Jump to content

TV Short: Assemblages

Visit the MCA from wherever you are in this Tour Video Series dedicated to discovering more about the world, our communities, and ourselves through contemporary art.

TV Short: Assemblages video still

In this mini-episode, join the MCA’s Manager of Youth and Family Programs, Grace Needlman, to explore two times artists arranged objects in meaningful ways to create artworks called assemblages.​

[MUSIC PLAYING] GRACE: Hi. Welcome to the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. My name is Grace. Today, we are going to be exploring how arranging objects in meaningful ways can help us feel more connected to one another, to our natural world, and to our emotions. We all have important objects in our homes that we arrange with care, maybe you keep family photos or special toys on a special shelf.

Many artists explore the way we combine or arrange meaningful objects by making sculptures called assemblages. This is an assemblage by Chicago artist and energy healer Rhonda Wheatley. It has a long title that helps tell the story of the sculpture, so listen closely. This is called, "Energy grid for grounding into one's intuition and authentic self. Quells catastrophizing and perpetual fight-or-flight response. Soothes downward spiraling into self-doubt magnified by isolation. May induce fleeting glimpses into the eternal now. Activate re-calibrating energies by gazing into crystals and vessels. Must be 100% voluntary."

This artwork invites us to use meaningful materials and the power of our minds to change how we feel, to calm and ground ourselves. When artists make assemblages, they think deeply about the meaning of the materials they use. This sculpture is made of objects related to communication, nature, and energy including plants, crystals, and pieces of old technology, and medicine. What do these objects remind you of.

These objects are arranged in ways that remind me of flowing and connecting. I’m imagining putting my anxious energy into the crystals and the little moss and plants pick it up and there it goes into the coffee pots. Can you imagine it bubbling away in the pot. Now all the steam is puffing out and following those other plants up into the antennae, and the antennae are channeling the energy and sending it back out to me in bright calming waves. Looking at this artwork, I feel calmer. By arranging meaningful objects in different ways, we have the power to change how we’re feeling and communicate our feelings to others.

Here’s another assemblage. This one is by Carolina Caycedo, and it’s a portrait of the River Elwha. It’s made from materials that are about how human beings connect to the natural world, like this fishing net and dried sage. These objects are arranged in ways that are supposed to remind us of a human body, which is another way the artist helps us connect our own experience of living in a body with the natural world and with spiritual practices of different peoples.

We’ve looked at two artists today who arrange meaningful objects in ways that can inspire us to connect with our own spiritual power and the spiritual power of nature. Try making a sculpture at home with your family, decide which sorts of energy you want to connect with, do you want to create an assemblage that will help you feel calm and grounded like Rhonda, do you want to honor a part of the natural world like Carolina.

Gather meaningful objects. Rhonda used a lot of natural objects and objects that felt like they had a history of their own. What objects would you use to calm down. Carolina used objects from different people and places connected to the Elwha River. What materials help you feel connected to nature. Arrange your objects in a meaningful way. When we looked at Rhonda’s work we noticed that the way she put her objects together was important. It created pathways that could help us imagine energy flowing through them. How can you arrange your objects. So how they touch and how their shapes and colors look next to each other helps tell your story.


Thank you for exploring assemblage with me today. We looked closely at works of art and took time to arrange objects in meaningful ways. Those are all powerful ways to transform how you’re feeling and you can use that together at home any time you need to.