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Art Installations: A 21st-Century Way of Engaging Viewers

By Amy Reynolds, Communications Specialist
This article appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of the Tower Hill Bulletin

With tissue-paper flowers hanging from the ceiling, white sheets hanging on the walls and classical music playing as guests walked through, the basement hallway by the art studio was transformed into a dream-like wonderland. 
 
Julia Ward ‘17, Amanda Brown ‘17 and Julia Molin ‘17 called their art installation “Of the Earth,” hoping to create a relaxing, dreamy space. It was one of many paths the group could have taken, as there aren’t any rules when it comes to creating an installation—and the options are limitless.
 
The installations, three-dimensional works that are often designed to transform the perception of a space, are a project for seniors in the Advanced Studio Art class, which is taught by Rowena Macleod. Each spring the pieces are displayed at Evening of the Arts, a school-wide celebration of visual art and music. 
 
“Basically you choose a site, and you go to that site with a theme,” Macleod said. “Today’s installations are usually pretty esoteric. They make you really think outside of the box. It’s working with materials in a different way, and the participation might be more involved than just looking at a traditional work of art. You can walk in an installation. You can become part of the installation sometimes. It’s a 21st-century way of engaging viewers.”
 
Students can choose any theme for their installations, Ward said, and teachers trust they’ll do something that reflects their hardest work.
 
“Most kids take it very seriously, because the people who have been here for a long time are familiar with the installations and love coming to the art show because of them,” Ward said. “So when you finally get the chance, it’s kind of, ‘I want to do well so these Lower Schoolers can have the same wow effect when they go through the studio art show.’”
 
Ward remembers having that feeling herself when she was a Lower School student. She vividly recalls a beach-themed installation that filled a stairwell—the top a beach scene and the bottom under the sea—so guests could feel like they were going under water as they walked down the stairs. 
 
“People love the installations because they love seeing how the typical classroom is reinvented in some way,” Macleod said. “They’re so totally transformed that it’s perfect for young kids, because they’re able to suspend their disbelief and really get into the moment.”
 
For some students, the installations are personally meaningful.
 
Sweeta Yaqoobi ‘17, an international student from Afghanistan, said her installation was inspired by a painting she did earlier this year of an Afghan woman. She wanted her installation to be similar to the painting, so she decided to turn a classroom into a tent where an Afghan woman might live.
 
Using kraft paper, she covered the walls to look like a desert, and she used a big piece of white fabric to make into the shape of a tent. She also put traditional Afghan clothes on display and played music in the background so guests could really experience the culture. She turned all the lights off and hung holiday lights on the ceiling to look like stars. 
While most students utilized only a portion of a classroom, Yaqoobi decided to use the whole space so people could truly feel immersed in her installation.
 
“It has always been important for me to share my culture because we have a small population of international students here, and I myself enjoy learning about their cultures. I think it’s important to raise awareness, and it makes us more accepting of each other just by knowing the differences and respecting them,” she said. “It brings us a little bit closer and increases the understanding between us.”
 
For such a big project, the students have only one afternoon to bring their installations to life. They start setting up right after school and have to take the installations down that same night once Evening of the Arts is over. But setting everything up and making the most of the available resources is half the fun.
 
“Having our dream become a reality was the best part of the whole experience,” Ward said.
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