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Adjoa Burrowes: Taking Art Out of Its Box

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.

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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.”

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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.
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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.

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She pointed out that her piece wasn’t necessarily what one would call ‘pretty.’

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“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.”

What’s Next?

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.

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“I think at this point, I’d like to get the word out. I’m accepting donations from all sorts of places.”

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Adjoa Burrowes installation, “reBoxes” can be found in Gallery 31 at the NEXT 2015 Thesis Exhibition.

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