David Gersten is an architect, artist, writer and internationally recognized educator based in New York City. He has been a Professor in The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture of The Cooper Union, since 1991, where he has served as the Associate Dean under Dean John Hejduk and the Acting Dean of the School of Architecture. He has held the Ellen and Sidney Feltman Chaired professorship and is a former Chairman of the School’s Administrative, Curriculum and Admissions Committees.
Gersten is the founding Director of: Arts Letters & Numbers, a non profit arts and education organization dedicated to creating new structures and spaces for creative exchange across a wide range of disciplines including: Architecture, Visual Arts, Theater Arts, Film, Music, Humanities, Sciences and Social Sciences. Arts, Letters & Numbers conducts workshops in educational and cultural institutions worldwide while operating an ongoing series of programs: workshops, courses, lectures, theater performances and film productions at its ‘Mill’ located in Upstate, NY. Arts Letters & Numbers proposes a new model in the art of teaching and learning, an emergent structure for questions and works; a school, a theater company, a film company and a publishing company all inside of each other, all creating transformation.
Gersten has been a visiting professor in the U.S. and abroad at: City University of New York; Rhode Island School of Design (RISD); Universidad Politecnica de Valencia in Spain; Aarhus School of Architecture, Denmark; Universidad Andina Simon Bolivar and Universidad Privada de Santa Cruz in Bolivia; and Universidad Catolica de Cordoba in Argentina. Since 2006 he has been a visiting professor in the Architecture Department and Graduate Studies divisions of RISD teaching seminars and studios across sixteen Masters of Fine Arts, Design and Architecture departments. He regularly teaches workshops and lectures in academic and cultural institutions though-out the world, including: The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, (Denmark), McGill University (Canada), Brown University, Cranbrook Academy of Art, Harvard University, Yale University, Emily Carr University of Art and Design, The Canadian Center for Architecture, the National Science Foundation, the Círculo de Bellas Artes, (Madrid, Spain), The University of Manitoba (Canada), The University of Puerto Rico, and the United Nations International School where he serves on the strategic planning committee and has served as the chair of a sub-committee on ‘visionary language’ and ‘lead communicator’ for ‘A new vision for education in the 21 century’
Gersten’s works include: drawings, stories, essays, films, performances and constructions. His works have appeared in numerous international exhibitions and performance spaces and are held in the collection of the Canadian Center for Architecture, the New York City Public Library’s print collection and many private collections. He has published extensively in national and international publications on diverse areas of research including: The spaces and structures of education, emergent disciplinary geographies, the financial markets and collective judgment, nuclear weapons and debt, global resource distribution, ethics and technology, the poetic / material imagination, social justice and the linkages between: embodied experience, memory, perception, language and space. Essays include: “ Hunting Life: Prefigure is Epilogue” RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics, the Peabody Museum, Harvard University; “Globe Double: Mimetic Capital; technology”, Ineffable; Architecture Computation and the In-expressible, Loft Publications; “Empathy; Material and Spatial” The Making Of Design Principles, RISD; “Creative Imagination In the Shadow of Oppenhiemer” Critical Digital, Harvard; ‘The Finisher’ Boulevard, Saint Louis University; “Embodied Knowledge Navigating Disciplinary Geographies” Making Science Visible, National Science Foundation; “Nacho Criado Leapt into the abyss and found it only came up to his knees”*, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid Spain; Arts, Letters and Numbers: New Disciplinary Geographies” Making the Geologic Now: Responses to Material Conditions of Contemporary Life Edited by: Elizabeth Ellsworth: Punctum books; “On drawing and friendship / drawing on friendship” “Svein Tonsager & Friends, Danish Architecture Center, Copenhagen, Denmark; “The Exchange: Heart Rate / Interest Rate”, “Where are the Utopian Visionaries: Architecture of Social Exchange” Periscope Publishing, “Discreet Machines of Desire: from Edward Bernays to Robert Oppenheimer” 99th ACSA Annual Meeting: WHERE DO YOU STAND Conference Proceedings 2011, “Hejduk, Hamlet and the Ghost Promise” Círculo de Bellas Artes, Madrid, Spain, The Paris-based publisher Editions Firmin-Didot will soon release “Hunting Life: A Forever House”, a collection of Professor Gersten’s drawings and writings.
Gersten is a graduate of The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture of The Cooper Union. He has also pursued studies in phenomenology at the New School for Social Research as well as Islamic Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary.
