Leslie Fry

Leslie Fry: It was great to get Isabel's call out of the blue. The words "collaboration" and "international" were all I needed to hear to say yes right away -- more ways to expand my vision, content, process, and audience.

What were the ten days like that you spent working together?

ICW: Honestly: exciting, scary, unproductive, productive, disturbing, motivating, surprising and inspiring! We mainly worked in Leslie’s studio in St. Pete, which gave a great frame for our activities. It is a bright, peaceful place. It was also useful to withdraw sometimes, work from home and Skype to keep in touch before getting together again. Stopping working on the project was a challenge. One topic led to the other, we had to say "stop" at some point. However, we hope we also get the chance to do more work in Austria in October, before we have an exhibition in the Viennese gallery Windspiel-Galerie. That will depend on our funds of course. We are discussing sponsorships from the city of Vienna, State of Austria and US Embassy right now.


LF: Intense, obviously, to work with someone you don't know (other than a few Skype calls and e-mails) and there was no pre-conceived plan -- just trusting in the mutual bond of making art as the start and basis of communication. It was good to have a limited time period or it would have been hard to stop (though the collaboration will continue in Vienna). The first few days flowed with the excitement of making connections conceptually and working back and forth with our different methods with media. Later there was an overwhelming factor of too many directions to go in with not enough time for resolution. Some of our different approaches were hard for me when time was growing short, but we both have always kept the spirit of collaboration true throughout our process. The whole experience has been deepening. I had to work outside my usual patterns, I had to think about some things I'd rather not, and create in a responsive and enlarging way. Isabel is an incredible artist, and there was no problem in working through hard parts as well as all the joyful connections we discovered.

Pictured: Artists Leslie Fry, left, and Isabel Czerwenka-Wenkstetten.

How would you describe the final result of your collaboration?

ICW: Megan, that is a good question. Let's start with the "for now" before the final. Physically, the result of our collaboration is a series of works, and stations, a delicate broad horizon of elements: paintings on the wall, words, video, collages, a print on the floor. History and present of both our countries of origin are a strong element in it. They are getting digested. And they transform and change to become a well-based future. So I can say, the result of our collaboration so far is collection of elements, a contribution to a good "now" and "tomorrow". However, the secret of a good collaboration is always that it leaves a potential for the future, too. And I feel this one clearly does.

LF: Right, there is no final. We will continue in October in Vienna and see what influences occur there. Whatever happens during our one evening event at [email protected] will be material that will contribute to the collaboration as well, so come one come all and participate! Another unplanned aspect of collaboration is the opportunity from Bob Devin-Jones to let all of this happen at [email protected] truly a place where all forms of art can come together.

Isabel, cross-cultural collaborations seem to play a big role in your work (specifically, the on-going project called Foreign Affairs). How was this collaboration different from others you’ve undertaken?

ICW: Yes, Foreign Affairs took me get in closer touch with wonderful artists from Nigeria, Mexico and Thailand. Together, we could explore our common and differences, a very strengthening journey that is from which new emerges. This collaboration was very special, as it got me more to look into the partly not-great-at-all history of Austria and in the history of my family too. But I am especially grateful to be able to work with Leslie here, because she has a very differentiated view on the US and takes her responsibility as a citizen very seriously. In a gentle and active way she works in art and life in order to contribute to the common productive. It is a fascinating experience for me to encounter her working in the framework of a powerful mighty and huge country and myself from a little one, only a bit more then 8 million people. And we have common interests and can put our strengths together to create new fruitful work. Yes, big country, big challenges—and small country, with individually seeing the same challenges at its heart. It is all about hope and communication, so changes can be carried out together in some common interest.


What should people expect to encounter on Tuesday night? (Is this an exhibition in the traditional sense?)

ICW: Well, it is an art exhibition, yes. The work of us as visual artists is shown. Exhibition in the traditional sense? I guess not. We get out of the traditional white cube thinking by giving the visitors the chance to get more involved. Visitors get the chance to network and get to know each other in a more direct way than in traditional exhibitions. In the best cases, some other productive collaborations in any field may result!

LF: At the time of this writing (less than two days before our event) there are technological challenges in getting computer files between Vienna and St. Petersburg sorted out for some of the artwork to be ready! There will be art on the wall, on the floor, hanging from the ceiling, video, music, projections, games, eminent speakers, food, drink, the unpredictable. Most people come to the opening reception for an art exhibition rather than later, so we are packing it all into one night!

Above: An Obama-themed image from their collaborative project. Courtesy of the artists.

Megan Voeller is Creative Loafing’s visual art critic. She teaches at the University of Tampa and blogs at

Image courtesy Isabel Czerwenka-Wenkstetten and Leslie Fry

Tuesday evening marks the public debut of a collaborative project between St. Petersburg-based artist Leslie Fry and Austrian artist Isabel Czerwenka-Wenkstetten at the [email protected]. The pair met via email and Skype earlier this year then teamed up for an intense, ten-day collaboration in St. Petersburg. During Tuesday’s opening reception (6-9 p.m.), visitors are invited to peruse the resulting artwork and play an interactive game while enjoying Austrian and American food and introductions by three speakers: Andreas Stadler, Austrian Cultural Forum New York; Wallace Wilson, Director, College of the Arts, University of South Florida; and Erika Greenberg-Schneider, Owner and Master Printer of Bleu Acier Inc., Tampa.

Hoping to spawn more cross-cultural connections out of their own, Czerwenka-Wenkstetten and Fry say the reception is an opportunity to network and encounter other perspectives. Their collaboration continues in the fall when Vienna’s Windspiel Galerie will showcase their work. Over the weekend, both artists offered thoughts about their collaboration by email.

Artsqueeze: How did you both meet and decide to collaborate?

Isabel Czerwenka-Wenkstetten: I researched in the area who did interesting work, so I searched the internet, and Jorge Vidal at the Arts Center, among others, mentioned Leslie Fry. So I researched her. And I like her work, I love the aesthetics and background she works with. So I called her from Europe and told her about the project. That was in September, I guess. Then some emails, and soon Leslie gave her OK to that exploration.

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