From afar, the shapeless paper sculptures seem to unfurl, unravel and deconstruct like organic matter – like pulpy fruit fermenting on lush undergrowth, harvested cornstalks soggy from autumn rain or colorful moss hanging from willow branches. While approaching the sculptures, you realize that they are in fact cardboard boxes – torn and peeled by the artist’s hands. And upon closer inspection, you recognize hints of letters that suggest brand names like Nabisco or Sketchers.
In her installation, “reBoxes,” Adjoa Burrowes, Art Education, MA ’15, explored the transformation of industrial prefabricated objects into art and created a version of the object that would fool the eye.
Adjoa started her thesis journey in Professor Judy Southerland’s Cross Media class, where students altered and expanded the implications of everyday objects that could be found on a desk or even in the trash. She found her first object, a bathroom tissue roll, in a pile of carefully-selected trash that the professor spilled onto a classroom table.
“Go for it, pick whatever speaks to you,”Adjoa recalled Professor Southerland saying. “I never considered myself a sculptor before, but after transforming that tissue roll, my horizons started to expand on the kind of art I can produce.”
By peeling back layers of the roll and adding touches of color, Adjoa altered it into something more whimsical — a small creature that could fit in the palm of a hand.
“I’m not sure what kind of creature it was…but it looked alive.”
Exhausting the Implications of an Object
Adjoa’s work progressed and she began to research different variations and presentations of ordinary objects. One of her most memorable projects pushed her to create different variations of a measuring tape.
“This was a harder task, because the assignment asked us to create a language version of your object. I represented my measuring tape in braille, if you can believe that…”
Transforming the measuring tape forced Adjoa to think about her thesis project. She wanted her audience to experience what she studied in her Cross Media class – to think about an object subjectively, objectively, emotionally and functionally.
“To research all the aspects of an object makes it easier to deconstruct and create something completely new,” she said. “I wanted my thesis project to make the audience think outside of the box,” she said with a chuckle.
Consumption and the Intricacies of Cardboard Boxes
“When I look at a cardboard box, I don’t just see a box anymore … it has layers that can be peeled, torn and exposed.”
In a previous life, Adjoa was a freelance package designer for companies like Mattel Toys, Disney and Barnum and Bailey Circus. Adjoa decided to use cardboard boxes as a medium for her NEXT thesis project because it was in direct opposition of her previous career.
“For 25 years, I created designs that would go on these huge boxes, that would hold the smallest things,” Adjoa recounted. “Excessive packaging for the purposes of marketing and sales was the rule.”
“Now my art represents a breakdown of that packaging – almost in its simplest form.”
The exhibit serves as a snapshot of consumer habits and speaks to the issues of mass consumption in modern society. Adjoa was conscious of the amount of cardboard boxes she used for her installation, trying to use her own recycled boxes when possible. .
“I wanted my installation to leave a small footprint and I didn’t want to create work that would be behind glass. It’s the reason I recycled my own boxes and made my pieces modular.”
Another reason why Adjoa chose the cardboard box as a medium was because of its intricate layers. She was drawn to the larger boxes in her installation because of the contrasting surfaces of the unadorned smooth liner board and the fluted corrugated layer.
By tearing and peeling back the layers, she was able to expose the complicated textures within the object, further changing the box’s original state into an object she referred to as a “naked sculpture.”
The wall hung installations, however, incorporated color that was originally printed on the box surface, in playful constructions.
She pointed out that her piece wasn’t necessarily what one would call ‘pretty.’
“As a younger artist, you sometimes want your work to be beautiful,” she said, “but as a mature artist, you recognize that sometimes art in its most naked, simplest and ugly form has the most to say.”
Adjoa said she wanted to use bigger cardboard boxes for her next project. “I’d love to use refrigerator boxes,” Adjoa said, “I want to make monumental pieces.”
She is also in contact with a New Orleans shoe designer and hopes that he will donate shoe boxes for future installations.
“I think at this point, I’d like to get the word out. I’m accepting donations from all sorts of places.”
Adjoa Burrowes installation, “reBoxes” can be found in Gallery 31 at the NEXT 2015 Thesis Exhibition.
A stand of metal bleachers, devoid of ornament or fanfare, occupy one of the Corcoran Museum’s galleries, not facing “out” at us viewers but aimed at an empty wall. Maximum capacity is listed as 50, and we are allowed to sit there, but it’s also possible that no one will be seated on any day that you encounter this work.
Versus is the Thesis Project of Eliot Hicks and it’s included in NEXT 2015, an exhibition of the Corcoran School of Art and Design’s BFA candidates under the auspices of George Washington University’s Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. As an example of pre-fabricated, industrial metalwork the bleachers are formidable in their understated structure and humble detail. But it is as an artwork that this object challenges both the novice museum visitor who may question it’s very presence there, as well as the visitor familiar with theories of art now over 100 years old. After all, Versus is a readymade and it must bear the weight of Marcel Duchamp’s original concept.
