Just a few floors away from Untitled Cafe, Claire Kohne, a fourth-year art student, opens the leaf-decorated walls of her art studio to art, conversation and surprisingly affordable coffee. In one of the only student-run public environments on campus, Kohne relinquishes her studio’s private setting for the winter quarter, transforming it into a zone of gathering as part of an ongoing installation project for her thesis.
“I wanted to adopt the convention of a coffee shop, a domestic space, in order to facilitate experiences, conversations or silent thought that would otherwise not happen in a studio’s private space or on campus,” Kohne said with a disarming smile as she waited for the water to boil in her small coffee machine.
Kohne said that she enjoys the surprises that arise from controlling and creating new variable spaces and that she has worked on projects involving the genesis of unusual experience.
For a video piece, she crafted an entire set of ceramic pots and utensils for the consumption of a self-made meal, having seen the life and death of the chicken she consumed.
“With ceramics, you can assert the most amount of control that you can possibly possess, and then it is also a surprise,” Kohne said.
Kohne said that, in the near future, she wishes to attend an all-women’s off-road race across the Sahara Desert, Rallye Aicha des Gazelles, and convert her experience into a collection of photographs for an upcoming book project. Art and experience will be tied together in this one-time situation crafted by the artist.
Kohne’s studio venue is meant to work as an independent, fully functioning environment, and students are welcome to prepare their own pot of coffee.
They are encouraged to use the handcrafted chess set and glazed cups made by Kohne, the small library and the beat-up couch for leisure or conversation. The studio is in a state of living transformation.
The space was activated with novice chess players and conversationalists.
One of the guests, Bella Week, 19, sat contemplatively on the edge of a table, watching an intense chess game between Kohne and fourth-year art student James Lee.
“There is no way to foresee anything that will happen,” Week said about the future of Kohne’s project. “A coffee shop is a space and breeding ground for conversation. … It depends on the people.”
There is also space in Kohne’s venue for laughter and the exploration of the silliness of bourgeois coffee shop conventions. Little objects in Kohne’s space are humorous. Her hand-made chess set, for instance, is composed of a cheeseburger king and a rocket-ship queen. A triptych of a little girl’s portrait hangs on the walls, welcoming visitors with a mischievous smile.
Transforming experience into art is also explored in Kohne’s book of photographs from a seven-week road trip across America, which was displayed in the Undergraduate Art Gallery at Broad Art Center in January.
“The book is less about the road trip than it is about different conventions of representation … of the beloved, of sublime beauty, tourism and the road trip as a convention of experience in America,” Kohne said.
UCLA alumna Emily Dupree, who was the subject of Kohne’s photography during the road trip, said that Kohne’s book encapsulates a true world transformed into fiction by rearranging the order of accounts.
“When other people read the book that Kohne made, they are filling in the blanks with things from their own imagination, yet guided by her,” Dupree said.
Kohne’s coffee shop project will create situations outside of the spectacle of consumer designations. The future of her venue awaits upcoming performance and creation.
“So much of my art is about asserting all of my control just so that I could see what happens. I experiment with controls and variables … as a study of what is happening right now, what I am doing, what is going to happen,” Kohne said.