Shadow Box: Activity Inspired by Contemporary Artist Trevor Van den Eijnden and 19th Century Designer William Morris

Self-guided activity

OVERVIEW

Try your hand at an exciting art making activity, inspired by a soul is not made of atoms, a solo exhibition by Vancouver-based artist Trevor Van den Eijnden at The Reach Gallery Museum. This activity is designed for high school students and adults.


Figure 1. Shadow Box Activity example.

Curricular Competencies

This activity fulfills Curricular Competencies in BC’s New Curriculum for the following subjects and classes:

  • Arts Education: Visual Arts 9; Art Studio 10, 11, 12; Studio Arts 3D 10, 11, 12; Graphic Arts 11, 12.
  • Social Studies: Social Studies 9, 10, 11; Social Justice 12.
  • Science: Science for Citizens 11; Environmental Science 11, 12; Geology 12.

To see relevant connections between this activity and BC’s New Curriculum, scroll down to view downloadable PDF “Curricular Competencies Related to Shadow Box Activity.”

 

Learning Outcomes

Through this project participants will:

  • Understand how artists have interpreted nature
  • See how contemporary artists draw on historical artists for inspiration
  • Understand how attitudes about nature have changed over time, as expressed by two artists: William Morris and Trevor Van den Eijnden
  • Learn about works of art in Trevor Van den Eijnden’s exhibition a soul is not made of atoms
  • Deepen their understanding of Van den Eijnden’s work by making a shadow box

 

What You Will Need

  • A PDF-viewing application, such as Adobe Acrobat, installed on your computer
  • A printed copy of our 8.5”x11” page colour shadow box template, based on the Trellis design by William Morris
  • X-acto knife and self-healing cutting mat or other safe cutting surface
  • Ruler
  • Clear tape
  • Glue stick (optional)
  • Flashlight
  • Phone camera/camera

ESTIMATED TIME: 30-60 MINUTES

KEY CONCEPTS AND VOCABULARY

Industrial Revolution  |  Arts & Crafts Movement  |  Anthropocene

 

 

ABOUT THE ARTIST

Originally from Nova Scotia, Trevor Van den Eijnden has been based in British Columbia since 2007. In addition to maintaining his own art practice, he also works as the Program Head of the Visual Arts Department at the Visual College of Art and Design in downtown Vancouver. He completed his Master of Fine Art (MFA) at Emily Carr University in Vancouver in 2015, after earning two simultaneous undergraduate degrees in Halifax: a Bachelor of Fine Art (BFA) from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and a Bachelor of Art (BA) in English Literature from Dalhousie University.

 

 

ABOUT THE EXHIBITION

a soul is not made of atoms is the title of Van den Eijnden’s first major solo exhibition, which opened at The Reach on January 23, 2020. The exhibition includes sculpture, light installation, text-based work, and photography. All the work is linked by some common themes, including how we understand and experience nature, time, and grief.

You can learn more about the exhibition by watching our series of online video tours at: www.thereach.ca/athome


Figure 2. View looking into sham-real shadows installation room, The Reach Gallery Museum Abbotsford.


Figure 3: Photograph of a painting of St.Rollox Chemical Works at the opening of the Garnkirk and Glasgow railway in 1831 painted by D.O. Hill. Image in the public domain.

Background

What was the Industrial Revolution?

The Industrial Revolution was a major shift in manufacturing processes, that in turn ushered in many transformations in society. It began in Britain and the United States at the end of the 18th century, when new mechanical and chemical processes were introduced that replaced previous hand-production methods. Massive factories were built in cities to produce new consumer goods in large quantities, and urban populations increased dramatically as many people relocated from farms and the countryside to seek factory work. The Industrial Revolution had an enormous impact on the environment, as many of the new industries produced toxic waste that was not regulated. Some believe that the Industrial Revolution marked the beginning of our current Anthropocene era.

 

What is the Anthropocene?

The Anthropocene is the current geological age, defined as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment. For some experts, the increase of burning coal during the Industrial Revolution is a key factor in determining the start of the Anthropocene.

Who was William Morris (1834-1896) and why was the Arts & Crafts Movement important?

Wiliam Morris was a 19th Century English designer, artist, writer, and socialist activist. Morris was a leading figure in the Arts & Crafts Movement, which grew out of a reaction against the Industrial Revolution. Morris and other proponents of the Arts & Crafts Movement were horrified by industrialized production, instead advocating for traditional, hand production techniques. Morris created hugely popular designs and patterns for textiles, furniture, book illustrations, wallpaper, glass, and other forms that often harkened back to medieval folktales, and which often featured botanical and naturalistic themes.

