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Art in the Time of Crisis


Diablo Valley College



Course level 

Introduction to 3D Design, Sculpture I, college lower division


Conversation points for instructors

This was my first assignment when my F2F beginning sculpture college course suddenly went fully online last spring 2020. Because of the sudden overnight shift, students did not have ANY tools or equipment, or prepared "kits." I felt that this project worked for shifting to making work from home with whatever was on hand, it was low-tech, and it was relevant to the moment of shifting to social distancing, the shelter in place, and coronavirus. SO I think that this works for a fully online asynchronous project. 

I will assign this two part project again, but with much refinement. This felt like an emergency project assignment at the time. In the future, I will it improve it by:

  • adding more scaffolding to develop ideas/models before the due date

  • extending the project time frame (they only had one week for this at the time)

  • incorporating/reflecting more of the psychological effects social isolation, as well as the confluences of events in this time of crisis

Rather than focus singularly on the Covid-19 pandemic, this challenge can consider movement/uprising for racial justice, the political climate, anxieties created from loss of work, loss of stability of college plans, concern about family, etc.  And this too can shift as we confront more change.


I collaborate with my sculpture instructor colleague, Luke Damiani, who also assigned this project at the same time. 



Project Prompt / Challenge

This 2 part project explores these questions:

How do we make art in a time of crisis? What shifts happen for artists when we are forced to work from home and we are isolated? How do we respond as artists with changes like a global pandemic, splintered politics, or a racial justice movement? What role do we, as artists, play when the world is upended? 



Part 1: Sculpture Project:

You have 2 options for this sculpture:

Create an object that responds to our current Covid-19 crisis.

Create an object to be used for social distancing, an innovative piece of safety gear or tool kit, or a body ornament. It can be a form of fashion, a product design prototype, a goofy sculpture object. It is likely you will have an idea that is similar to something that already exists; expand and personalize your idea if it feels too much like "its been done".


For inspiration, check out the site   There are a few other links with examples for body ornament design for Covid response below. 

Consider doing this project with others in your home if you are in isolation, or with children in your family, if they are home from school.


Create an installation, diorama, or singular object that expresses a form of measurement that responds to the pandemic, to political events, or to American systemic racism.  

For inspiration on how artwork can translate a history or experience into measurements of time and objects, check out this video by Sonya Clark. In her work, a 500 inch thread of gold becomes the translated measurement of miles between Ghana, Africa and Virginia, USA, a voyage that was 5000 miles, and a single 30ft long dreadlock becomes the measurement of one person's average life span, measured in terms of growth per year.   Also consider how the artist Felix Gonzalez Torres measured the weight of his partner who died of the AIDS virus and translated that body weight into candy weight, creating the artwork Untitled (portraits of Ross). The pile of candy was a stand in for human body and viewers could take one piece of candy to eat.  


Many artists use ritual as a form of measurement as well.  For example, they may record hours in isolation with drawn marks, erase lines in a book as they read it, or record an experience in diary/quilt/origami form, all of these daily rituals can become a daily form of resistance or hope. A birthday cake with the number of candles corresponding to age is a common form of this idea.  When Adrian Brandon draws the portraits in his Stolen series of African Americans killed by police, he only allows himself one minute per year of the subject's life.


There are many opportunities to consider time right now: days until the election, days spent in SIP, days unemployed, days a loved one has been ill, minutes that the police were on George Floyd's neck. Or consider historic time to measure: years of slavery in this country, years of segregation, etc, For this project option, consider repetition as an element of design, and how it may be assembled into a larger form or installation. Consider making a small object for each increment of measurement you choose; a folded paper form, a sewn flower, an aluminum foil form, a fabric and thread form covered in wax.  Materials are up to you; but the number of pieces/marks/actions must be intentional and clear. 

The slide presentation (linked below) includes artists who have responded to crisis of various forms. Some use practical solutions, some conceptual, some with humor, and some with political activism.

Part 2: Research and Writing Response:

In the Art in the Time of Crisis sculpture project, we have explored body ornament as art. Body ornament has a long history in art, and extensive range in design (from jewelry to theater props/costumes to fashion to prosthetics and product design). For our project, we considered how to use art to respond to this global pandemic crisis. The artworks are sometimes practical, sometimes psychological, sometimes socio-political. We have also innovated; materials and products now have new form and functions. Sculpture is about skill, but also about content. For your research, dive into what is provided below.  In doing so, note

how the work exhibited also focuses on art in the time of crisis (WWI) and how artists responded to it in practical, psychological, socio-political, and technically innovative ways. It also features several more contemporary artists like Rebecca Horn.

Extended Bodies, TATE etc, LISA LE FEUVRE, 6.25.19

"Artworks have a crucial role in enabling us to imagine our own selves through the technologised body, particularly in times of crisis." 

"Lives and limbs: how prosthetics transformed the art" The Guardian, Kathryn Hughes, 6.15.2016  

"What sculpture can also do is ask what happens when form moves beyond function. Running through The Body Extended is an anxiety about the dangers inherent in the new generation of prosthetics that aim to turn us into a modified super race, with steel legs and bionic eyes. At what point does a human figure become so supplemented that it no longer counts as merely mortal?" "For what, really, is a smartphone but a super-powered detachable prosthesis?"

A conversation with the curator of the exhibition: "Exhibition review: The Body Extended: Sculpture and Prosthetics @ Henry Moore Institute, Leeds," Rich Jevons, The State of the Arts, 8.7.16

"For me it is about how all of us have the desire to exceed the limits of our own body. One of the things that make us so human is our frailty, the limits of our body, and then what happens when we exceed that. I’d really like people to think about the thing we know best, our own body, how we move in the world and how our limbs have form and function and at times can be extended."

Now answer the following:

1. How did artists play a crucial role just after WWI? 

2. How did artists in this show use satire/humor to point out concerns about Industrialization and war and what it was doing to human bodies?

3. Answer this as a ARTIST: Since crisis is a catalyst for change, what do you imagine may be some of the innovations in technology (not medicine or politics) that comes out of this? What can you imagine as an upcoming anxiety (medicine, politics, policy, technology) that artists may reflect in their art?


This project is intended to use materials found at home and in recycle bins. Basic tools may be useful: hot glue, staples, scissors, box cutters, rulers, sewing machine.


This was originally set for a one week project. In the future I will develop the project further with a "ask anything" discussion to further unpack the project, prototype model first, in-progress critique, as well as the written research assignment


Online / Video Resources:

Video: Yes Men's Survivaballs

for the research project: 

The Extending Bodies exhibition links, which include more artists during WWI artists response: 

Extended Bodies, TATE etc, LISA LE FEUVRE, 6.25.19


"Lives and limbs: how prosthetics transformed the art" The Guardian, Kathryn Hughes, 6.15.2016  


"Exhibition review: The Body Extended: Sculpture and Prosthetics @ Henry Moore Institute, Leeds," Rich Jevons, The State of the Arts, 8.7.16


For artists responding to the pandemic:

Article: "The Strange Lives of Objects in the Coronavirus Era" Sophie Haigney, The New York Times

Resource: Design in Quarantine


For artists responding to politics, racial uprising and BLM movement, racial injustice, systemic racism and white supremacy (but also for artists working with repetition as an element of design, or measurements in general):

Adrian Brandon's Stolen Series

David Huffman on abstraction and repetition

Sonya Clark Links:

Sonya Clark Art Assignment: Measuring histories



The following links connect to PowerPoints of inspirational artists

Art in the Time of Crisis 
Inspirations PowerPoint
Rebecca Horn 
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