Sculpting Stories: Reliquaries for a Stranger

Students will design sculptures to visually encapsulate the stories that they've collected through interviewing strangers.

Photo of Lane Laney
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In the art room, we ask students to reflect on their personal experiences on an almost daily basis.  We push them to embed those experiences into their art making practices.  Students are often looking inward, which is an invaluable teaching tool, but through this project, we will ask students to anchor their art to the experiences of another human.

A reliquary is defined as a container for relics or objects that have been assigned special meaning.  Reliquaries, much like shrines, offer a physical space for people to pay homage to the past.  After interviewing a stranger (students will select interviewees that they feel need their stories told--i.e., the homeless population, residents in a nursing home, veterans), students will create reliquary sculptures that illustrate those stories.  Students will be asked to create thoughtful designs that act as “visual riddles” by integrating elements of the story into their sculptures.  Their designs should push the viewers to investigate the meaning and solve the “riddle.”

These reliquary sculptures will be constructed using clay hand building processes.  A mixture of sculpted, cast, and found objects will be used to fill the reliquaries and communicate meaning.  This project idea is still fairly amorphous and I am open to suggestions about how to match students with community members, using the best methods to gather these stories (telephone, google hangouts, face-to-face), finding ways to integrate discussions about empathy throughout the project, and how to create a culminating presentation or display that brings the students together with their storytellers to discuss the final work.

A few updates: 

Opening/Hook: I plan to bring in a speaker from the Department of Mental Health to discuss the correlation between the de-funding of mental health facilities and the homeless population in Columbia.  Through this discussion, students will explore how various groups and communities can become stigmatized.  They will use this as an opportunity to select a group within our community that they would like to interview.

Formulating Interview Questions: Students will prototype interview questions, working together to come up with the best questions to uncover stories and draw empathy.

Documenting the Process: Students will document the entire process using iPads.  They will record small clips of the prototyping experience, the interview, building the sculptures, etc.  Each student will cut together and edit their film for the final reception.

Reflection Through Artist Statements: Students will write artist statements that help viewers interpret their sculptures and solve the "visual riddles."  Students will also reflect on the process and the concept of empathy in these artist statements.  I hope that students can team up with an English class in our school to draft and edit these statements.

Presentation/Display: Final work will be displayed in glass cases that line our main hallway at Ridge View High School.  Artist statements and QR codes to student videos will appear alongside each artwork.  I would also like for students to organize an opening reception where we can invite school and community members, interviewees, families, etc.  

To collaborate with me on this project or give ideas/feedback, go to this document.

Featured images:

Pam Stern, Reliquary of Unread Books, 2016

Pam Stern, Oracle

Jenny Mastin, Reliquary , 2011

9 comments

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Photo of Donna
Team

Hi Lane Laney I love how you've built out this idea with an opening hook, writing inteview questions, and documenting the process. I look forward to seeing this idea in action in Richland Two!

Photo of Megan
Team

Hi Lane! such a great idea! As an art teacher, I did a kind of similar project, teamed up with the 8th grade language arts teacher, and we did a mural based on the idea of "community heroes". Students selected a community hero--they interviewed them, took a photo/portrait, and wrote a biography. "Books" were created with all the biographies, and the portraits were combined to become a school mural that students and teachers painted together. Most students chose their hero (someone they knew)--students chose a family doctor, a teacher, coaches, grandparents, artists, firemen, etc. We did have to have a list of possible people for students that weren't able to decide or figure out who to do. Some work was done in art class and some in LA. It was a fun project with so many great cross curricular learning components--I wonder, could you collaborate with other teachers on this to really dig in? So many great directions you could go with the reliquary idea!

Photo of Lane
Team

I absolutely want to collaborate with other teachers! I think reflection and self-evaluation is invaluable part of art making and maybe my students could work with an English class to help write/edit artist statements for their work. Artist statements offer great insight into design choices and foster interaction between the artworks and their viewers.

Photo of Megan
Team

I totally agree about the self reflection and self-evaluation, such huge part of growing in the art making process! Teaming up with the English teacher could also be supportive in forming the interview questions and creating the story about the community member--depending on the age of the students, there's are a lot of language arts standards that could be covered here too. Could you prototype parts of this idea to start fleshing the idea out? maybe gather information by student interviews on what kind of people they would want to interview, what would they want to learn from someone in their community? Brainstorm with a possible teacher partner on what this could look like? I just added some ideas to your doc---love love love your idea : )

Photo of Lane
Team

Thanks! I appreciate your feedback and love the QR code alternative to programming devices to loop a video.

Photo of Lisa
Team

Lane--
I'm an art teacher and I love this idea! I wonder if you even have to constrain it with a box? Literally. I have always loved the Cornell boxes, but I wonder if you just went with a container? And I wonder what examples you could find from other cultures? I'm thinking Asian art, Egyptian, Meso-American, hmmmm. Ancient, contemporary? So many cool examples-maybe ask the students to find and share an example as inspiration? Build this out!! It's great!
Lisa

Photo of Lane
Team

I'd really like to leave the design open. Many sculptures contain small nooks, drawers, or openings; any space that can contain objects is perfect for a reliquary. I'll definitely look into shrines, containers, and reliquaries from different cultures. I think it'll be great for students to see and interact with a variety of sculpture styles.

Photo of Karis
Team

Hello Lane. This is Karis Mazyck, principal at BMS. Dr. Mack-Foxworth and two other principals are working together on you Teacher's Guild project (Dr. Mack-Foxworth said thanks alot for giving her this assignment).

Photo of Donna
Team

Hi Lane Laney  I love this idea so much! I see this idea taking off in Richland Two and spreading to other schools and districts. Having students create reliquaries is such a thoughtful way to honor our diversity and celebrate our stories. My mind is racing with ideas to build out this idea. The next step is to start a collaborative Google doc and share the link on your contribution page so that others can join in.