This summer’s In the Making program brought an incredibly diverse group of over 85 NYC teens into contact with a range of artists and arts organizations, for a series of six-week intensive art programs. Perhaps our most ambitious project ever, this summer’s collaboration with Babycastles, a non-profit video game-based gallery and arts collective, saw 23 teens working together on the creation of a fully-functional arcade, mural, and sculptural art installation. Equal parts Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, and some remote tropical paradise—the final results are on display to the public from now until September 10 in MoMA’s Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Education & Research Building. In the following post, this summer’s teaching artist Hillary Livingston explains the philosophies and activities that went into the creation of their incredible gallery space. Swing by and check it out for yourself…no quarters needed.
What if a group of people sets out to achieve the impossible? Is it at all dangerous to blindside the unthinkable? Attempt miracles from the dumbest possible angle? If we split an infinitive and meditate on its meaning, what are the odds that we might split infinity, too? If we could only sift through our subconscious, we might uncover the solid gold ideas that lie in the silt bed of our dreams.
On the gorgeous green Earth, how could 23 young people reach an agreement about curating a cohesive, conceptual, art exhibition? The answer is unacademic and hilarious. They did it by playing a game. It was one that served as a guide for brainstorming the curatorial statement for their art exhibition.
The group tapped into their subconscious ideas, questions, and desires by writing down dreams, inspirations, and words that carry meaning in their lives. Through a mash-up game of scavenger hunt and capture the flag, the group retrieved these words, which were hidden around the Museum. Back at the home base, the words were rearranged to divine the answers to some key questions: “What will this exhibition be about? How will it look? How will it feel?”
The game was based on William S. Burroughs’s supposition that if you hack into the present, the future leaks out. Well, what was first intended to drip like a forgotten faucet, turned into a gushing stream of consciousness. Here are the texts that came from our great dream retrieval:
A Superhero with Invisible Pain. Out of spirit, on colors.
In heartbreak, just don’t dream.
Dreams of a future of exquisite pain.
Where tempestuous invisible demonic eggplants felt good.
Don’t dream, let it be.
Psychedelic Acceptance Hotel.
Where money’s not good.
Title: Unsettling Young Examinations: The Road Between Adventurous Experiences and Security.
Setting: We depend on comfort.
Plot: Male in love with female seeking comfort from sinking Ukraine.
Mission: See the rainbow on Pluto.
The teens immediately began having “curatorial discussions” about the concepts that emerged from their own thoughts and dreams. “Now that Pluto is no longer a planet, what does it symbolize? Why is life hard for some people? What’s going on in Ukraine? The rest of the world for that matter? Do you have to be a good artist to make art? What are the consequences of being subtle or being obvious? How do cultures emerge and change over time?”
From concept to execution of the installation, the students morphed their ideas into a grand statement, touching on themes like the value of rooting for the underdog, living with mistakes and limitations, and navigating a tumultuous world. They imagined an environment that would match their writings and selected independent video games to represent the plot of their story. Soldering irons sizzled and smoked, painted toilet paper turned into rocks, and a corner of a gallery in the Education and Research Building was sculpted into an immersive and whimsical intergalactic arcade.
By letting go of their inhibitions and submitting their ideas to the milieu, they created an art and video game installation that celebrates play, highlights group dynamics, and embraces psychedelia. They may have entered the classroom one by one, but the teens left as a unit that was much greater than the sum of its parts.
This exhibition is dedicated to Pluto—the hero in exile, the underdog, the outcast, whose story demands a place in history (or at least in a video game arcade).
Special thanks to Kaitlyn Stubbs, Eli Dvorkin, Silent Barn, Materials for the Arts, Babycastles, and the video game developers for allowing us to show their work in a wild context. The In the Making Summer 2014 Teen Art Show is on view to the public until September 10. More information on teen programs can be found at teens.MoMA.org or MoMA.org/MoMAteens.