#510: If the Shoe Fits ... A Transformative Laboratory Exhibition. Betty Rymer Gallery, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, March 10-April 14, 2006

Article excerpt

A living work of art is life itself, born from the dynamic fusion of the self (the microcosm) and the universe (the macrocosm) ... If we accept ... the interconnection of all living things, then art becomes the elemental modality through which humans discover their bonds with humans, humanity with nature, and humanity with the universe.--Daisaku Ikeda, Creative life at Academie des Beaux-Arts, June 14, 1989.

#510: If the Shoe Fits...(http://www.artic. edu/webspaces/510iftheshoefits/) as hosted by the Betty Rymer Gallery at the School of the Art Institute (SAIC) of Chicago March 10-April 14, 2006, was developed over the course of two years, plaiting the power of the oldest transformative folktale (Dundes 1982,; Sierra 1992; Warner 1994) with a transformative experience for students around the globe. Taking folk tale AT 510A as its guiding subject and theme, the laboratory exhibition examined the widespread interest in this folk tale. International artists provided their critical assessment and/or retelling of the tale type through drawings, artists' books, sculpture, assemblage, and collaborative murals. Artwork included mentored collaborative student works from Kenya, South Korea, Turkey, Ohio, and Chicago, as well as some produced by pediatric patients working with the Snow City Arts Foundation.

As a laboratory, the exhibition's educational objective was to provide a forum to critically analyze culture and a citizen's place within it. The artwork provided a platform for dialogue that allowed local and distant comparisons of experience and perspective. In presenting works by established artists alongside collaborative student projects, the exhibition's designers intended to challenge the notion of privilege within the gallery's public space. The exhibition sought to construct a democratic landscape where the cultivation and exchange of individual perspectives could be effectively achieved. In this regard, the exhibition represented a critical intervention in the art world trend toward privileging a single point of view.

Case studies and focus groups conducted among school-aged children provided data regarding sustained level of interest in the tale, used to speculate on a projected laboratory/exhibition result. International versions of tale type AT 510A provided students an effective interface with which to explore fixed notions of dating rituals, death, patriarchy, family dynamics (including step- and/or mixed families), the complexities of gender expectations, grief, magic, matriarchy, misogyny, privilege/power, psychological/sociological phenomena, sexuality and/or spirituality that are at work within the narrative, as well as the unique perspective each artist used to interpret and present the tale.

A sampling of the exhibited works by students and artists follows:

Snow City Arts Foundation's (SCAF) artists selected an AT 510A version of interest to them. In response, using medical supplies, they made plaster casts of their own feet and then fit those castings into altered shoes. SCAF visual artist-in-residence Lisa Fedich mentored hospitalized patients, enabling them, although physically confined, to walk in another's shoes. The works produced included Lauren Youins', In Response to a Persian #510 Tale (2006) and Ashley Bridges', In Response to a Louisiana #510 Tale (2006). In designing the shoes, each participant carefully considered the lifestyle and location of the leading character in the representation he or she chose.

Similarly, under the guidance of Pablo Serrano and Alberto Sepulveda, students of Chicago's Eli Whitney and Rosario Castelleanos elementary schools created a lobby mural outside the gallery entrance as a response to AT 510A by investigating cultural artifacts close to home: their family members' castoff shoes. The students developed the mural inscribed with their perspectives by writing slogans across the painted shoes where one might typically find corporate logos such as the Nike swoosh. …