Eliot understands the responsibilities of this burden and readily acknowledges Duchamp’s legacy. Moreover, he speaks of “how manufactured objects allow for a shift in the reception and production of art objects.” However, because many museum visitors will now accept commercial objects appropriated as art, a young artist like Eliot Hicks must add something unique to the readymade experience.
This is where Versus excels because this pref-fab object’s functional use is manifested through action; the true purpose of the bleachers is completed when we sit on them. Like Marx said, “A dress becomes really a dress only by being worn.” Thus, these bleachers are “an object for the active subject.”
During Eliot’s Final Critique last week, one faculty member remarked that Versus might represent the “endgame of social practice art.” In his written Thesis Statement Eliot has envisioned viewers “witnessing the activity that had been stolen from them.” Versus certainly encourages visitor participation, an important methodology of social practice, and Eliot wants the bleachers to be used, whether we sit, or watch others sitting there.
A readymade’s presence in a museum context requires a contemporary artist’s precision of address. Positioning these bleachers facing a blank wall causes us to ask, “What are occupants supposed to be watching?” Does this obscure Eliot’s wish for us to see the occupants as ourselves, thereby “witnessing the activity?” Rather, one might have turned the bleachers inward, to face us in the gallery, to better imagine ourselves as spectators, viewing spectators who are watching us viewing.
In response to further questions, Eliot spoke of “spectatorship” and how museum visitors would be “addressing their own perception/interpretation, while activating the symbol (the bleachers) that represents them (their action, or lack thereof) and what they’re doing, spectating.”
Perhaps this is why Eliot named this piece Versus, suggesting options for his readymade’s positional address and introducing one more topic for our engagement. It has been said that the contradictions within a work make it possible for us to engage it in the first place. The subtleties of positioning and the address of the spectator, the circularity of our spectatorship, and the legacy of the readymade in the 21st Century – all these have made Versus a standout piece in NEXT 2015, and Eliot Hicks an artist to watch.
Mark Cameron Boyd is an artist, art critic and Professor of Critical Practice Theory at The Corcoran School. His writing lives at Theory Now.
Senior Neha Pathare, Interior Design, B.F.A. dreamed of a workspace that provided more than just a place to work – she imagined a space in which start-up companies, small business owners, and entrepreneurs (like herself) could work comfortably in a community-like setting that thrives on a sense of belonging.
Neha’s thesis project titled, Con Nex employs design solutions to provide real estate property as a ‘service’ and provides an example of a co-working environment that replaces the traditional work solution with a virtual studio environment.
“I want to provide a space that doesn’t conform with the typical nine-to-five office space or the distractions we usually encounter while working from home,” Neha said.
The traditional office working space is one we are all familiar with – the gray or beige small, cube-like spaces that partition us from our colleagues. The cubes are usually set in the midst of a huge office spaces where artificial light casts a drab dull hue, temperature settings are one of two extremes, and there is very little interaction with our colleagues except hearing them punch keys on their computers or inadvertently listening to their phone conversations.
However, working from home provides challenges as well. While most may feel as though they accomplish more because they avoid battling traffic, many are distracted by errands or the temptation of turning on the television. Plus, Neha pointed out; one is isolated from organic interaction with colleagues.
In the last decade, one-third of the US workforce has moved toward the concept of a shared working space or “co-working spaces.” Neha adopted the co-working space idea and tailored it to her own demographic (entrepreneurs and small business owners). She described her project as a “construction design industry nexus that is more than an appropriation of spaces.”
“I want to propose an environment that is more fluid to the way we now live our lives – where we are comfortable but invigorated to work. I am providing a space that is designed specifically for the end user to work at their optimum.”
Neha’s design caters to the human and interior environmental factors, like daylight consideration, temperature control, noise control, acoustics and ergonomic seating options. At the end of the day, the productivity of the end user relies on their work structure. Most importantly, the Con Nex project highlights real-estate properties that are accessible via public transportation.
The Con Nex project offers a month-to-month leasing solution with a virtual office set up, and an in-house material library that individuals can create collaborative nodes and moments of opportunity and innovation.
“This is the point where community and creativity intersect,” Neha stated.
To physically display the interaction, Neha created an elaborate open-faced sculpture using thread and pieces of yarn to display the intricate connections that emulate possibilities of interactions facilitated by Con Nex.
“Each point represents the endless possibilities of innovation and how ideas can be exchanged.”