While Morris had a great reverence for nature and natural forms, he felt that nature must be combined with human design. Rather than simply copying natural forms exactly, he preferred somewhat stylized renditions of nature that showed signs of human intervention. At the height of the Industrial Revolution, just as mankind’s ability to damage the environment was ramping up, Morris’ work helped to popularize designed representations of nature as a consumer product that could be used to decorate interior spaces in cities and towns.


Figure 4. Portrait of William Morris, age 53. Photo taken c. 1887. Image in the public domain.



Figure 5. Trellis wallpaper, designed by William Morris, manufactured by Jeffrey & Co., 1875, England. Museum no. E.452-1919. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Sourced from https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/william-morris-and-wallpaper-design


Figure 6. Trevor Van den Eijnden, familiar strangers (installation detail), 2014-ongoing. Paper, MDF, embroidery thread, screws, mobile flashlight required.

Works of Art in a soul is not made of atoms

This activity connects to Trevor Van den Eijnden’s exhibition a soul is not made of atoms.

 

familiar strangers

familiar strangers is a series of wall-mounted, paper cubes that are laser-cut with patterns based on wallpapers that were popular at the time of the Industrial Revolution, which often featured botanical and naturalistic themes. William Morris is the most famous designer of naturalist wallpaper from this era, and his designs remain popular today. Many of Van den Eijnden’s works of art in this series make direct reference to William Morris’ designs.

When viewed in-person, visitors are encouraged to use a flashlight to cast shadow patterns with the boxes. The natural forms represented in these works only “come alive” when human beings interact with them.

You can see an example of this interaction here: https://www.trevorvandeneijnden.com/portfolio/familiarstrangers-on-fubiz-2016/

sham-real shadows

sham-real shadows recreates an abstracted pattern based on William Morris’ famous Acanthus wallpaper design from 1874.

At the apex of the Industrial Revolution, Morris created highly aestheticized designs like this one in response to his contemporaries who strove for overly naturalistic patterns which Morris called “…sham-real [branches] and flowers, casting shamreal shadows.”

Van den Eijnden’s work consists of a wooden box that has been laser-cut with the Acanthus pattern, placed in the centre of an 18×18 foot room. Inside the box there is a high-intensity light source which, when illuminated, casts shadows of the pattern in all directions: on the walls, the floor, and onto the bodies of viewers who enter the room.


Figure 7. Trevor Van den Eijnden, sham-real shadows (installation detail). Laser-cut MDF, embroidery thread, custom light fixture, and you.


Figure 8: Acanthus wallpaper, designed by William Morris, manufactured by Jeffrey & Co., 1875, England. Museum no. E.800-1915 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Sourced from https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/william-morris-and-wallpaper-design

Activity

  1. Carefully cut out white space inside the box template with an X-acto knife. Use a ruler to help you cut the square of the centre of the template.
  2. On the template, note where arrows and “fold” instructions where sections of the box must be folded in order to create a tab.
  3. Next, cut out the box template from its white background using a X-acto knife and ruler.
  4. Once all of your cutouts are complete, turn the template over so that the back is facing up. Fold each of the tabs.
  5. To complete the 3D box, fold each of the six squares so that they become a cube.
  6. Assemble the box by applying tape/glue to the foldable tabs on the box template. Take care to keep the tabs of the box on the inside of the box when assembling.
  7. If needed, reinforce the edges of the box by carefully applying small strips of clear tape.
  8. Turn off the lights and illuminate your box with light from your flashlight. For best results, direct the light through the square cut-out at the base of the box. Play around with the different shadows that your box makes as you move your flashlight toward or away from the cut-out. Explore how the shadows change as you move closer to and farther away from a hard surface (i.e., a wall).
  9. Take a picture of your box and its shadows and share it on your social media. (You might need a second pair of hands to help you take the picture.) Don’t forget to tag us on Instagram (@thereachgallery) and Twitter (@TheReach) and use the hashtag #shadowbox.

Downloadable Resources

Download a shadow box template (4.9MB)

Download Curricular Competencies (89KB)

Download a PDF of this Edukit (24.4MB)

 


Questions to Consider

  1. How do you think attitudes toward the environment have changed between William Morris’ lifetime and Trevor Van den Eijnden’s?
  2. Can you think of a landscape that has changed in your lifetime? What caused these changes? Were they related to climate change? Building and development?

Expand

  1. What do you think the natural environment will be like in a century from now? Imagine you are an artist in the future. As this future artist, make a work of art in a medium of your choice to expressing your feelings or attitude toward the environment.

Keep Track & Give Back

If you use this free resource with your high school students at school / at home, we’d love to hear from you! Send an email to Diana Hiebert (Curator of Learning and Community Engagement at The Reach) at dhiebert@thereach.ca, with your comments including the number and age range of participants. This statistical information is important to us as a not-for-profit organization and will allow us to continue offering this kind of content.