The new sculpture on display at College of the Redwoods’ Del Norte campus isn’t your average piece of art.
The folding metal and wood-framed screen symbolizes both transformation and insurmountable obstacles, says its creator, San Francisco artist Mary March. Commissioned by CR to create the piece, March’s sculpture, “Between the Lines (experience exchange)” draws upon the themes of the college’s book of the year, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me.”
March’s sculpture is also different from most others in that it invites audience participation. Participants respond to a writing prompt on pieces of hand-painted high quality vellum and exchange it for someone else’s. They then tie that person’s response to the frame they feel it belongs most to.
Those frames represent 12 themes: Repression, expression, privilege, opportunity, love, hate (fear), resistance, compliance, accepted, suspected, hardness and openness.
“Repression is on one side and expression is on the other,” March said. “Some of them are opposite and some of them are sort of opposites depending on how you think about them.”
The piece will be on display at in the hallway at the Del Norte Education Center through the end of March. Students, staff, faculty and community members are invited to participate. The sculpture already carries responses from its time at CR’s main campus, according to a college press release.
Coates’ book draws upon the themes of racism and mass incarceration, said English instructor Ruthe Rhodes. In addition to commissioning March to create “Between the Lines,” the Del Norte campus also screened the documentary “13th,” directed by Ava DuVernay, which also focuses on race and mass incarceration.
Rhodes said students who are reading Coates’ book and who saw the documentary can draw parallels between March’s work.
“In a sense it looks like a little prison,” Rhodes said of “Between the Lines.” “It evokes the images of prison and gates.”
March, who has been an artist since she was a child, has worked in a variety of mediums from clay to metal and glass to yarn. She noted that when most artists master a technique lose out on a sense of spontaneity, but when you invite audience participation “you don’t necessarily know what’s going to happen.”
Most of March’s work incorporates an element of audience interactiveness. One piece, for Southern Vermont College’s admissions building, invited people to describe their backgrounds on one side and then what their goals and dreams were.
Another, March calls “Identity Tapestry,” asks participants to select a color of hand-dyed yarn they feel represents them. As they unravel it, the audience wraps the yarn around statements they feel show something about who they are.
For “Between the Lines,” March said this was the first time she asked her audience to participate in a free writing response. She noted that the prompts had to be constructed in such a way as to be related to Coates’ book, but to make sense for those who hadn’t read it yet.
Another challenge was to get people to want to participate even though the book deals with harsh themes, March said.
“I hand-painted 600 of these things for people to respond on,” she said. “They’re rainbow and beautiful things that people want to touch and hold. If they reflected the pain in the book, people wouldn’t touch them.”