Over the past couple months in Staten Island, PS 48’s 4thgraders have been wrapping all manner of things in clear plastic tape: hands, desks, chairs, globes, even full bodies (albeit in sections). After applying a few layers of this sticky ribbon, the students cut open the resultant mold and take the original object out; a ghostly likeness remains. We have undertaken this work to explore everyday objects and our relations to them; the work also brings issues of representation to light. How do we relate to the hollow shell of a thing, simultaneously present and achingly absent.
In this process we have amassed an impressive collection. This process has also highlighted the intangible qualities of an arts residency that I value: collaboration, material exploration, and artistic inquiry into the quotidian world.
Students are often very possessive of “their” work; schools are likewise places that emphasize individual achievement. Very few measurements and assessments stress the affordances of collaboration. I like that tape sculptures are difficult to do alone. Students feel good about relying each other’s assistance. In this project, students divvy up positions: modelers, tapers, cutters, quality control—often there is fluidity to these roles. Students negotiate shifts between each other becoming one thing or the other when the need is acknowledged.
Throughout the process, students have become more adept with the material. They have come to “know” tape. What does that look like? Students have refined their ability to make more intricate sculptures, casting delicate open fingers instead of bulky closed forms. Students can maintain their place on the tape and keep it ready for application whereas in the beginning they would let it slip and lose the end of it. This often prompted frustrating searches for an invisible seam on the roll. Students now waste less tape as well; they are able to cut strips appropriate to their task and not have it bunch up into a sticky knot, impossible to apply.
The process has brought new life to the everyday objects that sit among the students, objects that might sit unquestioned otherwise. Students are asked to reconsider the desk that provides them a specific place in the room, equally a home as a holding pen. Students come into intimate contact with their chairs and other classroom ephemera, gaining acquaintance with the form and feel of what might otherwise sit aloof. The body tape-sculpture has a magical quality to it. At this point we are planning to fill it with written wishes, hopes, and dreams of the entire school population. This juxtaposition of paper hopes in a tape person’s body will undoubtedly serve as an evocative reminder of the young people who go through school’s formative function.
As we shift our focus and maintain our course, we are now representing everyday objects with contour drawings and painting. Ghostly drawings of pencils, clocks, chairs, and desks will be counter-posed against the wild color of student brushwork. These will provide a nice compliment to the 3-D work we have done already.