ERIN GANNON ’19
The musings of an angst-filled high schooler are etched into a wooden desk which sits in a uniform row facing a mostly empty blackboard and an American flag—but not in a high school classroom. Rather, they are deliberately arranged in the Widener Gallery in Trinity’s Austin Arts Center as a part of Associate Professor of Studio Arts Jade Hoyer’s exhibit “study”.
Hoyer, who joins Trinity’s faculty for the year as an Ann Plato Fellow, is completing a one-year post-graduate fellowship. In her capacity at Trinity, she is teaching Studio Arts courses and pursuing her own research and work. Her exhibit “study”, which opened on Oct. 13, is on display in the Widener Gallery through Dec. 9.
Hoyer grew up in Michigan and attended Carleton College for her undergraduate studies, where she majored in Studio Arts and minored in Environmental Studies. After working in college access and higher-education administrative roles in Minnesota for six years, Hoyer pursued her Masters of Fine Arts in printmaking at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
The inspiration for “study” came most notably from her time working for College Possible, a non-profit AmeriCorps organization that aims to assist low-income students in the college admissions process. Hoyer worked at a high school in North Minneapolis, Minn. “It ended up being a sort of formative experience for me,” Hoyer said. “As a biracial person, when people would discuss the notions of privilege I would almost tune out automatically. But I hadn’t fully comprehended the extent of the privilege that I had had within my educational experience—I went to a suburban high school and then Carleton—until I was working at this high school.”
The exhibit takes the form of installation art, which means all of the pieces of the exhibit are shown in a gallery and work together to cumulatively have an overall impact. Though Hoyer’s inspiration for “study” came from her time working with high schoolers, the project did not begin to take shape until her time at UT Knoxville. “I kind of knew that I wanted to make something related to a classroom setting,” she said. “The studio building where our graduate studios were was an old classroom building that still had this one classroom that I walked by on a near daily basis. I think it was a combination of having this really formative intellectual and emotional experience of working in this high school, and then the constant visual of walking past this empty classroom space as well.
Hoyer collected the materials for the project from surplus services at UT Knoxville. “A lot of it was a giant scavenging project,” she said. “When I look back on it, it connects with my interest in Environmental Studies. It was appealing for me to be able to repurpose a lot of these supplies.”
The exhibit is comprised of different images, “each illustrating some aspect of privilege in secondary education.” High up on the wall adjacent to the entrance of the exhibit in large print is the text ““STUDENT NAME HERE” is ranked “X” in their class of”, which is followed by the struck through number 273. The number leads a cardstock chain descending in numeric order all the way to the number 156. Hoyer explained that this image was based on recommendation letters she wrote for the high school students she worked with. “The high school I worked at had a really low graduation rate and an even lower rate of students going on to pursue college,” she said. “Every time I wrote a letter of recommendation for these students I would have to check their class rank out of the constantly dwindling high school class. Every day it was a smaller number.”
On the wall adjacent to the class rank display is a large flower-like sculpture made of used scantron sheets. “It’s a schematic based on the Doris Marshall Institute at the University of Toronto, which is promotes education about social change,” Hoyer explained. “They do a schematic called the ‘power flower’, and the idea is that each petal represents some aspect of social identity. The idea behind the flower is that you look at intersectionality and how all of these things contribute to how you benefit or don’t benefit within society.” Hoyer used scantrons to be reflective of identity beyond a binary.
Directly in front of the entrance to the exhibit are two sets of ceiling tiles, one hanging from the gallery’s ceiling and one arranged opposite on the floor. Stuck in each set of tiles are several blue and yellow pencils in the shape of a star. The star on the upper set is made of primarily blue pencils, and the lower of primarily yellow pencils, illustrating the racial achievement gap. “It’s an illustration of the Minneapolis District high school graduation rate,” Hoyer said. “The upper ceiling tile indicates students who are graduating, while the lower ceiling tile indicates students who have failed to graduate. The color of the pencils is also indicative of the students’ races. Students of color are represented in yellow, and white students in blue.”
The centerpiece of the exhibit are nine desks situated in rows of three, facing a teacher’s desk and a blackboard, much like the archetypal high school classroom. The surface of each desk is carved with elaborate drawings and phrases each meant to represent unique personas and experiences of students. Lining the walls that surround the desks are prints taken from the desks, repeated in changing color schemes, representing the different experiences that can happen using the same resources.
The desks face an American flag and a green chalkboard that is entirely blank except for small white text in the center saying “a collective apology for failing to provide you with the education experience you should have”. The supposed front of the classroom is based on an NPR story about the desegregation efforts and the nature of the school district in Ferguson, Missouri. The text was part of an apology issued by an education official at a commencement ceremony.
Hoyer’s “study” is an immersive, data-driven and emotive experience that sheds light on the privilege and lack thereof in secondary education. The exhibits colors contrast with the dark issues it exposes, while still emphasizing their impact. Trinity hosts “study” for the fall semester and students are encouraged to make the most of the unique exhibit while it is still in Hartford. Though Professor Hoyer will remain a member of Trinity’s faculty through the academic year, “study” will be moving back to Tennessee in January for another showing.
ERIN GANNON ’19