This spring, Holly Korus has been teaching a seven-week after-school art class with eight Hillside students. The course, called “Nevertheless She Created,” explores the styles and stories of some of the most influential women in art. In addition to creating self portraits inspired by Cindy Sherman and silhouette art in the style of Kara Walker, Ms. Korus and her students set their sights outdoors in order to design and construct an installation inspired by Yayoi Kusama’s ‘Ascension of Polka Dots on the Trees.’ Their version of the installation is called “We Go Higher, Dot Dot Dot.”
With all of the hype and excitement around Yayoi Kusama’s Washington D.C. Infinity Mirror show, I wanted to bring some of that excitement back to Montclair. After seeing the exhibit with my daughter, we felt the need to create some sort of outdoor installation. Kusama’s Ascension of Polkadots on the Trees project circa 2006 in Singapore called out to me with both its simple beauty and boldness. Women and girls face the same issues today as they did when I was a girl. Do you see me? Do you hear me? Do I count as much as you? Every girl in my class knows they are helping to make something special. When I asked them why we are doing this they replied, “Because we can.”
What materials did you use for the outdoor installation?
We have about 15 red fabric tablecloths and 20 red beach balls that we painted with regular white latex paint. The girls used corks, round sponge brushes, potatoes halved with a circle cut out of the middle, Pencil erasers, paint brushes and one fancy handy, dandy coffee can with two layers of felt glued to the lid (the most popular item). The beach balls are rigged with taped-on monofilament with a white duct tape circle.
Take us through the lesson plan for this project.
On our first day of class I showed the girls pictures of Yayoi Kusama’s work. We talked about her background and how many hoops an artist has to jump through to create a project such as Ascension. When I told the girls we were going to create this at Hillside, they went crazy as if I told them they had each won the lottery! I will never forget that moment; it was life changing. We then ventured outside.
The girls started by painting photos of Hillside’s trees with polkadots for a mock up plan, then we headed outside armed with measuring tape and yarn. Three of the trees were so large that the measuring tape would not fit around the trunks, so we wrapped yarn around the tree, laid the it on the ground and then measured the yarn.
After that we painted the table clothes and beach balls. While the girls and I work, we discuss elements of the project, such as: why we are creating the display, what we will do with the materials after the project is over and what we should call our version of this installation. We settled on “We Go Higher, Dot, Dot, Dot”
How long will the installation be in place?
We installed on Wednesday, May 16th and it will be in place for two weeks.
What do you hope people will appreciate most about this installation?
I hope people look at the school with a different perspective and not to take things at face value. We have a grand oak that is 15′ in diameter. That very tree watched Hillside being built over 100 years ago. It has watched thousands of children start their first day of school, thousands of children graduate wearing everything from knickers to bell bottoms. The tree has always worn a coat of brown until today when it and its other tree friends get to wear bright red and white polkadot coats. As Shel Silverstein once said, “Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”
Holly Korus has a BFA from Pratt Institute and has worked as an art director in advertising, and as an illustrator, muralist, lifestyle editor, writer and has been teaching art for the last 5 years. Explorers is an tuition-based enrichment program offered after school at Hillside Elementary in Montclair, NJ.
Photo: Chanda Hall