How does a team of four Spatial Experience Design students create a window display inspired by an artist whose work is elaborate, unfamiliar, and otherworldly? With imagination, skill, and in this unusual case, guidance from the artist himself.
The assignment for the students’ Product Presentation class required the design and construction of a large-scale display that promotes a museum exhibit and incorporates one or more mannequins. The students, who just completed their junior year, chose Chris Schanck’s “Off World” exhibit currently on view at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) at Columbus Circle.
“As soon as we saw Schanck’s designs we knew we needed to use them for our project,” says team member Alexandria Casella. “We drew immediate inspiration from all aspects of his work.”
Schanck’s idiosyncratic furnishings are a fusion of sculpture and furniture. “His work encompasses an unfamiliar world from far away, but it’s the world we live in now,” says Casella.
The prospects of capturing the esoteric nature of Schanck’s designs challenged and thrilled the students.
Casella was taken by the boldness and originality of foam, velvet, and plywood merging gracefully.
Penny Kalfas admired the coral reef-looking, textured foam structures. It brought to mind how much of the ocean hasn’t been explored and how that lent itself to the “off-world/other-side/extraterrestrial” aspects of Schanck’s work.
Sarah Rosengarten saw Schanck’s Instagram post of a bed he made for a friend. The headboard caught her eye; it was made with a technique they chose to apply to the flooring of their window to give the space dimension and volume.
Ana Belardi was inspired by a wall mirror piece from the exhibition. “The electric blue colors and organic curves framing the mirror was eye-catching,” said Belardi. The proscenium shape and color would be used for the outside of the window.
“We decided that the mannequin would serve as the main focal point of the window,” said Casella. “The mannequin is the ‘other’ being. The question is, what is ‘the other?’ Is it gender? Sexuality? Religion? Culture? It’s for the viewer to decide.”
After some experimentation, Casella contacted the artist via Instagram. “Wouldn’t it be great to have his input? Amazingly, he responded 10 minutes later and was very receptive and interested in our process and ideas,” said Casella.
The students met with the designer via Zoom. “He loved our idea and challenged us to be more conceptual with the window. It was an amazing experience to have first-hand critiques and insight from the artist himself,” said Casella.
It’s rare that a team of students get to work directly with an established artist in creating an interpretation of their work. We asked Schanck what inspired him to provide such valuable mentoring:
“I benefit from trying to explain my work to others in a way that is accessible, especially to students,” said Schanck. “I’m interested in the students’ point of view, because we are separated by a generation – I wonder where the most impactful overlap occurs in how we see the world.”
As a last step, the team covered the foam with many shades of pink paint and sprayed it with clear glitter to give it a glossier finish and to make it glow.
The team’s final display features stuffed spandex fabric for the floor and walls, spray foam for the sculptures throughout the window, and a mannequin that portrays the out-of-context takeover of the extraterrestrial world.
Says Kalfas “The display prompts the viewer to consider this abstract material and pattern that is consuming the ‘other-world. The mannequin might be a female being consumed by societal struggles. Or it might be an alien from the ‘other side.’”
How well did they execute the different facets of Schanck’s work that are on exhibit?
“Considering they come from mixed disciplines I was impressed with how cohesive their exhibition was,” said Schanck. “I found their written description of the project incredibly insightful.
“I work in a space that is not entirely clear to me. This is the part that requires faith. So, when others can find meaning in my blind spots, I am thankful for the exchange of ideas and perspectives.”
Schanck plans to put the students’ work on his website and to possibly use their descriptions of his work.
“Working successfully in a group is a great real-world simulation,” says Schanck. “Agreeing on a common goal, committing to sleepless and delirious nights and learning new materials and techniques in real time on a shoestring budget is possibly the most valuable part of this lesson and what it means to pursue a vocation in the arts.”
The window display will be up until early September. It can be viewed from outside the Pomerantz Art and Design Center at 7th Avenue between 27th and 28th Streets.
To see more of each team member’s work on social media go to: Alexandria Casella on IG: @alexandriacasellaart, Ana Belardi: @belardi_design, Panayiota Kalfas: @panayiotadesigns, and Sarah Rosengarten: @sarahrosengartendesign1.
To learn more about the Spatial Experience Design program (formally called Visual Presentation and Exhibition Design) go to: Spatial Experience Design at FIT.