Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Lesson idea: Cassette Tape Portraits

[I'm in the process of cleaning out my hard drive in preparation to finally make the jump to Mac world *wooohoooo!* and I found a file of student work from my first year of teaching art at my current school I haven't posted yet! There are a little less than a dozen project ideas and here is the first one.]

This is a project I did with my 3D students way back in the Fall of 2009 when I was a newbie here at my present school. I came upon the idea in my blogroll long before there was the wondrous world of pinterest. The original works/artist can be found on flickr HERE where you will see a decade long collective of their body of work that aims to create portraits of all manner of artists and other noteworthy folks using cassette tape cartridges and the tapes they have within.  The total collective is known as "Ghost in the machine."

I loved the idea because I am a fan of just about any type of portraiture but nontraditional portraiture is one of my favorites of all.  I also loved being able to upcycle items that have seemingly "gone the way of the dinosaur" like cassette tapes. Funny anecdote that occurred during this project: One of my students picked up one of the cassette tape, shook it around and then put his ear up to it while curiously demanding, "How do you even listen to something like this?!!" *sigh*... I have such fond memories of cassette tape listening.

Anyway, this project was the next to last one on the project list for Fall 2009 and it was VERY challenging for the students to complete. I think I put aside a total of three weeks for the whole thing (and they also had the winter holiday break to take it home) and that still was barely enough. The project demanded that they have incredible attention to detail, ridiculous dexterity with an Xacto, and extreme patience to adhere all of the pieces of the teeny-tiny-hard-to-lay-down-in-just-the-right-way pieces of slippery cassette tape. Despite the challenges it presented (and for foundational students no less!) they were incredibly committed to completing exceptionally done final results. I was SO proud of them and when we hung them in the student gallery there was no shortage of raves about them.

In order to ensure the students started the project fully invested in the idea, I allowed them a lot of liberties in what individual they chose to illuminate in this way. This seems like a given of something to do but the more I teach art, the more surprised I am at how often it's not done like this. My goal in all of this was not to wield control but to inspire open-mindedness that despite this was challenging and questionnably above their skill-level - all of my students COULD do it so long as they committed themselves to the possibility that it was all within their reach.

We used pebbled matboard from another project for the canvas and then we collected cassette tapes (obviously) from whomever would give them to us as well as cups of diluted white glue for the adhesive. I allowed the students to use printed off pictures (from Google) as visual guides and while some of them attempted to free-hand sketches onto their supports/matboard, a number of them put their pictures on the matboard and then used the point of a compass to perforate through the picture onto the matboard leaving a tiny dotted outline where their major lines of cassette tape would go. It was a shortcut of a way to do it this way but I wasn't concerned with that detail and more with the overall scope of the project.

Fall 2009 was the first and last time I did this project because it was just way too time consuming and I also like to change things up from year to year so the same things aren't shown in the student gallery over and over again. Another reason why I never did this project again was because, toward the end, it became REALLY hard to locate more cassette tapes when we started to get strapped for them. If I do this again I will likely do it in 2D instead of 3D because thought the medium was 3D, the picture came out to be more 2D so it only makes sense that it should be done there instead.

Anyway, if you want to see another round of student work, you can check out Art of Apex High School!  They just did a version of this project just this past Fall and the way they approached it was decidedly less time consuming (but still plenty of fun!) than what I showed you here.

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