High schoolers ‘Escape’ through museum exhibit | AspenTimes.com

High schoolers ‘Escape’ through museum exhibit

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
"Escape: The Story of My Life," mixed media and video, by Rifle High School student Kendra Mann, is part of the Young Curators of the Roaring Fork exhibition Escape, showing through Sunday at the Aspen Art Museum.
Courtesy of the artist |

Last fall, 10 high schoolers from around the valley got together to consider a theme for the Aspen Art Museum’s Young Curators of the Roaring Fork exhibition. The students put various ideas on a bulletin board, things that are on their minds and in their lives: social media, websites, books. They started looking at the broader picture that connected those ideas and floated the theme of fantasy. Then an even more encompassing theme came to them.

“We thought more and came to the conclusion of escape — leaving your own world and going into a new one,” said Lindsey Webster, a 14-year-old Basalt High School freshman. “We made that connection.”

The exhibition Escape, which runs through Sunday in the art museum’s upstairs gallery, features 13 pieces that represent a broad range of media — sculpture, video, paintings and digital works. Perhaps the more significant range, though, are the various takes on the theme. In some of the pieces, escape seems healthy — a retreat into art and imagination. In others, it is a darker retreat.

“I thought the works showed a variety,” said curator Kayla Soufer, a 17-year-old Aspen High School junior. “Not just different media but all different forms of escape. And a lot of them dark. We did a good job incorporating the different sides so it wasn’t all happy and not all dark.”

One particularly complex piece incorporates both sides. “Escape: The Story of My Life,” by Rifle High School’s Kendra Mann, is a two-part installation. One element is a cage with a human dummy inside, the body folded toward the floor. But the cage is open on top, and above it is a video of Mann rising up to do a joyful, choreographed dance number around the cage. It addresses notions of both the things we need to escape from, the ways we escape and how escape can feel.

In addition to the variety that the theme allowed, the curators also saw escape as a universal concept.

“It’s relatable,” Soufer said. “Someone sees a piece of art and might see that they escape their stresses in the same way.”

“It shows how important having an escape is,” Webster added. “You don’t realize how big a role it plays in society and how much you do of it without noticing.”

For the Young Curators, the project might have been an escape — from schoolwork, daily routines — but it is also very much an engagement with things. Since October, the curators have been meeting once a week for an hour to plan all aspects of the exhibition — how to solicit art from local student artists, designing graphics and selecting the final 13 pieces from approximately 50 submissions. One of the most interesting aspects was laying out the exhibition and seeing how placing art in different configurations alters the viewing experience.

“It’s like being able to affect the mood of an area with what you’re given,” Webster said. “When we’d change pieces, we’d feel the mood change. It’s about using pieces to create a mood and giving artists credit so you’re drawn to each individual piece.

“You go to an art show and see the pieces hanging up, you don’t think about that. I never knew placement was such a big deal. But you don’t just put things up.”

Soufer came away from the experience understanding that curators create a world meant to affect viewers in a particular way.

“If you go into the exhibition and feel you’re transported into another time, that’s successful,” she said. “And if you can clearly see the theme, that’s helpful.”

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