Ordinary Extraordinary

23 Oct

Each summer, we spend a day with our creative writing campers outside the classroom in a different sort of space—usually filled with visual art. In these museum galleries, our young writers encounter a different form of expression, find new ways to puzzle through an artist’s intention, and explore what visual representations can show us about the world and ourselves. This year, we are so grateful to have visited The Contemporary Austin and found inspiration among the work of Robert Therrien, a Los Angeles-based artist who works with familiar, everyday objects and places them in new contexts that invite endless interpretation. His installation (specifically designed for The Contemporary) featured a series of small black-and-white photographs of everyday household items; a chest of drawers against the wall replicated on the other side of that wall, surrounded by memorabilia; a metal door that leads to an uncertain destination, and a room of giant folding chairs and tables that make the viewer feel miniature by comparison. Our campers spent a morning writing stories and poems inspired by Therrien’s compelling work, joining in conversation with the artist, unleashing the multiple interpretations Therrien hopes to elicit. We are excited to share just some of their work with you. And so grateful to The Contemporary Austin for making this possible.

Cecily Sailer
Library Foundation Programs Manager

Four Different Ways to Look at a Bedroom

– inspired by Robert Therrien’s photographs

I.

As the cold, harsh winter
swirls by,
a warm bed awaits.

II.

On restless nights,
when I can’t get comfortable,
worries blanket my thoughts.

III.

While a storm brews,
I hide from monsters
under reassuring covers.

IV.

On late nights,
when it took time to arrive,
my bed is still here.

Kyra Sampson
Upper Elementary Workshop, Austin Waldorf School

Robert Therrien, No title (room, panic doors), 2013–2014. Wood, brass, fluorescent light fixture, and mixed media. 121 x 107 1/4 x 151 inches. Installation view, Robert Therrien, The Contemporary Austin – Jones Center, Austin, 2015. Courtesy the artist and Gagosian Gallery. Photograph by Brian Fitzsimmons.The Door

Robert Therrien, No title (room, panic doors), 2013–2014. Wood, brass, fluorescent light fixture, and mixed media. 121 x 107 1/4 x 151 inches. Installation view, Robert Therrien, The Contemporary Austin – Jones Center, Austin, 2015. Courtesy the artist and Gagosian Gallery. Photograph by Brian Fitzsimmons.The Door

The Door

Behind the door is a
Classroom filled with buzzing children,
Another world full of magic,
A generous dragon,
A secret lab (don’t ask, it’s SECRET),
A humongous monster,
Blank nothing,
The last secret dinosaur,
A movie portal,
A dusty janitor’s closet,
A massive high school,
A normal kid,
Magic that can do almost anything,
A room that smells like roses,
You,
Zombies that are very nice,
An old eye,
A white zucchini,
Pink and purple aliens,
An ancient passage that leads to treasure,
A secret,
People who turned into magical fairies.
Behind the door is a field of flowers under a sky full of stars.

Mannat Ahluwalia
Lower Elementary Workshop, The Girls’ School

Eleven Ways of Looking at Folding Chairs

– after Wallace Stevens’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”

  1. A midget you are, looking up at the enormosity of a human chair.
  2. Rust climbs up the green painted table like vines and weeds taking over a garden of flourishing flowers.
  3. Folded, lonely, against the stark white wall, the girl kindly unfolds you and sits her curly haired doll down for a tea party.
  4. The grandfather clock strikes precisely 1:37, and hundreds and hundreds of rats pour into the kitchen, looking for scraps of food under the depths of the cave-like table.
  5. In the world of candy, you could be a throne of chewed-up gum, but in my house you would be folded in a corner, never even glanced at.
  6. After a long day of shearing the sheep, the old, tired farmer sits down his behind and decides to retire.
  7. The chair creaks and croaks as she lies back and puts her huge feet on the rusty table.
  8. There are four chairs; there are four people. One is folded up. One person must sit on the floor.
  9. The folding chair was used for his wedding. It was also used for his funeral.
  10. The little white mouse climbs up the leg of the chair, surprising the cat. Doom awaits.
  11. The little boy stands on it, trying to sneak a cookie.

Ava Masterson
Upper Elementary Workshop, The Girls’ School

Robert Therrien, No title (room, pants with tambourines), 2014–2015. Wood, enamel on Masonite, and mixed media. 114 x 139 x 151 inches. Installation view, Robert Therrien, The Contemporary Austin – Jones Center, Austin, 2015. Courtesy the artist and Gagosian Gallery. Photograph by Brian Fitzsimmons.

Robert Therrien, No title (room, pants with tambourines), 2014–2015. Wood, enamel on Masonite, and mixed media. 114 x 139 x 151 inches. Installation view, Robert Therrien, The Contemporary Austin – Jones Center, Austin, 2015. Courtesy the artist and Gagosian Gallery. Photograph by Brian Fitzsimmons.

