Playing with ‘Chalk”

Students participate in installation as part of Ackland exhibit
Mar. 26, 2013 @ 03:56 PM

Logan Smith, Elizabeth Fink and Michelle Gavel pooled their resources to try to lift a 100-pound, 64-inch piece of chalk on the plaza outside of Frank Porter Graham Student Union.

“What are you drawing?” asked one of the students gathered outside the union. “We don’t know,” the trio replied.

Smith, Fink and Gavel were among the students who braved Monday’s blustery late March chill to participate in “Chalk,” an art project that is part of the Ackland Art Museum’s exhibit “More Love: Art, Politics, and Sharing since the 1990s.”

The three students were members of a drawing class taught by Carrie Alter and a teaching assistant, Antoine Williams. After participating in the event, the students will be asked to create a project that is a visual response to the installation, Alter said. The installation “also brings you back to that playful quality of childhood, when it was OK to draw on the ground,” Alter said.

Everyone who showed up Monday, whether they were part of the drawing class or just happened by, was having fun. “Chalk” is made up of 12 pieces of chalk, 64 inches long, 8 inches in diameter and about 100 pounds. As people warmed to the installation, students began tossing the chalk pieces to break them into more manageable parts. Students drew everything from a hopscotch grid to a chicken. Others made small sculptures from small pieces of the chalk.

“Chalk” is the work of Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla, who live in Puerto Rico and work as a duo creating interactive sculptures. An artist in UNC’s art department built the chalk pieces for this installation according to their specifications.  

“Chalk” has been presented in numerous cities worldwide since 1998. “From the beginning of our work together, we’re interested in materials – what are the meanings that are connoted by the use of certain materials?” Allora said in a YouTube video discussion of their work. With this installation,  “we were just interested in the matter of factness of what chalk is,” its ephemeral nature, she said. 

The video also shows an installation of “Chalk” near a government building in Peru, where people used the chalk to express their grievances against the government. The piece “has the potential to actively disrupt what are the norms of a particular setting,” Allora said.

The installation continues until noon Wednesday, but Monday no one had written or drawn anything that hinted of protest or politics. Rather, a sense of whimsy and play was afoot. A group of students tossed one of the chalk pieces down two sets of steps to break it into smaller pieces. The instructions at the hopscotch grid urged visitors: “Try it. (No one’s watching.)”

Zachary Padgett, who drew a chicken with Diana Fu and Christine Ni, said the area around the student union is a good match for “Chalk.” “You never know what’s going to be here at the end of the day,” he said. The school has a long history of free expression, “and the kids will take any opportunity to pursue that,” Padgett said.

Fu said she was “feeling like a kid again.”

Deanna Zhong drew the Chinese characters for “love.” “That was hard to do,” she said. “This just made my day,” Zhong said. Drawing with chalk “reminds me of my childhood,” she said. “Anything that reminds me of my childhood can de-stress me.”