Andrea Moore on PlatteForum students' subversive art and upcoming interactive installation
When artist Andrea Moore was asked to return to PlatteForum to work with high school students for the art space's summer-long program, ArtLab, she wanted to do something teenagers would be excited about. What she landed on was subversive art. Two times a week throughout the summer, Moore worked with the students to create anti-establishment and often controversial pop-up pieces with the goal of being prosocial and constructive. You can see the students' final project tomorrow afternoon as they hit the 16th Street Mall with an interactive installation that will challenge the idea of commerce in a fun, creative way: with vending machines that accept and dispense art.
PlatteForum students work on pieces for their pop-up installation.
We recently caught up with Moore to discuss her eight weeks working with the students, the controversy their work created, and using art as a tool to spark conversation.
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Westword: Where did the idea behind the project come from?
Andrea Moore: I started thinking about who the students were, where they came from, and what I knew about them. What I learned about the ArtLab Program is that students come from all different Denver metro high schools, and that they're all interested in different types of the arts. Some of them are writers, some of them are musicians, some of them are graffiti artists and others visual artists. And then I was thinking about what they were doing. I knew that so many of them were interested in graffiti, and because they're teenagers I started thinking about what I was interested in when I was a teenager, and I was interested in being very anti-establishment, and so I thought they might be, too. And of course they are, so that was sort of what it was born out of.
I was just trying to figure out what their interests were and then the second piece of it was trying to determine the best way to shape their interests in an exciting, but also a mature and socially conscious, way. And that's where we came up with this idea of being anti-establishment but prosocial. Particularly because PlatteForum is located in the Riverfront community, and that community is not at all representative of where these kids come from, and so I knew we would be working in a foil to where they're used to living and where they go to school, that there would be a lot of opposition. And so I wanted to be mindful but still give them a chance to flex their creative muscles. So that's kind of how it started.
What kind of artists did you look to for inspiration?
For me, I had seen Exit Through the Gift Shop, so I knew about Banksy, I knew about JR, who's another graffiti artist who recently won this giant TED prize, so these are artists who go and install mostly graffiti art but also other types of installation art all over the world. One of the things that I was really drawn to about that type of work is that they're trying to get people to think and also trying to get people to behave differently. There's this difference, I think, working with teenagers'; they want to make a splash, they want to make an impact and a lot of the times they haven't really thought about, like, do I actually have something to say or am I just trying to get attention? So there's this idea of, like, we know you want to be seen, but what do you have to say?
So at the beginning, we started by figuring out what was inside of them. What were they angry about? What were they excited about? What were their passions? That was our very first class, we talked about what they were passionate about, and then we started generating poetry. We did different exercises so that they were writing their own poetry about where they come from and their personal narrative. So we were doing a lot of work to find out what was meaningful to them and then every Wednesday we would work inside PlatteForum in kind of a laboratory setting and then Thursdays we did something called "open studio," where we would take our ideas out into the public and experiment.
What kind of installations did the students create?
The PlatteForum students' "Manic" installation.
One of those early days we did the temporary installation of messaging. So I broke them into two groups and I said, "You have five minutes to come up with something that you all agree that people are not aware of enough." One group was like, "Lying, lying is something that people need to think about more" and the other group said, "Manic depression. People need to know more about manic depression." And I said, "Okay, now you have thirty minutes to go outside in the park by the river wherever you want and using only found materials, without doing anything illegal and without using anything that belongs to anybody else, you have to go and use those words, 'lying' and 'manic depression,' and go do an installation that will raise awareness about your ideas." And that was the only information that I gave them. And then they went and they did their installations and raised a lot of awareness [laughs].
That was an exciting day. But we'd also started off the trend that we saw a lot this summer, which was we would go do something and then we would feel push-back from the community. So it started this ongoing conversation about what do we mean being prosocial? We're trying to be creative compared to destructive, but do people have to like us? Can we still be prosocial if people don't like us?