“I believe my project provides an honest work place solution. Con Nex is a 24/7 fully functioning, sharable modular professional environment that lets its end user work for themselves rather than just by themselves.”
Neha Pathare’s project, Con Nex is now on display at Corcoran School’s NEXT Thesis Exhibition.
A coonskin cap on a quilt, a colorful canary in a birdcage and a piece of colorfully embroidered cloth are three of the seven images Senior Aria Maisey, Photography BFA, used to describe the emotional bond she shares with her mother and sister.
In her photography series titled, The Three of Us, Aria asks her audience to feel the connection she shares with her small family but also to consider how particular objects can bring about emotional memories or cues from one’s past.
“I really want to convey how it worked with just the three of us,” she said. “And the fact is, we grew up in a household full of vintage things.”
Aria recalls going through some of these “vintage” objects in her childhood home and having instantaneous flashbacks to scenes from her youth.
“The coonskin hat reminds me how playful my mom was – even under all the pressures of being a single mom, she still had the time to play dress up,” Aria said. “It was emotional. Seeing some of these objects made me revisit things I didn’t realize were so important – that no matter how awful things got, I’m glad they happened.”
Some of the “awful things” she describes are the hardships of single motherhood – she watched her mother work multiple jobs to support both her and her sister. They barely saw their father.
“It’s funny because we always knew which apartment building he lived in but to this day, I still don’t know which apartment is actually his. That’s the reason for the apartment door images.”
Though her work may seem disjointed at first, Aria wants her audience to further contemplate each image and realize that she is extending an invitation to experience her emotional journey.
“My mother, my sister and I have a bond that is inexplicable through words. I want my audience to feel the starkness and raw emotion each object and image brought forth for me.”
Senior Aria Maisey’s work, The Three of Us, is now on display at the NEXT Thesis Exhibition.
Whitney Waller is building a house. In a museum.
It’s a house you could see at an exurb housing development, coming up in raw softwood white pine in frames of twenty two inch spacing. Taking over the north atrium of the Corcoran’s Ernest Flagg-designed building, the two raised wall shells parallel the Doric columns rising around each of them, but only geometrically. Spatially, in contrast, they are sticks to the weighted masses of concrete, heightening the fragility of a domestic scene yet to play out.
Waller has built the work, “Dasein,” before, in the nook of her studio, where its blue walls were the college and museum’s own walls. Here, she makes her own walls, and with them notes to “sand the (expletive) out of” a corner of a doorway. If there’s a sense of having been in the space, even, as it is, one full of dead leaves and cratered impressions of clay, it’s in the piece’s title itself.
There is a presence here. ‘Être la,’ “being” in the referential Heideggarian context, but the philosophy is not necessary to understand that the artist and the viewer have shared the same plane, the same spot in space. The piece is open: to the museum, with only two walls to its four sides. And it is open to the audience. She may walk through, rustle the leaves, and carry one with her to the adjacent gallery as if spreading a seed.
Keys, Tile, Braile: A triptych of materials
SooHo Cho and I are hanging paper keys, each with a loop of thread and a memory attached (“evidence of thoughts”), to a wall with thousands of hooks, one for each key. In what looks to be the hybrid of a darkroom, a stark airport bathroom and an OCD-perfected hardware store display, the undergraduate BFA candidate has created a sort of memorial to memory itself. We spoke as she finished her days-long installation work in a corridor of the Corcoran’s museum space built specifically for the project.
Unveiled: How did you get started with this piece for NEXT?
SooHo: It’s about time, memory, moments. My is all about remembering my identity, what I lost when I came to the US. My dad moved here with his work as a distribution manager for an exports company, and I came when I was 12 years olds, in sixth grade, 2 months before September 11th, 2001. I hadn’t really learned English until I came to college. There were so many Koreans in my community, and I spoke with my parents at home.
These are layers of memory. I wanted to appreciate memories from the past, any memories. Specifically, the ones that are harder to access.
SooHo: “Sort of. I connect the key to the connection to unlock those moments. All the thoughts that hidden.”
“This is where the thoughts and moments gather together to create a memory. The coolness of the tiles, the privacy of the space of the bathroom. It’s important that you can see yourself in the tile as well, in its reflectivity. But it’s also like a pixel grid. The tile is like that grid, combining together to make a image. Everything is geometric in graphics. ”
The day of the opening, the artist is affixing a huge roll of braille text to the wall that falls off in to the room like a giant manifesto. In a perfect contrast to Waller’s work, she’s still deciding whether to require the audience to wear Tyvek paper booties so that they don’t scuff the floor of the space as they walk through. They are her memories, after all.
The NEXT Thesis Exhibition is opening tonight. NEXT undergraduate work is open April 9th through May 18th. The NEXT graduate opening is April 29th and joins the undergraduate until its close.