College of Liberal Arts | Spring 2021

A win for repurposed art

When Kara Hampton (BA 2016, Fine Arts) began drawing detailed sketches of the dead insects found in her studio, she knew little of how big her idea would become.

“The premise was that there is compelling design and beauty in a small and abandoned natural form,” notes Sigrid Zahner, associate professor of fine arts in the Patti and Rusty Rueff School of Visual and Performing Arts. That premise was the inspiration for a core team of four students: Hampton, Gabrielle Bennett, Miranda Herring, and David Marchese, who all then created an immersive interior space that received first place at the fourth annual CONNECT student design competition in Chicago. The four students, advised by Zahner and associate professor of industrial design Laura Drake, utilized leftover materials to produce an entire interior installation. The final product was based on the idea of regeneration and the allure of the seemingly mundane. As Zahner emphasizes, “The quotidian is often overlooked, and our intent was to reverse the oft quoted ‘look outside the box.’”

The CONNECT competition, which is on display during the Chicago SOFA Fair, selects only six universities to compete annually in an innovative design challenge that highlights the most prestigious design programs across the country. This collaborative, selective competition encourages students to design environments based around certain principles, which include seating, lighting, and an overall theme. The SOFA (Sculpture Objects Functional Art and Design) Fair in Chicago, now in its 23rd year, is the premier gallery-presented art fair dedicated to three-dimensional art and design.

The students and their advisors named their work A Natural Urban Environment. This title reflects their central theme, as the proposal describes it: “the tension that is often felt between human intervention and natural spaces.”

One of the most intriguing aspects of the project was how the team selected its materials for constructing the furniture and other pieces on display. While attending classes in Yue-Kong Pao Hall, the students noticed that there were many discarded materials that were never reused between the various studio spaces. “The greater metaphor,” says Zahner, “is that even that which has been discarded or seems to have no purpose or value can have essential beauty and usefulness.”

When looking around the space, one can see how many materials were repurposed for aesthetic use. Using items ranging from copper to cardboard, the students were able to

hone their specific crafts and work as a team. The chair cushions were fashioned from burlap coffee sacks, sporting prints of Hampton’s dead insect drawings. The saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” takes on new meaning now for these students and their faculty advisors. Zahner emphasizes, “We want to show that just because something is perceived as trash doesn’t mean that it can’t be redesigned into something useable.”