Teaching with Contemporary Art

Transformation and Distortion

Tim Hawkinson, "Sherpa". Image: booooooom.com

This week two of my classes begin a new unit where students are asked to work with the themes of distortion and transformation. Especially for teens, the idea of transformation- of the self, objects, symbols, even the meaning of words- is an attractive proposal. Add the multiple implications associated with distortion and it becomes the kind of field day you really want in a classroom.

During our introduction yesterday we discussed some artists that work with distortion and transformation in very different ways and screened a video exclusive featuring Cindy Sherman (also on artbabble) as she describes how her wildly different characters evolved from early performances in her career.

As we looked into Tim Hawkinson’s motorcycle made of feathers, Ann Hamilton’s Body-Object series, works by Nancy Spero, Ai Weiwei’s bicycle sculpture, Jenny Saville’s pinched and pressed flesh as well as some classic paintings by Jasper Johns and Robert Indiana, students took notes and made observations about how each artist worked with the theme of distortion and/or transformation. Students then were asked to contribute to a group conversation about ways that one or more of the works they saw might inspire a creation of their own. A few talked about how Cindy Sherman spurred some ideas related to creating alter-egos. Others mentioned  that Jenny Saville gave them new perspective about how something initially considered ugly, or even grotesque, can still hold our attention in a beautiful way. Many also remarked that they quickly started thinking about making people “re-see” certain objects, similar to how they experienced Ai Weiwei’s bicycles, Hamilton’s suit infused with toothpicks and Hawkinson’s motorcycle.

Very much looking forward to the progression from sketches to final works in the next week…


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