This Fall we had the great honor of contributing to the ‘Future Unknown’ Chancellor’s Summit held at The Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing, China. The project grew from careful consideration of the mission and vision of CAFA and the principles driving the “Future Unknown” initiative to move art and innovation forward by building linkages to many educational and cultural locations around the globe.
Director David Gersten visited the University at Albany's College of Arts and Sciences to celebrate its 25th Anniversary celebration event on Tuesday, October 16. He sat down for a talk with Writers Institute Director Paul Grondahl.
This year brought with it our 3rd annual Festival, where we once again celebrated and shared the works created over the course of our 2018 Summer Workshop, Hinges, Mirrors & Eclipses. With 45 participants, representing an incredible range of fields and nationalities, it was the largest workshop in the history of Arts Letters & Numbers, resulting in a truly memorable festival.
Hinges, Mirrors & Eclipses is grounded in the idea that the spatial, poetic and material imaginations provide a unique means of registering and creating transformation, of engaging the world and making a contribution. Working from the principle that our capacity to act in the world is rooted in our capacity to recognize and comprehend transformation, the workshop covers a large arc of content, asking questions of our world, our disciplines and our humanity.
In February Director David Gersten and Fellow Troels Steenholdt Heiredal met with Kimberly Ruth, the host of BTRtoday's Art Uncovered to talk about the origins of Arts Letters & Numbers, the upcoming Summer Workshop: Hinges, Mirrors & Eclipses and how Arts Letters & Numbers has related to, influenced and enabled Troels' personal artistic pursuits.
Director David Gersten was recently honored to deliver a Keynote address at UNICEF’s EXPO 2017 held in Astana, Kazakhstan. Expo 2017, gathered well over one hundred nations sharing projects and ideas within the theme of ‘Future Energy’, with UNICEF focusing on ‘Advancing the Rights of Children through Innovation’.
On August 3rd we opened our doors for the second Arts Letters & Numbers festival: this year titled Constitution. The 3-day festival presented works created during our annual four-week summer workshop, bringing together participants from a wide range of disciplines including architecture, photography, dance, music, literature, film, theatre, painting and drawing.
With CONSTITUTION, Arts Letters & Numbers proposed a dynamic crucible of free thought, a space where the widest spectrum of who we are could ask the questions of our time and create works that would bring us forward. A space where many elements could come together to create the alchemy of transforming how we experience today into how we will experience tomorrow.
In this poetic speech, David Gersten, founding director of Arts Letters & Numbers, provides profound insights into spatial literacy as he delves into the complex richness of the conversations between our surroundings and how they shape our experiences.
David Gersten recently presented two talks on John Hejduk at the Cooper Union School of Architecture:
Part I: Hejduk, Hamlet and The Ghost Promise
Part II John Hejduk: Through the Wall
This immersive festival presented works created during Zoëtrope Sun, a four-week summer workshop, bringing together architects, artists, filmmakers, musicians, composers, physicists, poets, photographers, actors, mimes, chefs, and scientists.
During the four-week intensive workshop, we brought together Architects, Artists, Filmmakers, Musicians, Composers, Physicists, Poets, Craftspeople, Photographers, Actors, Mimes, Chefs, Magicians, Historians, Scientists, and Scholars to co-construct a disciplinary Zoëtrope: a living system of knowledge-transformation turning within light and time, water and clouds, life and still life, cameras and projectors, nights and days, words and voices, an emergent microclimate that evokes the origins of life itself—animation, anima, zoë, life—a “Zoëtrope Sun”.
Over the course of 2 months, 40 RISD students worked closely with David Gersten and Michael Harrison. The works emerged in to ‘Galapagos In C’: an interactive, multimedia performance combining architecture, performance, and music.
Inspired by the Galapagos Archipelago and the knowledge transformations that emerged from Darwin’s five-week experience within their dense bio-diversity, the Galapagos workshop invoked the first principle of the theory of evolution. When individual agents are brought into proximity, they interact, building new linkages. Under the right circumstances, these symbioses create transformations, catalyzing new forms. The proximity and interactions within diverse agents is fundamental to the emergence of new logos, new species, new modes of being, the events of variety and variation; knowledge evolves, comprehension evolves, new forms emerge. Recognizing these diverse forms of agency as a diversity of ‘ways of knowing,' we begin to understand a living system of knowledge permutations—thereby, a 'general assembly of education.'
The 2015 summer’s workshop was arranged as a five-week intensive program. Inspired by the Galapagos Archipelago and the knowledge transformations that emerged from Darwin’s five-week experience within their dense bio-diversity, the Galapagos workshop invoked the first principle of the theory of evolution. The structure and nature of the questions offer different ways in which the experience can be meaningful for each individual and where the contribution of one’s own work supports the larger body of work.
