Learning is so much more fun when you can get your hands dirty. And what better way than working with trash! Among other activities, this year's Share Fair STEAMosphere, sponsored by the Morgridge Family Foundation and hosted by the USC College of Education and River Bluff High School in Columbia, SC, was an opportunity for the public to not only view art but to experience it as well. Representing the Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities, I was enlisted to create a temporary interactive art installation. Looking for an evocative way to make a powerful statement about consumerism in my artwork, I began using post-consumer materials as the medium for my paintings. Through art, I found an opportunity to begin a dialogue about art and the environment and to encourage others to ask questions- and come up with their own answers. For this installation, I used these same materials.
The day began with a geometric design taped to the floor for the community to fill in with everyday household objects that have been saved from the landfill. Participants were allowed to make their own decisions about which materials to use and where to place them. The only rules were to work from the center outward (for safety reasons, so that people would not trip over the work) and that the outline be covered with corks as the unifying element to the overall design. It was wonderful to see groups of children who did not know each other working together, making thoughtful decisions in regard to color choices and encouraging each other to complete the design. One student showed up at the beginning of the day and became my unofficial helper as he became invested in the project and stayed the entire 6 hours to see it to completion.
As we worked, we talked about the materials we were using. Art can be made from anything and everything! Everyone wanted to know where it all came from and why people chose to throw these things away. In America, we are blessed to have so much more than we need. We are encouraged to buy cheaply made products and replace with the newest version, creating a never-ending supply of material for the landfill. What will that mean for our society in 10 years? Twenty years? Fifty years?
It is my hope that through the interactive experience, the community was challenged to look at their consumer habits, considering new and deeper insights on what they use and throw away every day. As the day drew to a close, the artwork came full circle and the public was invited to de-install the design. All of those who stayed to help pick up the materials and replace them into their assigned bins were invited to keep an item of their choosing as a souvenir of the day, while the rest of the materials will continue on their journey to find another use. We live in a disposable society and what we throw away says a lot about who we are, but what we choose to cherish and protect says even more in the end.
Native to Mount Pleasant, SC, Kirkland Smith, an award-winning artist, earned a B.A. in Studio Art at USC and received her classical training from Studio Escalier in France. She is also an alumna of the Governor's School for the Arts Summer Program. She is currently a resident artist at Vista Studios and teaches painting and drawing. Kirkland lives in Columbia, SC with her husband and 4 children.