Outside of the art department, a tall wooden sculpture attracts the attention of everyone who walks past it. It is the result of a collaborative January Term Introduction to Studio class taught by Totem Shriver, adjunct professor of the Art and Visual Culture Department.
The sculpture is built to burn. Inspired by Burning Man, Shriver’s January Term class has created a wooden work of art built especially to burn at the end of the year celebration.
“The first four years we did this it was very chaotic. We were just happy to get something up that was burnable. We’ve been learning more and more about how this works. Each year, it gets a little bigger and a little better,” Shriver said.
The students began the project by building small-scale models in groups of four. They had no idea what the other students were planning and creating.
Then, as a class, they put the pieces on a table and began to arrange them. Students experimented with different ways to stack, putting the pieces on top of one another or next to each other.
The sculpture was ever changing until the class found something that worked. Originally, the top of the sculpture, which resembles a temple, was flipped upside down.
The students didn’t know what they had created until the end of the class when they put it all together
“We knew it had to be stable. We wanted people to climb on it and interact with it,” he said.
It has nine different parts with each student group being responsible for a different section of it. They also had to communicate with the person above and below about what they were
making. It was put together on the last day, so the students didn’t know what they were creating until the end.
The wooden temple will be taken apart and moved to the field by the wellness trail where it will be burned in a festival of dancing, food, music and fire.
The fire will start on the inside of the sculpture.
“I liked the idea of having something that wasn’t necessarily meant to last forever and still serves a purpose. It’s also a reason for a celebration,” Shriver said.
The class is held during January Term because it allows the class to just focus on the sculpture and accomplish a lot. Plus, Shriver has the shop to himself.
“It’s my favorite term to teach because we get so much done and we have such great focus. The class becomes a family because we’re together all the time,” Shriver said. “I have faith in the students being able to pull stuff off outside of me. During the process, I’m sort of an observer. I let the artists create what they like and just make sure they’re not building anything dangerous. I let them go where they want with it.”
Shriver describes this year’s sculpture as the tall and silent type.
“It’s strong and solid. It’s demanding a certain respect,” he said.
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