Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Woodshop Wonders

Today I observed the final of the six classes I'm observing this spring taught by graduate student instructors nominated for the Graduate Teaching Excellence Award (plus the two I observed last fall): classes on ceramics, photography, sculpture, French, linguistics, acting, cartography, drugs in U.S. society. Today's class was the sculpture class - a critique session on student wood sculptures.

The assignment: create a piece that uses a wooden frame (of any shape or size) covered by some kind of mundane object that is somehow transformed in the process. One piece looked like part of a wrecked ship covered with coral made from those little paper cups for ketchup at fast food chains; another looked like an orphaned clothes basket. There was a large wooden briefcase covered with pennies (interesting student discussion: did this suggest the pitiful poverty of the briefcase's owner, or his casual attitude toward money based on his great wealth?), as well as an Abe Lincoln stovepipe hat covered appropriately with Abe Lincoln pennies - an utterly amazing structure of moving pine cones suspended on pieces of white string - a dandelion made of beads - a mountain fashioned of broken glass - a colonial-era stocks covered with broken mirrors (for rueful self-reflection by the transgressing? or sobering self-accusation by those too quick too accuse others?) - and, finally, a Rubik's cube covered with 6500 Skittles.

I learned about the "abject" (art that makes use of "things once loved and neglected and now forgotten") - about "site-responsive" pieces that respond in some way to their architectural or topographical location - about the intersection of art and craft. Amber, the gifted teacher, had wonderful suggestions throughout, e.g., for photographing that huge Skittles Rubik cube after placing it in various unlikely public locations, and for flipping one piece of art at a different angle in such a way that the whole class moaned with pleasure at the change in its presentation.

I don't think I want to make something in a woodshop, particularly as I've never used a hammer or a saw in my life. But I'd like to find some mundane object and transform it, make us see it with new eyes, honor it in its very mundaneness. After observing this class today, I confess that I'm tempted to run away to become a sculptor. But maybe I can do with words what those students did with wood and buttons and doorknobs.

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