Berlin Bound

Originally posted: April 27, 2011

Prof. Lee Arnold of Drew University

Inspiration strikes when Lee Arnold travels. So it’s a fair assumption that the 38-year-old assistant professor of art will find his muse this summer while studying in Berlin on a grant from a German organization of higher education institutions.

Something about a new environment gets him fired up. First, he reads. Then he leaves. “I go to places that I’m interested in, places that have a historical or creative significance,” says Arnold, a visual artist who works in film, video, sound, and photography. “I just get inspired by the place. Then I improvise. Usually the thing that comes out of it is not what I expected.”

Arnold, his wife, and two-year-old daughter will spend three months in Berlin, beginning in June. In his grant application to the Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst, or German Academic Exchange Service, he proposed studying Berlin as a center for experimental film and animation. Germany was at the forefront of cinema during the early days of motion pictures, and nurtured an important experimental film movement during the 1920s. The Nazis extinguished that movement during the Third Reich, but today Germany, and Berlin in particular, is a center for new media in film. “My theory is that the spirit dominating both periods is the same,” Arnold says. “My idea was to do some research on early films and animation made in Berlin, and connect it to the new experimental stuff that’s going on.”

The Berlin University of the Arts will be the starting point for his research. What he learns will inform his teaching at Drew. But another by-product, he hopes, will be that his German improves. Arnold grew up speaking German—his mother is German—but says he’s no longer bi-lingual.

And he will find time for art projects. He’ll pack a laptop, a camera or two, a  Super 8 movie camera, a pad of paper, and maybe pencils and watercolors.

“I’m less of an academic and really more of an artist,” Arnold says. “I haven’t worked out yet what the projects will be. They may not all necessarily pertain to Germany.  There are a couple of authors I’m interested in. One is W. G. Sebald, a German writer. The other is novelist Thomas Mann. One thing’s for certain. I’ll be traveling around.”

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