Make a Statement
art, language arts, social studies
five or six fifty-minute class periods
Lesson submitted by:
MCA Education Department
Produce art that invokes social awareness about a pressing issue or a political topic relevant to today’s society.
Explore how artists like Felix Gonzalez-Torres create art to stimulate social consciousness regarding issues, particularly problems and injustices, of contemporary life.
Discuss how the artist creates artwork using symbolic objects to encourage viewers to interact with the art, thereby extending the meaning of the artwork.
Explore installation art and apply findings to an original artwork.
political art artwork made to honor or to question a political or social ideal
repetition something recurring again and again
installation art an ensemble of objects designed for a specific site that is intended to involve the viewer directly in the artwork
View the work of Felix Gonzalez-Torres and discuss his use of simple and ready-made materials to provoke thought about social issues. Discuss how the work engages the audience in a participatory experience.
Does Gonzalez-Torres’s artwork force you to re-examine your opinions about what art is?
In what ways does Gonzalez-Torres involve the viewer in his artwork?
Can you name any other artists who have communicated political and social ideas through their artwork?
How can placing an object in a museum change its meaning?
1 Have the class discuss how Gonzalez-Torres elevates common everyday items in his artwork to symbolize a larger societal issue. Also discuss how the artist pushes the boundaries of viewer involvement and accessibility within a museum setting.
2 Have students brainstorm some social or political issues that they feel are not being addressed in the school or neighborhood. Some examples might include recycling at school, violence in neighborhoods, or lack of respect between groups of students.
3 Have students write in journals for ten or fifteen minutes on the question, “What would you wish to change about your school or neighborhood and why?” When finished, have several students share their writings.
4 Have the students divide into groups of no more than five. Each group should choose an issue around which to create a participatory installation. Next, have the students quickly create a list of terms associated with the issue. For example, if the issue is school recycling the list of terms might include cans, paper, green, earth, aluminum, news-paper, plastic, Styrofoam, waste, and future. Once the students have made their lists, they will select a relevant object symbolizing the larger issue. (Hint: If the issue is lack of recycling, the students may choose to represent it with a soda can, or if the issue is lack of communication the students may choose to symbolize this with a large rolodex that they will create and fill themselves).
5 Like the Gonzalez-Torres artwork, this project is about raising consciousness about issues facing your community, and it is also about viewer ownership and participation.
First, have the groups decide how they will use an object to symbolize their issue in a participatory installation. Then, they will choose an area in the school to set up their installation. (Where the artwork is installed may directly relate to the issue.) Students should decide how they will engage the public and encourage them to interact with their installation. (Hint: If the issue is recycling, students may choose to have the installation of soda cans in the shape of a pyramid or in a line along the perimeter of the student lounge or directly outside the cafeteria to encourage students and faculty to add their empty soda cans to the installation as they finish).
6 Arrange the artwork in the chosen location and let the installation remain there for a week or so. Encourage the students to keep an eye on it and periodically record their observations about how viewers react to the installations. As a class, discuss how effective the artwork was in raising awareness about the issues and what they could have done differently to increase awareness (such as a different location, a sign, or an article about the installations in the school paper).
Tips for teachers
Seek your principal’s approval before installing these artworks around the school. If you do not get the approval of administration, you can install the artworks around your classroom. It may be helpful to have each group install their artwork during a different week. Also, you may want to document audience participation with the artworks at different times during the week using a disposable camera.
This lesson focuses on the themes representing our world and parts representing the whole. To further explore these thematic units with other MCA lessons, refer to the cross-
reference table at the front of this book.
This project fulfills the following Illinois State Goals: