Student-Created Art Structures Featured in Stuyvesant
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Going up the escalator from the fifth to seventh floors, students may see the lifesize sculpture standing by the plants, or more subtly, the miniature replicas of buildings by the stairwell. These sightings are installations of student artwork around Stuyvesant. They range from life-sized hominid sculptures made by students in science teacher Deame Hua’s Anthropology elective to architectural models by students in art teacher Karen Leo’s Art Appreciation course.
The hominid sculptures are modeled after the species Australopithecus afarensis. Students learned about evolution and how humans came to be, such as the development of species into modern humans after the last common ancestor with apes.
Students began conducting research on the proportions of their hominid sculptures by observing tracks from the Laetoli site in Tanzania. “In order to begin the project, we looked at a pair of footprints from the time period and analyzed them,” junior Roxy Perazzo said in an e-mail interview. “What we ended up doing was measuring certain things like height, stride length, and foot size and finding correlations between the measurements in order to estimate the height and proportions of the hominid.”
After students conducted their research, they began to use different materials to form the different layers of the sculptures. “To make the sculptures, we used chicken wire as a ‘skeleton’ and then covered it in paper mache, which we painted,” Perrazo said.
The entire process of making the hominid sculptures took around two months due to a few challenges. “The most complex body part to make was definitely the head, which was created using hair extensions, false eyelashes, and plastic eyes for its features,” Perazzo said.
Though some students believe there is still room for improvement, they were generally satisfied with the results. “I think that the final product is pretty good, and the fashion choices are definitely bonus points for its look. We could have spent more time [on] measurements for the groups making the arms and the legs, which turned out slightly different on each side, but overall everything went smoothly,” Perrazo said.
Students also found the project to be a great way to de-stress from their other subjects and interact with peers. “It was really fun to make. Having a period of just focusing on the sculpture each day was a nice, relaxing time, and working with people in the class for something not solely academic was really enjoyable,” Perazzo said.
When the two hominid sculptures were displayed in the middle of the plants on the seventh floor, many were terrified the first time they saw them. “My first ever encounter with the hominid sculptures was late after school,” freshman Andy Xian said. “It was pretty late and I was alone and caught completely off guard by such structures that scared me half to death. At first I thought I was going to be murdered.”
Separately, the architectural models were a new series of projects under Leo's architecture unit, which focused on learning about sacred spaces and utopian ideas. Students incorporated these ideas when creating their own imaginary civilizations. “We have a unit in Art Appreciation called sacred spaces and it's about how architecture kind of shapes the way we think, and structures different activities and ways we think about our society and community,” Leo said.
Leo’s students created 40 architectural structures that are showcased around Stuyvesant, mostly located in the staircases between the sixth to 10th floors and in the library, where they are accompanied by a QR code leading to explanations on the project’s website or a printed text explanation. “[Students] did brainstorming, sketching, planning, building, and then the writing because they wrote stories to go along with all of that,” Leo said.
To complete this project, students were given about three weeks of work days solely dedicated to working on the architecture project, and were provided construction material in class. “We were allowed to use anything Ms. Leo had for us or anything that we had available at home. My group mainly [used] different types of cardboard but also [used a] straw, fabric, tissue paper, and acrylic paint as the main source of color,” freshman Ibtida Khurshed said.
Students were able to model their projects from any time period, including the past and future. This allowed students to be as elaborate as they wanted about the stories of their imagined societies. “The story behind our sculpture was that a group of people were driven out by this evil group and now take shelter in the castle. Since this magical castle is so high up in a tree, they use a rocket roller coaster to travel up and down, primarily to get to the water fountain,” Khurshed said.
Some common themes among the projects were dark, post-apocalyptic ideas, which Leo found to be both humorous and interesting. “I would say 80 percent of the kids had a post-apocalyptic theme, so it wasn’t good news. Almost all of them were some sort of tragic event, where the most recurring theme was environmental disaster, and then there was inequality and injustice in society and those also figured prominently in those stories—they were a little bleak,” she said.
The main goal of this project was to give students a chance to reflect on how impactful different environments and spaces are and to include more interactive projects after more than a year of remote learning. “I wanted [students] to think about how the spaces we make kind of help define who we are, and kind of make us behave in certain ways, in a way too. I also wanted them to experiment with different materials and kind of build things especially after a year of remote learning,” Leo said. “It's kind of more fun to make more of a mess and experiment with stuff; I think they needed that.”
From this experience, many students were also able to learn skills applicable beyond Art Appreciation, ranging from creating art to measuring dimensions. “One skill I learned was to think [and] measure twice before I act. Since we were dealing with structures, making a mistake had more consequences than making a mistake in, say, a portrait or sketch. Another skill I learned was constructing equilateral triangles, perpendicular bisectors, and perfect circles,” freshman Christian Kim said.
Additionally, some students learned the importance of communication when working in a team. “I learned how important it was to communicate with my group because it is important that everyone is satisfied and other group members can [come up with] really good ideas of how to add to the project,” Khurshed said.
Overall, both students and teachers were satisfied with what they have accomplished in building these various projects. “I think they came out really great,” Leo said. “I was really proud of what the students did. A lot of teachers and students have been enjoying it, so I think that we need more art in this school.”