The Importance of Space: Finding Empowerment and Purpose through Installation Art

Our final installation at South Euclid!

As an artist, there is nothing more freeing or terrifying than being given a space that’s yours to fill. The artist has the power to create work that has the possibility to be boundless; the installation may be permanent, or it could be torn down and replaced in a matter of days. It must somehow dramatically change some aspect of the space, whether it be the function of the room or the look of the floor. The artist must consider the space itself and create work that is specific to that site. These concepts of constant fluctuation and spacial manipulation were what we focused on teaching this past summer at several Cuyahoga County Public Libraries in Cleveland, Ohio. My fellow artist educator, Lynda Abraham, and I looked to this camp with hopes of empowering our pre-teen and teenage students to combine two dimensional and three dimensional thinking. Together, we were able to create and install three semi-permanent works that accomplished our goals.

Students at Orange Public Library working away!

The concept for each camp was the same: expose the students to different art installations through photo and video, provide materials in primary and secondary colors, and teach them to turn these materials into abstract, colorful forms.

Each camp’s vision and outlook was incredibly unique; each group of students worked differently, and the installations reflected those differences. Every student had a purpose and an assignment within their groups throughout the creation of our sculptures. We focused on the idea of multiples, citing artists like Ann Hamilton’s “The Event of A Thread” and John Breed’s “Colorful Legs,” explaining how powerful lots of one thing can become. I remember Omar in Brooklyn making dozens of orange balloon-like pillows, focusing on making as many orange items as possible, or the sisters at Orange Library, creating small, beautifully intricate pieces that made their purple and green sculptures pop off of the wall. The students at South Euclid Library couldn’t wait to come to camp every day, and they would arrive early to help set up the materials and the sewing machine (a fan favorite). The resulting installations were the culmination of a whole week’s worth of time, exploration, and creativity.

Finished installation in the Orange Public Library

I’m not saying we didn’t have our fair share of challenges while creating and hanging these massive sculptures - it definitely wasn’t easy bringing all of the elements together in less than a week per camp. There were plenty of hiccups along the way, like getting the pieces finished in time and installing them before the libraries closed at 5:30 every Friday. There was also nothing worse than a beautiful sculpture students created falling off of the wall you just hung it on! Thankfully we are artists, and problem solving is what we do.

Students made mini installations with various materials on the first day, and then presented them as the artists.

Our students were able to find ownership in a small piece of public ground. Installation art empowers the artist to take over a space, to make bold decisions, and to try new forms of making or different compositions they may never have thought of. This truly was a partnership between teaching artists and our students. Lynda and I led the vision for the installations, scouted the spots, built the frames, and provided the supplies. Students learned how to sew and use different types of attachment to create sculptural forms that reflected color theory, as well as the maker mindset. The result was three stunning installations, safely hanging in their respective libraries, because we were able to collaborate as a team.