Art teacher, Laura Hall Tesdahl of Emerson Middle School, created the Evidence project in conjunction with the University of Illinois at Chicago, Contemporary Community Curriculum Initiative.

Try to imagine collecting evidence from every activity, routine, and place that you encounter over a two-week period. What if you were not allowed to throw away anything that you would normally toss out in the trash? What kind of things would accumulate? What kind of information would it reveal about you? What if you needed to provide evidence of where you were everyday, what you ate, who you were with, and what you did? What could you collect from the places you inhabit and the experiences you have, to prove that you were there and that you were a “part of it”?

Cultures reveal much of what they are and what they value through what is consumed and discarded each day. In this project, students collect evidence of their lives each day for the duration of the unit. The things that are collected are used to create a series of small installations that portray a single moment of a life or many moments in a life. The installations change each day as students incorporate new evidence and learn new formal strategies of composition. Through this postmodern project, students can also effectively learn modernist principles of design. Rather than spending days completing a single ink sketch or collage that illustrates a particular principle, students engage in the dynamic activity of arranging and rearranging found materials--experimenting with many possible combinations within a few class periods.

By looking at the work of artists who have tried to make meaning out of their everyday lives and ordinary objects, students gain insight into the potential relationships between art and contemporary life. How does it change one’s conception of art to think of it as a reflection of reality or as a residue of lived experience?

This project gives teachers and students the opportunity to take a closer look at what may be missed, passed by, or discarded each day. It creates opportunities to think symbolically and metaphorically about mundane remnants and scraps. Students and teachers discover new things about themselves and each other, not through trying to find some inner essence, but rather through reaching a better understanding the minutiae that make up a life.

From an aesthetic point of view, one of the best characteristics of this project is that it is not structured to result in a final, fixed collage or assemblage. Recognizing that for over thirty years, artists have been interested in temporary, less structured forms of creating visual art, the project is conceived as transitory and performative. Students collect, display, communicate, and then disassemble the artworks--sometimes within a single class period. This aids students in understanding that permanence is not necessarily a criterion of the quality of an artwork and it opens up students’ understanding to many sophisticated contemporary art practices.

This project can be done on a large or small scale. Students can make individual installations on their desks or students with common themes can work together in groups at tables to create larger pieces. The groups at tables could discover ways to unify all of the pieces into a larger work. The scale of the artwork would depend on the amount of evidence and the size of the space available to install the work.