Nationally recognized multimedia artist Kenn Kotara worked with Casey Arbor’s art students for an entire week conceiving, creating, and installing a dynamic installation. The artwork focuses on semantics, value and values, and studio practice and technique. The flashy installation demands the attention of viewers. It is composed of hundreds of 3” x 4” pieces of gold leaf, which Kotara calls “bricks.” Each brick has a word or words punched by students in Braille. During a time when humans and political parties are more divided than ever before, Kotara wanted to draw attention to the words we choose – the words our leaders choose – to describe other humans. With elections constantly on the horizon, we ask the viewer to ponder how words in everyday life. We ask the viewer to think about the power of semantics.
As the students worked to punch Braille into as many gold bricks as possible for four consecutive days, they began to better understand the disciple and perseverance needed in the studio. Conversations about semantics and value organically filled the studio as students pondered why we so readily use certain harsh and/or hackneyed words to describe each other, art, political figures, and life experiences. Students discussed the history of creativity and craft, of conceptual art, external variables, philosophy, and more.
During the course of the week, Kotara relinquished control of the artwork allowing students more autonomy to create their vision using the materials provided. On Monday, a group of 20 skeptical high school students were less than invested in the week’s work that lay ahead. On Friday, that same group of students chose to unplug from their technology, look into each other’s eyes, and connect in creative ways: they were clearly committed to working together on their unified vision.
As department chair and professor of visual art at Mars Hill University, Kotara seamlessly engaged with students with respect, integrity, and compassion throughout the artmaking process.
At the conclusion of the installation on Friday, Kotara looked the students in the eyes and said, “Thank you for sharing my vision, craft, and practice. I hope you will take this experience with you as you are led to more creative places in your life.”
In notes to Kotara, students are quoted saying:
• “Thank you, it was one of the unique experiences [at Asheville School that] I will tell my friends about back home.”
• “It was exciting to get to meet you and talk about my future in college; I really like your project and what you stand for.”
• “Your experience in art and ideas about aesthetics are really eye opening.”
• “I am so happy to have spend the week with you; it has been the best week so far.”
• “I found your daily talks really insightful; learning Braille has become an exciting experience to share.”
• “I was cool to be a part of your project.”
• “I am fascinated by Braille an I admire the message in each of your pieces; I had a great time learning with you!”
• “I have really appreciated the time you’ve spent with us – thanks for everything.”
Kotara has ideas to take the installation on the road. We can’t wait to see where it is installed next.
Kotara’s work can be viewed locally at the Asheville Art Museum, Mission-Pardee Hospital, Rehab & Wellness Center, City Centre, Aloft Hotel, and more. For more information on Kenn Kotara, visit his website: http://www.kotarastudio.com/