Temporary artwork intended to “go back to the earth”
Piece symbolizes deconstruction and reconstruction in ways of knowing
It’s a unique creation: a new, temporary art installation in Mount Royal University’s T-wing courtyard that represents the violence prevention learning of students in the Faculty of Health, Community and Education.
Measuring nearly nine feet across and four feet high, the star-shaped piece (which echoes Mount Royal’s logo) is suspended from two poplar trees. With the guidance of artist Tamara Cardinal, students created the base material that forms the piece during the annual Stephanson Cooke Violence Awareness Symposium last fall.
“Working with an artist and helping to create this piece was really kinesthetic learning,” says Professor Pat Kostouros, PhD. “Students came to the symposium, they listened to the speakers, they did the activity that created dialogue about what the speakers had to offer. They talked while they worked on the paper.”
The annual symposium is supported through a donation from Agnes Cooke, a retired nurse and longtime Calgarian. The inter-professional educational event supports students from across all programs in the faculty as they learn about related disciplines, informing their future practice. Each year, two students are hired to organize the symposium. Dwayne Collins and Sheri H. Easterbrook planned this year’s event.
They wanted to do something different from the usual model of speeches and discussion. The result? Something that was more creative and participatory. “Dwayne and Sheri stepped up and said they would offer something that was very different with Tamara’s help,” Kostouros says.
Collins says he and Easterbrook wanted to take the event a step further with the creation of the art piece. “We had the attendees create the piece together, inspired by the messages they heard from the speakers,” says Collins, who completed his final Bachelor of Health and Physical Education courses in the fall. “The result is a physical example that working together can yield positive, lasting results.”
The most recent symposium focused on the violence of exclusion. Students heard from speakers with expertise in disabilities, immigration, gender diversity and Indigenous issues.
Ahead of the symposium, Cardinal created her own sheets by turning books and office paper into pulp. At the event, students pulled sheets from a vat of water, then mixed in natural materials such as tobacco, sage, sweetgrass, cedar and pine needles, embedding them into the paper. Some students embedded pages from books. The technique created squares of different sizes. Once the squares dried, Cardinal used them to make the star.
It’s about “deconstruction and reconstruction,” the artist explains. “Pulping books and office paper symbolizes the breaking down of Western ideologies and getting back to the materials as they come from nature.”
Depending on the weather, the paper-based star should last about a week or so in its outdoor gallery.
“Everything is temporary,” Cardinal says. “These materials, like our own bodies, are meant to go back to the earth.”
Fourth-year child studies student and co-organizer Easterbrook says she valued the chance to collaborate with Collins and her fellow students.
“When we unify our efforts as professionals, we can change the destructive impact violence has on the people we serve,” she says. “The symbolism of collaboration in the art piece is reflective of this overarching message embedded in the symposium. It begins with awareness.”
Kostouros agrees. “The art piece will remind people of what they learned and it will help to anchor their learning,” she says, adding that the art installation, called Ending the violence of exclusion, is also a reminder of respecting multiple ways of knowing and learning.
“We have made a commitment here at Mount Royal and are honouring that to say there are other ways of learning and we need to offer that to students.”
A celebratory event in T-Wing marked the installation. Volunteers and elders attended, as did the dean of the faculty, Stephen Price, PhD, the symposium’s advisory committee and Cooke herself. A permanent photography exhibit related to the symposium and the creation of the star will be installed in the future.
This is the first time the symposium has involved an art project.
“Art heals,” Kostouros says.
Jan. 9, 2019 — Melissa Rolfe