October 17, 2014
Benassi ’15 Studied at Renowned Bauhaus University

Graphic design major Martina Benassi ’15 is the first student to participate in Emmanuel’s new Bauhaus Exchange Program.

Typography is an art form that surrounds us every day and it often goes unnoticed - but after spending a semester abroad at Bauhaus University, graphic design major Martina Benassi '15 has a newfound passion for letterforms. When she sees a typeface with good ligature or kerning, she finds it inspiring.

"The professors there really emphasized the idea behind the work, not just the aesthetic, which is something that I think is unique to an art school. They focus more on the idea behind your artwork and building yourself as an artist," Benassi said about her time at Bauhaus. "I think artistically I'd say I've developed as an artist."

Benassi spent a semester from early March to late June at Bauhaus University in Weimar, Germany, where she took three typography courses. A professor suggested to Benassi that she would be a perfect candidate to experience Emmanuel's new exchange program with the Bauhaus and she decided to apply. Benassi is the first Emmanuel art student to participate in the program and she encourages other students to step outside their comfort zones and experience a new school, people and city.

"We have a small art department at Emmanuel and having the opportunity to go to a large art school is very valuable. The people that you meet there and the way classes are structured are very different," she said.

The program is a direct exchange - one student for one student - and tuition is covered. Emmanuel and Bauhaus's yearly semesters are different, so enrolled students would have a break from January to March. Students attend an orientation and take a German language course in March, and classes begin April 1st and end June 30th.

To apply, interested students must send their name, class/year, major area of study, GPA (3.5 minimum), a 10-image portfolio of their best work made at Emmanuel with a brief explanation of the edit of the images and a 250- to 500-word statement of purpose explaining how a semester in Weimer will augment their education and art making to Stephan Jacobs, assistant professor of art and photography at Emmanuel.

"It's an incredibly important institution in the history of art and modern art," said Jacobs in a Bauhaus Exchange Program info-session early in October. "It's a really, really great opportunity."

Bauhaus University has been an institution of art and architecture for more than 150 years. In 1860, Grand Duke Carl Alexandar founded Kunstschule, began to study a new way of seeing things under the heading Weimarer Malerschule (Weimar School of Artists). Arnold Böcklin, Franz von Lenbach, Max Liebermann, Theodor Hagen and Christian Rohlfs, among others, were associated with Weimar as teachers and/or students. Over the years, the school expanded and now houses four facilities of Architecture and Urbanism, Civil Engineering, Art and Design and Media. More than 4,000 students are enrolled at the university, including 450 foreign students.

As a foreign student, Benassi learned basic German in her first month so she would be able to find her way around the town, as well as talk to fellow students and professors about her course work. One of Benassi's classes was in German, one was in English and one was taught in both languages. She said the students were very helpful at answering questions about information she didn't understand in class. Before her classes started in April, Benassi traveled with fellow classmates (from around the world) to different cities throughout Germany.

Benassi was enrolled in one large typography course and two smaller courses that supplemented the larger one. She created a typeface called Schriftwald Fraktur. Fraktur is a decorative typeface often found in old German documents; the typeface's hand-made aesthetic is appealing to Benassi and she wanted to create her own type from this style.

It was in Germany that Benassi also exhibited her art for the first time. In Space Gaswerk, Benassi was given the opportunity to display her typeface on the walls of an exhibit with other Bauhaus students.

"This was my first art show, so it was really exciting to have my art on the walls and see people talking about it," she said. "I couldn't really understand what they were saying, because it was all in German. I could pick up some, but people talking about your work is good."

Benassi said the feedback she received from other students was extremely valuable.  Since the other students were focused on developing themselves as artists, they truly appreciated the critiquing process.  She began building her typeface mid-May.

"There was so much creating ideas, critiquing ideas, destroying ideas, recreating ideas," Benassi said. "I do like that process. I'm going through it right now in senior thesis. I think the process of making art at the Bauhaus really prepared me for my independent research for my thesis project"

While working, Benassi said she found inspiration in books at the university. She was particularly drawn to calligraphy and hand-written Fraktur, which have certain expressions that basic Fraktur does not.

"Their library is very different from our library here," she said. "Everything there is something that can inspire your work."

With a new language, city, school and computer programs, Benassi said she had to overcome a lot of challenges while at the Bauhaus, but she enjoyed the experience. Now, she is using her new love for typography as the focus of her thesis project.

"I definitely wanted to push my own boundaries," she said about her time at Bauhaus.  "I think I developed an appreciation for home and a liberal arts college and a small art department and America too. I think the Germans being less stressed about things rubbed off on me, as well."

The Art Department is hoping the program will grow so that more than one student could study abroad each year. To apply or for more information about the program, e-mail Jacobs at Jacobsst@emmanuel.edu.

Check out the time-lapse video of Benassi's installation at Space Gaswerk below.

Bennassi's Fraktur-style tyopgraphy was displayed in a gallery in Germany.

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