Written by: Cheryl Ring, ceramic artist and SCC juried Professional Craftsperson
The Healing Heart is a socially-engaged visual art project that will culminate in the creation of a large-scale collaborative sculpture. To launch the project, I will be bringing together up to 2,000 students and 150 staff from Saskatchewan’s largest high school, Carlton Comprehensive in Prince Albert. I was a student at Carlton, struggling with the issues that are a reality for so many young people. My relationship with the school has continued as a parent and, most recently, as a mentor. It was in the latter role that I made strong connections to the staff and students, who made me feel I had a place at Carlton. Now I want to give back.
In preparation for this project, I will create a large-scale sculptural heart (approximately 10” x 8” x 2”). The heart will be constructed with wooden support frame, with struts adhered to the edge to create depth. Chicken wire will complete the base of the sculpture and I will use papier mâché techniques to sculpt the piece. I will use local newspapers to create the base layers of paper. This choice of material is purposeful, connecting place and the heartbeat of the city to an exploration of personal narrative.
I am focusing on the heart shape because it is culturally significant and universally recognizable. The shape is entrenched in our psyche as a cultural icon. The heart is found in clothing, accessories, architecture, art, video games, restaurant menus, and even on top of our morning lattes. The shape is a significant expression of a shared understanding; a feeling without words. It is a logograph, used to express a biological organ in its metaphorical or symbolic sense as the centre of emotion, including affection and love. It has a universally recognizable shape and meaning which connotes love. Hearts reminds us of who we love and why. Hearts are known to be the center of life, and of all beings. It can take on an entity of its own, becoming broken, happy, wise, grieving, and healing.
As a history fanatic, I am eager to know how ideas have evolved. When heart imagery began creeping into my work, I met my impulse with a deep curiosity about the heart as a symbol. As I started to investigate its history and current use I realized that hearts are everywhere. The familiar symbol of the heart representing love developed in fifteenth and sixteenth century art. There are many works from this period that include a heart shaped object with the point facing upward and a slight indent at the opposite end. The more modern and familiar scalloped shape we recognize as a heart now developed over time, becoming more pronounced with its point facing downward. The symbol has become ubiquitous, permeating every facet of society. In this way it is a symbol that we absorb into our unconscious, not noticing it consciously, but relating to the shape nonetheless. As an affectionate person, the symbol is meaningful to me as a strong representation of my connection to others. This desire to connect is the driving force behind the collaborative aspect of the work.
Once my studio work is complete, I will bring the work-in-progress to Carlton to be finalized in collaboration with students. My process will begin in small class groups. I will work with the teachers to understand the history and needs of their students. We will collaborate on the best approach to creating a safe space for sharing. I will visit each classroom to introduce myself, discuss my goals for the project, and explain how I envision the student’s contribution. Students will be encouraged to write a brief statement on paper. The statement will be personal to the participant. It may be a wish for the future, a prayer for family, friends, or culture, a release of worry or trauma, or a message of peace, forgiveness, or healing. The statements will be anonymous and written with coloured sharpies that I supply. Once the statements are complete, I will work with the students to utilize papier mâché methods to apply their statements as the final, visible layer of the existing sculpture. My priority in using these statements is not necessarily to ensure they are readable, but that each participant’s intention has been released and found a place to rest.
My primary goal for The Healing Heart is to nurture community. This project will provide an opportunity for participants to come together and heal those things that are hurting their hearts. To explore, acknowledge, and release trauma. This practice of self-care is personal and introspective, but it allows for the healing necessary to care for each other and release good intention to the universe. As an artist I am always making art for me, but I feel a responsibility to give back to my community as well. This desire to use art as a vehicle for expression, ideas, and change, combined with over ten years of technical skill development in fine art sculpture makes me qualified to do this work. My existing connection to Carlton will allow me the trust needed to take on this important project.
The finished piece will be on display at Carlton. Ideas have consciousness and will and I want this project to resonate with the school community now and in the future.