All He Wants Is Jane

– inspired by Robert Therrien’s photographs on display at The Contemporary Austin

James is a janitor at an elementary school. Everyday he brings home the cleaning supplies from the janitorial closet because he is afraid ghosts will take them. His grandmother told him ghost stories as a child. She was later found dead next to her Ouija board. James became paranoid. There is a black cloud over his bed. He found it at a flea market as an anti-ghost charm. He spent twenty dollars on it instead of the twenty-dollar chair his mom wanted at Target. His mom is still mad at him, but he does not care. His girlfriend, Jane, loves him, and that is all that matters. Jane is his life. When she is around, he feels invincible, but Jane is in Barbados now for work, so he is lonely and does not care if his bed is made. Right now, he is at Subway eating away his loneliness and crying into his Diet Coke. He knows the manager will come kick him out for disturbing the other customers. It happened yesterday. After he gets kicked out, he will go home and sob on his rumpled bed and fall asleep. But the manager hasn’t come to his booth yet, so he continues to cry and eat his soggy black pepper sub and drink his now salty Diet Coke. He will do this every day until Jane comes home. All he wants his Jane. James looks up from his food to see the manager.

Mae McMillin
Middle School Workshop, The Girls’ School

Pot, Pan, Hold

A string, extended in space, holding up an array of pots and pans. Pot, pan, strainer, pan, pot, bowl, pot, hold. The body put those up, stringing them one by one, drilling holes, the clank of metal on metal, ringing out in the empty room. The mind thinks, and remembers. Pot, pan, strainer, pan, pot, bowl, hold. Hanging it up so that it would hold onto the ceiling. Pot, pan, strainer, pan, pot, hold. The mind hurts. Callused hands carefully working, not wanting to smudge the clean metal. Pot, pan, strainer, pan, hold. The dark non-stick against the silver gray. Pot, pan, strainer, hold. One for each relative to remember. Pot, pan, hold. Mother, who died in childbirth. Father, killed by an angry mob on his way to work, trampled beneath a thousand feet. Pot, pan, hold. Brother, a fatal car accident when he was twenty. Pot, hold. Sister, diagnosed with cancer when she was two. Uncle and Grandpa, in the army a day too long. Hold. Hold. Auntie, who baked cookies until she burned with her house. Hold. Grandma. Hold. Pot, pan, strainer, pan, pot, bowl, pot, hold. A string, my string dangling silently in space, end barely brushing the floor. The knot frays undone. Hold.

Emma Buechler
High School Workshop, The Girls’ School of Austin

Badgerdog campers writing in the galleries of The Contemporary Austin

Badgerdog campers writing in the galleries of The Contemporary Austin

Eleven Gargantuan Perspectives of Giant Folding Chairs and Tables

– after Wallace Stevens’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”

  1. Mom and Dad confer in the living room

while I eat bread and jam at the table

and Brother leans against the wall, napping.

  1. A small rodent sticks his head up,

ears and nose peeking out behind

the metal legs of the table.

  1. I hear a noise: something

stomping up the stairs, coming towards

its chairs and table.

  1. The giant gently heaves himself onto

one of the folding chairs, motioning

for his wife to fill his bowl with tomato soup.

  1. The green metal on the chairs is edged with rust.

These chairs look to be about ten years old.

The tables stacked on top of each other

are blanketed in carpet like snow in a meadow.

  1. “Help me!” I cried as the shrink ray

zapped me and I went down and down.

  1. The lights flicked off and I opened my eyes.

My chair form turned into me: green eyes, dyed green hair,

green cardigan, green skirt, green leggings.

  1. Crash! The table slips, crashing onto the cement floor, making a dent, an ugly face.

I quickly try to escape with the others when Ms. Callie is suddenly

trapped by two chairs who block the door.

  1. At last! The secret treasure is here!

Now which chair is hiding that gold? Or is it the table?

  1. “Argh!” Mother cried. She scooted her chair back,

and it lifted her off, her feet dangling,

her high heels slipping off her feet.

  1. “There you are,” an eerie voice echoed as I stepped into the room.

Suddenly, I realized what was speaking.

The furniture.

Karina Schwab
Upper Elementary Workshop, The Girls’ School

A Giant Story

I’m so excited! I’m going to an art museum. “We’re here!” calls the teacher. We rushed out of the bus. The museum instructor gave us the rules. My class went up the elevator. Mrs. Lauren pushed Floor 2. Cole pushed the shrink button. The elevator started shaking. We grabbed onto the railing. Ding! We’re at floor number two. “Wow, look at this giant room!” said Mrs. Lauren. “Look at these giant chairs!” exclaimed Amani. “Awesome, look at these giant tables!” said Neel. “Cole, you shrunk us!” said Lilly. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to,” said Cole with a mischievous smile. We all went back to the elevator and made ourselves bigger. Except Cole, he stayed tiny. So we made him our pet.

