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.
This activity fulfills Curricular Competencies in BC’s New Curriculum for the following subjects and classes:
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.”
Through this project participants will:
What You Will Need
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.
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.
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.
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.
This activity connects to Trevor Van den Eijnden’s exhibition a soul is not made of atoms.
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 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
Questions to Consider
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 email@example.com, 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.