Art Intervention: "What's Your Story?"
Freedom: Sam's Phoenix
Acrylic on Canvas
Part One of a Three Panel Tryptic: Mythical Birds
As spring emerged from Chicago's winter winds in April 2012, I collaborated with three artists from SAIC. We drew upon Gert Biesta's City of Words to celebrate group participation and individual freedom of expression, asking visitors to Chicago's Cloud Gate, "What is your creation story? Come draw it out."
As a group, we chose the subtle double-entendre hoping to elicit a number of responses, allowing participants to recreate their perception of creation. We chose one of the most frequently visited destinations in the world, a public work of art that attracts more visitors annually than even Paris' Notre Dame.
Within a few hours, the installation attracted over 100 participants and audience members alike, establishing a transcient sense of community through the common narrative of creation mythology. As artists, we were struck by the way
art, whether as audience of the intervention or participant, drew out the child-like playfulness and warmth of the members of our temporary community.
A number of participants included school groups who had travelled to Chicago to enjoy the art. While their students told their story of creation, the chaperons told me the story of their students.
“She wants to attend here next year. She has applied, but hasn’t heard back from them yet.”
“He is a really good artist.”
“She wants to work for CNN when she graduates and loves shooting.”
Art, Dewey notes, “celebrates with peculiar intensity the moments in which the past reinforces the present and in which the future is a quickening of what now is” (p. 17). While their students drew their narratives of creation, the chaperones told the stories that shaped their students’ lives; their perceptions of their students’ pasts, their interpretations of their lives presently, and how they thought it may color their future.
The participants' spontaneous intervention in our democratic narrative was effective, and our project grew as citizens became involved in our short-lived history, drawn together by the free interaction with one another while the next wave of temporary citizens took their place at our tables.
“He lost his mom to cancer in January,” the new chaperone explained. “He has been accepted to the Pittsburgh Art Institute.”
The unrecorded story, the reason all eyes within the community were momentarily turned onto a young man in orange was because he drew what was for him both a symbol of creation and freedom: a replica of the eagle that had been placed on his mother’s tombstone.
Groups, singles, pairs, families, people who spoke another language — all temporarily unified by a nine-foot slab of paper, encouraging smiles, and a bucket of markers. Even those who didn’t add color to our paper added color to our community, drawing a single, interactive, creative narrative. Some watched, laughed, or merely played nearby, fully aware that they, too, were part of the transitory space because of the prominent number of cameras pointed at them from various angles.
By the time our community rolled in upon itself, the markers were placed back into buckets, and the cameras were put away, we were reminded how deeply art touches human souls. And that as humans, as Gert Biesta points out, “we become somebody through the way in which we engage with what we learn,” developing a sense of “plurality” where each of us “comes into presence in our being with others.”