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Students wield shovels, brave elements to create art from recent abundant snowfall

Feb. 26, 2015

Photograph of art class. Professor Natalie Coletta (left) poses with students Julia Cusack, Jake Proulx, Diego Antelo, Luca Aceto, Victoria Ezikovich, Aidan Brock and Sam Litwin after the group worked to create a Fibonacci spiral in the snow at the Knight Campus in Warwick. View a video about the project.

At this point in winter, most of us would do almost anything to avoid picking up a shovel. But students in Professor Natalie Coletta's "Art History: Modern Through Contemporary" class recently tried a different tack: Because they couldn't beat the snow, they were going to work with it.

Largely hidden from view near the Enrollment Services entrance to the Knight Campus, Coletta and her eight students were hard at work over the course of two days last week carving a large-scale work of land art from what had been pristine snow. Inspired by their readings on existentialism as well as the ephemeral works of art in nature as made by the likes of Robert Smithson and Andy Goldsworthy, the students had decided that one of their two collaborative projects this year should be a Fibonacci spiral – the "golden ratio" – visible from above.

"The snow was really inspiring to the students. They chose to make this large-scale piece because there is so much ample natural resource to work with, and they wanted to make something that everybody could enjoy. It's very much inspired by the idea of conquering the winter and finding the soil of spring at the bottom of it all," said Coletta.

Students Victoria Ezikovich and Aidan Brock began the process by surveying a path with stakes and rope, starting from fixed points on the side of the hill. "You don't really see a lot of performance art anymore on this scale, so this is really exciting," said Ezikovich as she looked out onto the expanse.

Students work to create a snow spiral at the Knight Campus.There was a great deal of improvisation involved: Brock, a Fine Arts major who said he typically works only in two dimensions on a small scale, said that this was his first large sculptural piece. Armed with only their wits, a photocopied drawing of the space with the spiral sketched over it and a strong constitution – on the first day of the project, another 4 inches of snow fell; college videographer Norm Grant joked that he felt as though he was on an expedition with Ernest Shackleton rather than a group of art students – they got to work.

Onlookers watched from the windows on the sixth floor while students tromped through sometimes waist-high snow below. Student Ian Dukette directed the action via cell phone from his bird's eye vantage point before coming down to help shovel out the path.

For one student, the beauty of the project was just as much about acquiescing to nature's power as it was overcoming it. "It's as if we're trying to triumph over nature, but that's truly impossible," said Julia Cusack. "Time will eventually devour this as it devours all things. But this is going to be a lot of fun."

At the end of the first day, the students had worked together to shovel a preliminary path, which they widened on the second day of work to make the spiral more visible. The class held some post-mortem discussion on what they could have perhaps done differently: made the spiral smaller, the path wider and so on. But as the snow continues to melt and the land begins to reconstitute, as Cusack pointed out, time will make its own tweaks to the art the students shaped from what nature wrought.

"It was definitely a worthwhile pursuit," said Coletta of the project. "In the coming weeks, this will be a reference point for us. We all went out there together and now we have this experience of creating an original work. We don't have control over what's going to happen next. But we're embracing change."

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Last Updated: 8/25/16