In midterm exam, students aim to create ‘a buzz with their art’

March 23, 2009

By traditional mid-term exam standards, Art Professor Linda Van Hart’s assignment to her students in her “Mixed Media Collage: Visual Poetry” course might have seemed curious:

“Why write when the objective is to compose recycled wood in the style of our mentor, to conceive of something that expresses each individual without narration yet combines to make a statement stronger than each single piece? Why write when selecting a location in our college ‘community’ that visually impacts the environment is the objective? … ENJOY!”

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The result was a roving band of artists and a temporary, movable, sculpture made of 15 distinct three-dimensional pieces – one created by each student in the class and Van Hart – that was erected, and within minutes deconstructed, at several locations around campus during the course of two days in the week leading up to Spring Break.

Because Van Hart had McDaniel students in Budapest do a similar project during Spring 2008, she envisioned this assignment as a way to bridge the two campuses.

Additionally, the project gave her the chance to share with her students the experience of “altering their community” and “creating a buzz with their art.”

Van Hart said her students first explored the abstract expressionist work of Louise Nevelson, a Ukrainian-born American artist who used everyday and discarded objects to create her pieces. The class adopted Nevelson as its mentor for this assignment, Van Hart said.

“Louise Nevelson is attributed with the invention of installed environments during the tumultuous 1960s,” Van Hart said. “The nature of her work with scraps of found wood speaks freshly to a generation who has become increasingly conscientious about recycling.”

Van Hart said her students discussed how Nevelson found her voice in recycled wood and happened upon the “environmental installation” art that became the artist’s signature.

“We discussed the effects of both pre-planning and spontaneously working with ‘ingredients,’” Van Hart said.

The ingredients for this assignment included the following parameters: work in or around a “box”; use all wood mostly “found” (some crates or shapes were purchased); and spray paint all pieces black “to remove their previous identity.”

“Each piece was an individual expression but they knew we would combine them all in seven installations on campus,” Van Hart said.

The sculpture was displayed beneath Ward Memorial Arch, on the main stage at WMC Alumni Hall, on the steps of Baker Memorial Chapel and on the lawn adjacent to War Memorial Plaza. It also appeared in Ensor Lounge, near the campus bookstore and outside Englar Dining Hall.

Ashley Fowler, a freshman who is majoring in Studio Art with a concentration in Graphic Design, said she was most struck by how each individual piece contributed seamlessly to the whole sculpture.

“Despite each structure being different in its own way, they all came together remarkably,” she said. “This symbolized to me that despite everyone having individual differences, we all can fit together as people and we are all one.”