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Do You Believe in Ghosts?

Last summer, the Art Institute hosted Charles Ray: Sculpture, 1997–2014 (pictured above), the first major exhibition of the contemporary sculptor’s work in over 15 years. During the run of the show and in affiiliation with Teen Programs at the museum, students from a Digital Imaging class at Jones College Prep High School visited the exhibition and had the opportunity to meet with the artist himself before creating video projects inspired by their experience. Students Kaeri Martinez and Ameerah Coleman wrote about the process of meeting Charles Ray and creating a video. Here are their words:

There is often a disconnect between an artist and the audience. It is a one-sided conversation—the audience can only interpret who the artist is by their art and all their questions must be answered by what is in front of them. It makes the artist into a distant entity or myth. However, for our Digital Imaging class the myth became a reality when we had the opportunity to meet and work with the world-famous sculptor, Charles Ray.

Our project began with a field trip to the Art Institute of Chicago to see the exhibition Charles Ray: Sculpture, 1997-2014. The purpose of our visit was to gain a greater perspective of Ray’s work and learn more about the ghost stories that have inspired some of his sculptures. The Art Institute Teen Programs staff kicked off our experience with an eerie discussion about ghost stories. Then, we split into smaller groups for conversations in the galleries around Ray’s pieces Hinoki and Unpainted Sculpture. Beginning with our own interpretations, we talked about the absence and presence of objects and people, spirituality, reproduction, process, time, and hauntings. We spent the remaining time wandering the galleries and taking in the exhibition. Simple and elegant, the sculptures were spaced out evenly throughout the gallery. Some were so small they could fit in the palm of your hand while others were twice the size of the average human. The conversation from the visit impacted our thinking and prompted us to to consider our own experiences with ghosts or ghost-like experiences.

Following our field trip, we got the opportunity meet with Charles Ray. We were all curious about the man behind these amazing sculptures. Who is Charles Ray, really? What kind of person is he? Why does he make his art?

When Ray arrived we were all in our seats, quietly watching him, not knowing what to expect. With no introduction, he walked to the center of the room, pulled up a chair, slouched down, and began casually talking with us. Everyone was in a state of awe, our minds whirling as we tried to figure out what he had planned. One of the first things he asked was whether we believed in ghosts. Ray then quickly ventured into some pretty provocative topics we don’t typically have the chance to talk about in a classroom. Needless to say we were absolutely captivated. He also told his ghost stories, which were thought provoking and revealed intriguing bits about the artist himself. Finally, Ray shared his thoughts on video as a medium, making art as a teenager compared to marking art as a professional artist, and finally, scary movies. His presence was both invigorating and calming. We admired his thoughtful and quiet personality. As Jones student Joe Kellehar said, “He was himself. He knew who he was.”

His visit to our Digital Imaging III class became one of the most memorable parts of our high school experience. And before he left, Ray invited us to create videos addressing the ghosts or problems in our lives—real, imagined, or otherwise. He provided us with a lot of inspiration, saying “You may be in high school, you may have no budget, but that doesn't mean you can't make something great through who you are today. Launch it into time. Don't make art for your class. Make it for the people. Do something now from your soul and your heart.”

After our meeting with Charles Ray, our teacher, Mr. Myers, put an exclamation mark on his visit by telling us our videos were going to be shown at at the Art Institute of Chicago (see below for details!). It was an intimidating task, but our class set to work right away, brainstorming, filming, acting, and editing our ghost stories. For us, the hardest part of the process was coming up with an idea, sticking to it throughout the process, and executing it in a way that matched our vision. It was helpful to think about Ray’s ghost stories; they represented his daily life and were deeply personal to him. We wanted to emulate that in our stories as well. With green screen and other post-production effects at our disposal, we had an amazing time creating our ghost stories and are really excited to share them with you all! 

And now the Art Institute of Chicago is proud to present Do You Believe In Ghosts?, a public screening of videos produced through this special project. Join us Thursday, January 14 at 6:00pm for an eerie evening of conversation and ghost stories created by students from Jones College Prep.

Many thanks to writers Kaeri Martinez (Junior at Jones College Prep and member of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Teen Council) and Ameerah Coleman (Senior at Jones College Prep and member of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Teen Lab program, a partnership with After School Matters) for contributing this piece.