AEI Art Camp: Phyllida Barlow

  • Des Moines
  • Art Center
  • 4700 Grand Ave
  • Des Moines, Iowa
  • 515.277.4405
  • Hours | Directions

  • John & Mary Pappajohn
  • Sculpture Park
  • 13th and Grand Ave
  • Downtown
  • Des Moines, Iowa
  • Hours | Directions

MORP, 2013
AEI Art Camp: Collaborative Sculpture with Phyllida Barlow participants:
Riley Becker, Alexander Darnielle, Leslie Martinez, Eleanor McKinley,
Cianna Rothwell, Becca Schmidt, and Cheryl Wells

Dimensions and materials variable
Adrienne and Charles Herbert Galleries
June 16 – July 17, 2013

Over a three-day period, seven high school students collaborated with local artists Rachel Buse
and Sarah Friedrickson, under the direction of Art Center Educator Michael Lane and visiting artist
Phyllida Barlow to create MORP (prom spelled backwards). MORP is a multi-media installation that
grew from the influence of Barlow’s philosophies and was shaped by the vast range of materials
and objects made available to the students.

    Students focused on big ideas, such as destruction vs. reconstruction, organization vs. chaos,
and art vs. nature. The aim was to take common objects and morph them into something beautiful,
something artistic. The appearance of some objects was changed, and the purpose of other objects
was shifted. Pushing the materials in new, unconventional ways was paramount to the workshop.
This involved destroying the original identity of the object, but in the process, it was regenerated into
something new to suit the installation. The wide variety of materials and objects used influenced the
chaos of the entire piece. That is to say, traditional conventions of unity and composition were thrown
out the window. The differing ideas of the students also added to the dissonance of the piece. Even
so, Barlow told the students that the arrangement of the installation was still very organized. Students
realized that the disorder they had created was contrived, and therefore not truly chaotic. Eventually,
the natural entropy of the universe was allowed to intervene, and gravity became one of the tools used
for setting up parts of the installation. This approach, of course, raises the question, where does nature
end and art begin? In art, the hand of the artist is often times visible. Raw materials are shaped with intent.
Nature, on the other hand, has a certain majestic quality that an artist cannot hope to fabricate because
the way art and the way nature work is inherently different. The installation is an assemblage of
individual pieces and the intervention of certain natural processes.

     In the studio, students experimented with materials such as spray paint, acrylic paint, expanding foam,
wire, glue, fabric, leather, nails, paper, raffia, and more. They altered objects such as dolls, party hats,
Mylar balloons, spoons, mirrors, books, and inflatable toys. In some cases, the objects became materials,
such as the innards of cassette tapes. Oftentimes, one student would begin creating something, and
another student would add to the piece and alter it further. Students tried to forego a sense of property or
ownership in the spirit of collaboration. In the installation space, students challenged the architecture by
altering the function of the pillar and tipping over a pedestal. The architecture also became decorated
during the process of installing the piece. Interaction with the space was key in shaping the final piece.

    No one could have predicted the way the installation would come together, but oddly, it ended up being
exactly what everyone wanted.

Many thanks to Phyllida Barlow, Senior Curator Gilbert Vicario, Children’s and Family
Programs Manager Nicole James, and Museum Education & Docent Program Manager
Jennifer Cooley for their guidance, support, and help!

Statement written by Cianna Rothwell