Students turn everyday objects into art

Johanna Boyd has taken the ubiquitous plastic bag and turned it into a sculptural statement about consumerism, the environment and waste.

She gathered plastic bags and transformed them into a voluminous dress reminiscent of a ball gown or wedding dress.

Titled "Unbreathable," the piece is part of a new exhibit of work by Southern Oregon University sculpture students in the Art Building's Thorndike Gallery on campus.

The public is invited to an opening reception for the "Part Object Part Sculpture" exhibit from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. today at the gallery. The exhibit runs through March 15.

Boyd said she took plastic bags — annoying objects that consumers confront daily — and treated them as if they had value.

"This dress is a statement which asks us to question habits that are suffocating the environment, our health and our ability to choose quality over quantity," she said.

The dress and other works in the exhibit grew out of a sculpture class taught by Professor Marlene Alt.

Students learned about Marcel Duchamp, a 20th century French artist who famously submitted a urinal for an art exhibition.

While the urinal was rejected, Duchamp helped broaden the definition of art to found objects, often called ready-mades in the art world.

"They're exploring the human condition through objects and materials," Alt said of the intermediate and advanced sculpture students who took the class last quarter. "A lot of it is about industrially produced materials transformed into emotionally charged objects."

The class also focused on the repetitive, obsessive nature of some modern art.

Student Jeffrey Tapfer estimated he took about 70 hours to drill 5,776 dry wall screws into a board to create a wall hanging that manages to feel industrial, obsessive and minimalist — all at the same time.

"Someone said, 'I'll buy it from you. How much?'" Tapfer said. "I said, 'A dollar per screw.'"

In another installation in the exhibit, Tapfer collaborated with fellow student MaryAnne Carey to make life-size tape and cellophane figures of each other.

On her own, Carey filled a light bulb with stone-like material, then broke off the surrounding glass of the bulb.

The light bulb is plugged in for the exhibit, but emits no light because of the stone.

Accompanying the group student exhibit, Carey will have a solo show of more of her sculptural pieces in the Art Building's Retzlaff Gallery through March 15.

Alasdair Burns, who originally hails from Scotland, has a handmade ladder with broken rungs in the group show, and an intriguing exhibit of his own in the Marion Ady Building near the Art Building and Schneider Museum of Art on campus.

Burns, who helps make wine at Cliff Creek Cellars in Sams Valley, took wine barrels that were destined to become planters and made fragmented dome-like structures.

"There's been amazing wine in these barrels," Burns said as he surveyed his large-scale sculptures filling a wing of the Marion Ady Building. "That's part of why I didn't feel they should be planters."

Some of the wood slats still have sugar crystals on them from the winemaking process.

Looking inside the domed sculptures, wood that came from red wine barrels stands out with its burgundy hue.

The inventor of a patented plastic test tube used by universities, pharmaceutical companies and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, Burns began taking art classes at SOU when he realized he couldn't sketch out his ideas for inventions very well.

He owns Microstein Microtubes in Central Point and said he sees no disconnect between art and manufactured products.

"Whether you are creating a product, a piece of art or wine, it's all the same. You start with raw materials and make something new, whether it's plastic granules or wine," Burns said. "It's exploration. It's research."

Other students featured in the "Part Object Part Sculpture" exhibit include Will Barnes, Alan Arthur Hewitt, Jose Rivera and Andrea Young.

The Art Building and Marion Ady Building flank the Schneider Museum of Art, which is located on campus at the intersection of Siskiyou Boulevard and Indiana Street in Ashland.

For a map of the buildings and parking areas, visit

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or

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