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Bringing art to life

The Baltimore Sun

The last thing South Carroll High School teacher Mary Lou Hanley had expected to see on the paper-plate platter painted silver was a papier-mache roasted pig with the head of junior Michael Naugle, an apple stuffed in his mouth.

So, naturally, she shrieked.

"Oh, you totally freaked me out," Hanley said, to the delight of Naugle and fellow students Vincent Frasco, Tommy Michie and Ian Rhoades, who sat with her at a small table, complete with place setting, salt and pepper shakers and a candle with a paper flame.

Hanley had expected "something interesting" when the teens beckoned her and enthusiastically asked her if she liked pig. But, she added, "it was just so weird to have something alive there."

Her shock was one of several responses from students, teachers and administrators as they watched Lisa Katz's honors mixed-media class literally become one with their art - and even joined in themselves.

Katz's students plan to display the six installations they've designed for a "live art gallery" Wednesday between 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. in Carroll Community College's Great Hall.

"I want them to realize there's more to art than just painting on a piece of paper," said Katz, explaining one of the objectives behind the assignment.

After researching Fluxus, an installation movement, the student groups chose a mentor artist as a guide for their projects, Katz said. They were encouraged to interpret the style for themselves, she added, not simply to replicate the artist's work.

Besides the challenges the three-dimensional assignment presented, the artists were also required to observe their audience and urge viewers to participate in what they saw. How did others react to the scenes they depicted? Each group developed questionnaires asking spectators to consider what the installations meant or inspired them to think, what aspects appealed to them most or whether the live displays were, in fact, art.

And so, on a recent Wednesday, sophomore Hannah Ehlman, 16, acted as the title of her group's "Junk Man," hauling random objects painted yellow, blue, red and green onto her back, and slowly sinking under her burdens.

Clad in black, Jamie Holden, Lyndsay Morgan and Lindsay Young were as mute as the shadows they became when they slipped behind the white sheet partition around their "shadow box" and challenged the intrepid passers-by to dance, throw blows or play patty-cake with their phantom-like figures.

Senior Kyle Wilhelm, 17, embodied the lazy but ambitious individual as he lounged on a brown beanbag chair perched on a treadmill while snacking on Baked Doritos and listening to the band Disturbed on an MP3 player.

The installations pushed many of Katz's students into unknown territory.

"We're experimenting so much. Everything is brand new," said Stephanie Shade, 18, who worked with Hillary Shapiro, 17, and Brittany Sigley, 18, to set up the imaginary Katz Gallery's "Lifetime Achievements" exhibit, whose main attraction was a small piece of carpet surrounded by a gilded frame. "We're putting ourselves out there and doing things no one would."

As Shade and her peers put the finishing touches on their installations, they were using things few would associate with art, too.

White vinyl tablecloths and pink and green streamers enclosed the "party room" erected by Dana Brown, Abby Hirsch and Dean Brown, a square-shaped space with balloons, blowing bubbles and the beats of techno music in the background. A water gun, South Carroll High student agendas and a small straw carriage were among of the Junk Man's baggage, which Ehlman and partners Catherine Berg and Linda Matheus assembled.

Wilhelm's group littered their installation with bags of Baked Doritos and a bottle of low-fat chocolate milk to reinforce their theme of "more for less" - trying to get results while putting in little effort.

Their test audience seemed to get it.

"It brings out that he's using the treadmill for the opposite purpose of its main purpose," said sophomore Travis Tate, 16, as he observed Wilhelm and his co-artists, seniors Jason Azat and Kalina Blackwood, both 17.

Senior April Magee, 17, said she enjoyed seeing her peers put themselves into their art - and appreciated their desire for audience reactions to their work.

"It's cool how they're getting kids to interpret it their own way," Magee added.

Even as they relished the shock value of their lively roast pig, Frasco, Michie, Naugle and Rhoades said they hoped to make a point, much like the rest of their classmates.

"Art isn't really that boring ... It doesn't have to be with paint and pencil," Frasco said.

Michie nodded. "You can make it the way you want it to be."

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