Eight students from Frenchtown Elementary School collaborated with artist Sandra Ramos on an installation in ArtYard’s Invisible exhibition, lending their artistic talents and community ties to spotlight local heroes.
On view through April 10, Invisible features the work of twelve artists whose practices examine what the author Svetlana Alexievich calls “the missing history — the invisible imprint of our stay on Earth and in time.” Curated by Jill Kearney, ArtYard founder and executive director, the exhibition includes works by local poet Vasiliki Katsarou, New Jersey-based artist Willie Cole, Montenegrin artist Natalija Vujošević, and Thailand artist Kawita Vatanajyankur, among others.
The Hand of History, Ramos’ installation, references rarely taught historical narratives and invisible educators. Inside a makeshift classroom is a large blackboard on the far wall and wooden school desks covered in a film of white chalk. Above hangs disheveled chairs, as if picked up by a whirling wind. On the blackboard and desks appear animations showing images of historic figures drawn and erased by a hand. (Watch a short clip of the installation by the artist here.)
On the desks are hand-written essays on lined paper and on the off-white walls are chalk drawings that are nearly invisible when one enters the room. The drawings emerge slowly as visitors’ eyes acclimate to the room. These are the work of Frenchtown Elementary School students.
“The hand of history is motivated by the memories of my childhood as a 20th-century student and the changes in the dynamics of learning after the development of the internet, as well by my interest in art as a way to explore, accumulate, and transmit human knowledge,” Ramos said. “This immersive participatory project signals how important it is for local communities to acquire the knowledge of their particular past in relation with a broader global history. The installation focuses on a critical dialogue with the western version of universal history as a set of crucial events and influential personalities that occur in a rational, linear, consecutive, and consistent progression, ignoring in many cases cultural, racial, ecological, and gender factors.
ArtYard connected Ramos with Tricia Hurley, who teaches art at Frenchtown Elementary School. Eight of Hurley’s students selected a local figure to depict. Ahead of a visit to ArtYard in January, the students wrote essays and created drawings that were later projected onto the walls of the installation for the students to trace with chalk.
The students’ subjects include Ms. Kovach, a part-time janitor at the school, EJ, a Frenchtown protector who patrols the town on his bike and wagon of plush animals, and Chief Al, the retired police chief.
“After being a janitor, [Ms. Kovach] just helps out at the school part time. She’s really good at it too!” writes Mateo Luis Sanchez Quackenbush. “You know what she’s also good at? Welcoming people! … And when I first came to the school in kindergarten, she would always say “Hi there!” or “Hello there!” She really relaxed me in a new place.”
“A few years ago, River Fest had a pet parade. Laura [Pointon] was asked to create awards for pets, so she made plaques with fish on them,” Penny Johnson wrote of Laura Pointon, treasurer of the Frenchtown Business & Professional Association and owner of OnPoint Books Inc. / Scatter Matter Studio. “Of course, Frenchtonians didn’t just bring dogs, but turtles, rabbits, chickens and one woman would have her pet snake. Pride was always one of Laura’s favorite categories to help organize. People actually have moved here because of our pride events, such as ”Chalking Downtown”, “Queer Kickball” and this year, a “Pride Bike Ride”. Laura has always liked Queer kickball the most and what she liked about it was how well attended it was.”
“James Hintenach is the principal of my school and he helps our community in so many different ways,” Charlotte Lily wrote of the Frenchtown Elementary School principal. “We would’ve been so lost and confused during these trying times if we didn’t have Mr H to guide us. Whenever he comes into our classroom to check on the students he always has a smile on his face and makes the room light up with his positive energy. He has stayed so positive when all hope seemed lost and that helped all of the students and teachers to be positive too.”
Working with Ramos and seeing her students work on display at ArtYard was a “wonderful experience,” Hurley said.
“The kids really enjoyed it and the installation piece sparked some great discussions on the way back to school,” she said.
Ramos is an internationally known artist based in Miami who produces animations, etchings, and multimedia-immersive installations that lead to a proactive self-awareness, favoring tolerance and justice. Her work exposes how dysfunctional power interactions produce negative narratives that affect identity, nationality, gender, and race conflicts. She connects these concerns with history and social practices using characters from art, literature, and political cartoons.
Ramos spent a year creating the animations projected in The Hand of History and working with composer Pavel Urkiza on the fast-paced percussive soundtrack in the room. Yet working with the students was the most important and rewarding part of her Invisible installation, she said.
“I am so happy to see how this project makes the kids think and recognize the importance of those familiar Frenchtown people for their life,” Ramos said. “I hope they learn how no one could be taking for granted, everyone has a role to play in a human collective, and that celebrity should be linked to the good actions ordinary people made every day.”
The works include:
- Mrs. Petro by Miles Ahrens
- Frances Gvertz by Eloise Gvertz
- Ms. Kovach by Mateo Luis Sanchez Quackenbush
- E.J by Anna Bucco
- Chief Al by Amelia Rodriguez
- Laura Pointon by Penny Johnson
- Kurt Fiebig by Levi Wolfermann
- Mr. James Hintenach by Charlotte Lilly