In March 2015 a group of 25 people from all over the world, and representing a wide spectrum of disciplines, convened upon a snow-covered House on the Hill to take part in “Oppenheimer’s Table” - a workshop examining and expanding upon the nature of 132 doodles generated from the secret joint committee meetings held in 1947 and chaired by Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer.
On May 9th, 2014 Arts Letters & Numbers acquired the house on the hill above the mill. Built in 1859, this house previously served as the original mill owner’s residence. Now it has become the residence for Arts Letters & Numbers ongoing programs. This moment in the evolution of Arts letter & Numbers demanded our present tense creativity. We decided to focus our third summer workshop on the very immediate questions we are all asking: What is space between the house and the mill? How do we inhabit this new geography?
The 2013 summer's workshop grew out of the perfect combination of planning and poetry. Building from the experiences of our first summer workshop, and incorporating discoveries found through our recent work, we developed this summer’s workshop titled ‘Exquisite Broken Circle; Suddenly a Chora’. Structured through six disciplines; construction, drawing, film/photography, writing, theater and music/sound the workshop was conceived of as a disciplinary exquisite corpse. Each of these disciplines worked in parallel and in close proximity, directly interacting though a framework of shared questions and actions.
"Exquisite Broken Circle" an Arts, Letters & Numbers workshop was held at Brown University. Conceived of as an embodied "exquisite corpse," participants from multidisciplinary backgrounds engage in action, re-action and reenactment within the construction of two half-circle arcs set back to back. Within each arc space of performance, a set of live-feed cameras and projections loop the image(s) and the performer(s) in an infinite mirror of responsive and repetitive movement that creates a dialogue between the performers and each set of actions.
Circles: Drawing on Friendship" was the first of the Art, Letters & Numbers workshops to be held in our Mill in Upstate New York. Through a deep intellectual, emotional, and creative questioning, we drew up a series of works and created new structures, new spaces, new stories which culminated in a celebratory performance. The collective creative urgency was a crucible of emotive precision from which we pour the foundation for our future workshops.
The 'Aarhus Arc' was built by 150 master students at the Aarhus School of Architecture. In an act reminiscent of the Globe Theater, the arc was carried in large segments through the snow and (re)constructed within the school’s theatre. Performing as a wall, a drawing board/film screen, it divided the space, inviting people to whisper through it, draw through it, cut through it. Through these acts of empathy for those on the other side, the arc transformed into an architecture, a theater, a film, a drawing, a conversation, an action, a school, and a contribution to a city culminating in a series of performances of magical moments, smoke and fire!
The 'Open Book' Workshop was an initial step towards what has become Arts Letters & Numbers. The students from the studio "Making Real" participated in this collaborative workshop orchestrated by David Gersten and Anne Romme. The workshop explored the interrelations between gravity, bodies, drawing, time through inhabiting plans on floors, sections on walls, and the space in between.
Director David Gersten was recently honored to participated in ‘Future Unknown: Global Education Summit’ held at CAFA (Central Academy of Fine Arts), Beijing, China. Future Unknown gathered Artists, Designers, Technologist, Educators and Futurists for a two-day exchange on the future of education.
Times Union's Paul Grondahl wrote a piece about Arts Letters & Numbers after experiencing our first 'Tasting' event - where we brought many of the cultural influential leaders and initiates, from the capital region, together in the Mill. Read the article and learn about how where we are today links back to Broadway, Albany!
Right before the summer started we got a visit from Amy Griffin, Arts Writer for the Albany Times Union and Exhibition Coordinator at Opalka Gallery. Director David Gersten and Associate Director Frida Foberg showed her around the facilities and painted the picture of what Arts Letters & Numbers is actually about.
Terry Riley’s canonical 1964 piece “In C” was accompanied by Community MusicWorks alumni with composer and music scholar Stuart Isacoff of the Wall Street Journal, playing piano.
In this talk, David addresses questions of transformation from a number of perspectives, specifically looking at the interdependence of our conceptions of risk and our spaces of education.
The architectural act of building the model, created and contained the deep relationships between care, craft and community; Craft gathers us together, through the collective actions of constructing a model of the school, a community was formed, a remarkable connective tissue emerged within the studio. This structure, this social contract ultimately embodies The Cooper Union.
Act Two begins… I am so deeply moved by this moment: how all of this is actually happening is just a bit beyond me: it is a dream, but we are all awake.