Kinsey White
Lower Elementary Workshop, Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church

I Seem to Be, But I Am

– inspired by Robert Therrien’s photographs

I seem to be an empty room
But I am full of imagination
I seem to be a simple spoon
But I am the beginning of creation
I seem to be a little man
But I am a little giant
I seem to be a tiny pan
But I am a bit defiant
I seem to be
But I am
I seem to be
But I am
I seem to be a pile of books
But I am a stock of knowledge

Lilith Potter
Upper Elementary Workshop, Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church

Robert Therrien, No title (room, the other room), 2012–2014. Wood and mixed media. 120 x 107 x 155 inches. Installation view, Robert Therrien, The Contemporary Austin – Jones Center, Austin, 2015. Courtesy the artist and Gagosian Gallery. Photograph by Brian Fitzsimmons.

Robert Therrien, No title (room, the other room), 2012–2014. Wood and mixed media. 120 x 107 x 155 inches. Installation view, Robert Therrien, The Contemporary Austin – Jones Center, Austin, 2015. Courtesy the artist and Gagosian Gallery. Photograph by Brian Fitzsimmons.

Wind-Up

I noticed the small wind-up toy on my dresser, from when I was younger; it had been almost four years since I gave it a passing thought. It was the shape of a puppy. I examined its painted features then turned it over to reveal the wind-up key. I took hold of the key and turned it clockwise. Once… twice… I finished the third turn, something happened.

The walls and everything around me started to grow. The dresser that used to be waist-level now towered over me like a skyscraper. I dropped the toy and tried to run towards the door, but suddenly the distance seemed to stretch on much further than before.

I looked around the gigantic version of my bedroom, and I noticed that the room had not grown bigger; I had become smaller. Based on the things around me, I guessed I was about five inches tall.

Suddenly, I heard thumping noises. They grew louder and louder until they halted. I didn’t dare turn around. I felt the hot, heavy breath blowing on my back like a powerful gust of wind. I turned around to face the creature but was almost knocked over. Not by the power of the breath, just the reeking smell of it.

The creature was covered in shiny, black fur. It had four thin legs and a tail that continuously wagged from side to side. It wore a plain, red collar around its neck. Though I knew this behemoth to be my friendly, harmless dog, at this size I wasn’t so sure how harmless he really was. I stood up and cautiously walked away from the monstrous dog and back to the wind-up toy.

“Good dog,” I mumbled. “Thanks for not eating me.” I took hold of the golden key and turned. Once… twice… three times… four… I wanted to be bigger so badly that I lost count.

Kate Hirschfeld
Middle School Workshop, Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church

I Remember

I remember the taste. It was like liquid, rusted metal flowing inside my mouth. I remember the smell. Heavy. Like I’m breathing more dust than actual air. I remember the texture. Smooth, like the scales of a dry sea monster. But I don’t remember what it looked like, and I probably never will.

I remember it was there.

Hadar Rozenberg
High School Workshop, Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church

Poem

A table, chairs, four
times life size,
a giant awakens
to them, the rust scrapes
on the big chair,
tables stacked on each other
like a squishing sock,
here and there no one,
but I spy on them,

Nimah Ahmed
Lower Elementary Workshop, The Khabele School

At the End of the Hall

A door at the end of the hall seemed to be yelling at me to open it. I walked toward it and soon started sprinting toward it, but it seemed to move further and further away. I tried to stop, but I couldn’t. My legs seemed to be moving on their own. I hit them, but still they kept running. My lungs were gasping for air, my throat was completely dry. I gasped like a fish out of water. My eyelids felt like closing, so I couldn’t help but close them. … Of course, though the girl was dead, quite completely, she kept on running, and the door always seemed to get further and further away.

Simona Kao
Upper Elementary Workshop, The Khabele School

Memory

– after Robert Therrien’s “No title (room, panic doors)”

we used to make whole towns
out of the withered building blocks
tucked away in your overflowing attic

and we built so many more mighty empires

because if you walk behind those sterile doors
you’ll find that I
have kept all our cherished memories
hanging from the dull walls

it’s like watching a young gazelle
dance through the dry savannah

or walking into a room
full of vivid photographs
freezing the smiles on our faces
preserving the imagination of our
young, wild minds

we were like two little kids
pretending to rule over our plastic towers
made of shiny yellow Legos.

Teresa Luo
Middle School Workshop, The Khabele School

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