Installation Art Starts Conversations

Walking into the Chase Tallwood lobby, your eyes are greeted by a roiling wave that engulfs the aquarium. If you tread down the lower staircase, you are confronted by little critters scrambling around the baseboard. None of this is alarming, of course, because the images in question are the mastermind of student artists in Katie Burnett’s Outside the Box class. These temporary site-specific installations, consisting of blue painter's tape, are inspired and born out of the space that artists selected.

Burnett said the class was created after discussions she had with her students last year when she first began working at KO. One student, in particular, Neil Hemnani ’18, encouraged the idea of an ideal class for students who didn’t think they were skilled at traditional arts and drawing but who wanted to express themselves creatively and conceptually. “The idea is really to get out of the classroom and do. Students can work in photography, film, writing or dancing. It doesn’t matter. I present them a problem and they solve it in any way they choose,” said Burnett.

Students can work individually or collaboratively, and in some cases, even students who were not enrolled in the class joined in on some of the installations. “The art is starting a conversation with other kids. So much of art is personal and hidden. I wanted to bring it on to campus as much as possible to broaden all of the students’ understanding of what art could be,” Burnett said. The class is open to freshman through seniors, and the only prerequisite is the Foundations in Art class.  Burnett explained that creativity opens students to vulnerability, but the Outside the Box art is more approachable because the students are choosing what they want to do

For this assignment, the students toured the campus and photographed different locations. Then, the students prepared preliminary drawings in blue of their images in the location:  a compass around a light in Chase Tallwood, water and droplets around a drinking fountain, a mermaid sitting on a rock. Burnett was delighted that students discovered novel ideas of installation and application. In one case, a student selected a recycling bin to create her art. In another, students painted directly on the tape to broaden their palette. Burnett guided the artists through some of the technical aspects, especially creating curvilinear shapes by using a flat mat with an Exacto blade. “They are mindful that this is temporary. I don’t want to leave a permanent mark.”

“The students are making these spaces really interesting. There’s an element of surprise, and the art makes people happy. It’s also about the conversation between them while they're building and with other students while they're walking by.”

And, how do you grade installation art? “It’s all about a growth mindset. They put in the work and learn to make adjustments as they go. And, they are not giving up on something that none of them have done before. That supports the school’s mission.”
 
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Located in West Hartford, CT just steps from Blue Back Square, Kingswood Oxford is a private school inspiring co-ed day students in grades 6-12 with a college preparatory curriculum. Empowered students become clear confident communicators, resourceful problem-solvers, and ethical leaders. KO: where unlimited potential meets endless opportunities.
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