While many may remember middle and high school as a time of not fitting in, Tavares Strachan's neon sculpture and its reaffirming statement, "I Belong Here," is starting its world tour at Cary Academy.
The 10-by-12-foot artwork, spelling out the title in fragments of glass tubing on a black wall, seeks to inspire thought about our place in the global community.
Strachan, who holds degrees in liberal arts from Brown University, glass-making from Rhode Island School of Design and an MFA from Yale University, said he hopes to inspire others but that he is inspired by those who view his art. While at Cary Academy, he answered students' questions and held conversations that he said will affect his future artwork.
Born in the Bahamas, Strachan's themes often touch on displacement and global issues such as immigration. In one of his pieces, "Where We Are Is Always Miles Away," he had a section of sidewalk removed from New Haven, Conn., along with a parking meter, street signs and a water valve cover. He reassembled the items and sealed them inside a chamber at a gallery. For another, "The Distance Between What We Have and What We Want," he shipped a 4.5-ton piece of Alaskan ice to Nassau, where it was installed in a glass-paneled freezer powered by solar panels.Q:
Why did you decide to start the world tour of "I Belong Here" at Cary Academy?A:
One of the students' moms is part of our arts organization, and she mentioned that Cary Academy was an interesting place. I think it has a certain kind of energy, and there is an access to imagination here.Q:
The students helped you install the artwork, but you also spoke with them. Were you teaching about how you work?A:
We were really having conversations, like you and I are having. I gain influences from them, and they inspire future works. There was an impressive level of communication.Q:
Your biography states that you were a "displaced sculptor." What does that mean?A:
I was born on an island, far outside of the arts centers of New York, London or Paris. I'm not a materials specialist. I was trained in glass-making; it would be easy to limit it to that, but I think it's about learning how to think about the world.
It's funny - our society offers more and more access, but we are becoming more specialized. It's related to branding ... I decided it wasn't going to be a short-distance race. I've been lucky; just about everything I make is in a show. I love what I do, and I'm willing to live and die with the result.Q:
Referencing your title, "I Belong Here," do you think the definitions of our identity are too restrictive?A:
Our society functions in sound bites. Usually, having a longer conversation means you care; you want to spend time with an idea.Q:
Why do you feel so much social responsibility, as an artist?A:
I had a teacher, in maybe ninth or tenth grade, who said, "One way of evaluating a piece of work is whether someone cared or not." That sense of caring is part of my process. I think it is a feel, or intuition thing. There is a triangle, a relationship, among the artist, the object he makes and the audience. All need to be functioning at a high level. I shy away from the word "education." It's more about exchange. Education presupposes an authoritarian view that I don't think I like.Q:
What do you think about the Cary Academy students as an audience?A:
You can't fool these guys; they don't know how to lie. Young people can be a tough audience, but they are also very good.Q:
You seem very adept with technology, and engineering feats feature heavily in your work. Do you think art and technology are opposing forces or support each other?A:
I think they are on a balancing beam, struggling to co-exist. For artists today, there is more opportunity, more access. More and more art is influenced by technology. And I think technology is influenced by art. Art can help solve those problems. You can have the most sophisticated technology, but if there is no art to it, it won't work.
I feel optimistic about it. There is a coexistence, a flow. I think people have an antiquated view of artists ... an old guy with a beard in a darkened room, painting. But today, there are more opportunities for artists than ever before. Two hundred years ago, artists didn't have Google, the Internet, Twitter. I think there is enough room, plenty of space for all of us.