When I was a teenager, my life revolved around school, sports, family and friends, and cringeworthy encounters with the opposite sex. Which I would say are pretty standard priorities for the American teenager. And although I know hindsight is 20/20, I certainly wish that during that time I had been more open to cultural experiences and more aware of what was happening in the world at large. This is a long and perhaps unnecessarily reflexive way of saying that I'm so jealous of the teenagers who take part in the Art Institute's Teen Lab each semester.
Teen Lab is a collaboration between the Art Institute and the After School Matters organization that brings 12 Chicago teens into the museum for an intensive program that teaches students about the museum, collection, and staff and allows the students to work on collaborative and individual art projects. During the recent fall semester, the teens explored the museum and investigated themes like collecting, mapping, and storytelling. For the first five weeks, they created a collaborative mapping collage (detail pictured above). They incorporated ephemera—ranging from receipts to street cleaning signs to CTA cards—collected from their trips to and from the museum, alongside images of artworks, fabric, photos from magazines and newspapers, and printed pieces from the museum. Ultimately they created an incredibly detailed and personalized map of the city of Chicago that included landmarks, neighborhoods, and geographical features. At the same time, the teens also mapped their individual experiences in the museum by creating personal museum collages (pictured below) that used the museum’s floorplan, digital photos taken in the galleries, and other materials. They shared their collages with museum staff in the galleries, presenting key artworks, spaces, and moments that were meaningful to them.
For the second five weeks of Teen Lab, the teens created digital collage projects that combined visual imagery, video, and sound. Each centered around personal themes like love, the representation of women in media, war and destruction, and nature. I was lucky to be present at the screening of these projects and was struck by the way each student connected artworks made across centuries to their own very contemporary experiences and emotions. And although I'm sure that these teens deal with many of the same issue that I did at their age, their engagement with the museum and the city of Chicago has led to extraordinarily creative expressions, as you can see.
The collaborative mapping collage and personal museum collages are currently on display in the Ryan Education Center. Click here for more information on Teen Lab.