Discarded, Upcycled, Patterned Public Art.


This past month, Richmond has been bicycle-crazy. The UCI Road World Championships were held in our city at the end of September, and the energy in RVA made me want to include some sort of bicycle themed unit in my student teaching. Well, the perfect opportunity arose when I saw someone from the bike shop I share an alley with throw a bunch of old tires into the garbage. In a lightbulb moment, I walked over and asked the bike shop guys if I could take those discarded tires for a children's art project. They were totally fine with it, and even asked if I wanted some old wheels as well. I sure did! I walked away with 9 old tires and 5 metal wheels that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill.

I decided that I would teach 4th graders about "upcycling" discarded materials as an art form. I showed them some examples of artists using "trash" and creatively turning it into art. We talked about Tyree Guyton's Heidelberg Project, a project called see/sea/saw by Caitlind r.c. Brown and Wayne Garrett, and sculptures made out of old tires by Yong Ho Ji. There are a million more examples I could have used of artists intercepting materials headed for landfills and creatively transforming them, but we only had so much time.

The Heidelberg Project by Tyree Guyton

sea/see/saw by Caitlind r.c. Brown & Wayne Garrett

Yong Ho Ji

After looking at examples of artists who creatively use discarded materials, we looked at some examples of pattern, including a perfect fusion of upcycling and pattern in CadenceVinyls' hand-painted vinyl records.

Students practiced their patterns on strips of paper using markers. Some did simple patterns with shapes, and some did more detailed drawings.

During the next class, we reviewed all of the artists we looked at the week before, as well as patterns, and each table of students got a tire divided into sections for them to make patterns on using red and blue markers (USA pride for the bike race!). I discovered during some testing that the white spray paint on the tires did a little damage to the nice Sharpie markers that my cooperating teacher just acquired, so we used some dry erase markers that she wasn't too attached to. It would have been nice if the students had been able to paint or use nicer, more colorful markers, but they still understood the concepts we were learning about and were able to practice patterns using the dry erase markers. We also discussed how the tires already have their own patterns on them and those markings can be used as a guide for their drawn patterns.

I loved seeing all of the students working together on a single tire. They were really good about staying in their section and they enjoyed looking at what other classmates or other tables did to their tires.

During the next class, I showed the students some images of artists using tires creatively in public art. We looked at work by the artist collective Pneumatic and discussed how public art can transform a space and also gives everyone access to art beyond the walls of a private home or museum.

Public art in Barcelona by Pneumatic

We went outside with our tires and some string, and each group worked together to select a spot on the fence and install their tire.

Afterwards, we stood back and looked at our installation. The students pointed out how before, they thought the fence was boring or didn't even notice it, and now it looks interesting, or like Tyree Guyton (they remembered his name!) popped into our school to make some public art.


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