Among the most interesting documentation of the Panama Hotel Paper Kite Residency in 2003 is the set of interviews with each artist conducted by Programming Assistant, Courtney de Rouen, whom Drachen was lucky to have on staff at the time. Fluent in German as well as English, she was able to interview the five German-speaking artists in their native language and then translate each interview.
Courtney asked each artist the following questions: when she or he first became interested in kites; what relation, if any, kites bore to her/his work; what experience s/he had with paper as a medium; what s/he was working on for the week; what kind of opportunity this residency offered. Answers to the first question ranged from the predictable childhood exposure (“that’s just what kids do”) to the search for a thesis topic (a quest with which graduate students worldwide can sympathize!) to work in a kite shop to slow-growing dedication over a decade of casual exploration. Although each artist worked in different ways, and usually produced different types and sizes of kites (affected by how big the space on a table, or the size of a sports car), most artists, whatever their level of familiarity with paper, acknowledged that it offered an appealing freedom to experiment. Christine Schwarting made “trash kites” from the paper Scott Skinner discarded; Kisa Sauer was similarly liberated from the “perfectionism” demanded by spinnaker, because of its expense. Robert Trépanier also pointed out “the speed with which you can do things [with paper]. In an hour, two hours, you can do something interesting because it’s really fast. Also, everybody knows how to work with paper, Elmer’s glue, sticks, knots and line. It’s nothing technical, nothing complex.”
That freedom and expansiveness also characterized the atmosphere of the residency as a whole: in Anke Sauer’s turn of phrase, “It [was] almost as if the room [was] crackling.” Scott Skinner, president of the Drachen Foundation as well as one of the participating artists, felt that the paper kite residency would demonstrate that “you don’t have to be a technician to get results. You don’t have to be a great knot tier or bamboo splitter. You can use very simple sticks and just support here and there and make things work. You don’t have to be a great painter; you have other avenues. If you are a painter, you might find a way to use your work or put your work into a kite form or into a free-form object that flies.”
The interviews contain many details, from that moment in kite history, about the working process of each kite artist and his/her opinions about the attractions of kite building and flying. Anna Rubin spoke of the imagery she was using in the two series of kites she was creating at the time—and Yoshizumi-san commented on her technique in gluing together the coins for her “dollar plant” kite (look as well for his comments about Japanese “younger people”). Anke Sauer explained the evolution of her paper “pyramid” kites, her sister Kisa the twisty perspective of the “Skywalker” kites she developed while in Seattle. Christine Schwarting recounted a conversation with Peter Lynn and Robert Trépanier about the pleasures of kite flying. Frank Schwiemann thanked the “Düsseldorf Kite Friends” who tolerated the “little squirt” he once was at kite festivals. And Robert Trépanier (a mentor to several artists at different points in their careers) and Scott Skinner each discussed the impetus for the residency itself and the hopes that it might inspire more opportunities for paper kite creation and gallery display.
What, now three years later, is the continuing involvement of each artist with kites? Each remains a productive kite artist. Examples: Frank Schwiemann and Christine Schwarting (who, in her interview, described the transition in her status from “Frank’s girlfriend” to independent artist within the kiting community) produce art kite installations for trade shows and large events; Yoshizumi-san has recently completed four or five kites for Dr. Paul Eubel’s traveling exhibit of art kites, currently in Palermo, Italy, traveling to Shanghai and San Francisco; Robert Trépanier, despite his protestations that he is not a “paper kite guy,” has received a major commission for kites from the Government of Montreal.