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Art on the street.

Charles Simonds gained attention in the 1970s after creating and then abandoning numerous miniature clay dwellings in New York's Lower East Side. Perched on ledges in abandoned buildings or nestled in crevices of crumbling walls, these dwellings were occupied by the Little People, an imaginary civilization concocted by Simonds' active imagination.

The Little People were composed of various groups such as the Circle, Linear and Spiral people. Each group had certain characteristics that reflected its collective behavioral patterns. For example, the Circle People endlessly repeated activities and the Linear People had a preoccupation with searching and traveling. These different groups also had their own philosophical, religious and cultural identities, which were manifested in various architectural styles.

Roots in Pueblo Indian Architecture

In essence, Simonds' dwellings had their roots in Pueblo Indian architecture. Simonds brought clay to the location and supplemented it with salvaged materials such as sticks, earth and pebbles. In a single day, with glue and tweezers, Simonds would assemble his structures of clay and found objects.

My students were fascinated with the aesthetic appearance of Simonds' works. They were also intrigued with the social significance of these works.

Simonds, a community activist, felt that art should be involved with important social issues. An important message of Simonds' work was the idea that positive change can take place if the forces of hope, persistence and community action are activated.

Simonds' choice of the street as a venue f or his work was therefore very significant for it allowed people to interact with the artist and to become active in the community. Bearing this quote in mind, I devised an assignment for the students that would illuminate the possibilities of uniting the private and public realms. I asked the students to imagine that they were students of Charles Simonds and challenged them to create a series of fantastical buildings inhabited by the Little People of t own imagination. The civilizations created by the students were to have their own philosophies, culture, building style and spiritual beliefs. The aim of this exercise was to capture the essence of Simonds' ideas within the personal framework of each student.

Thought Process Behind the Work

Upon completion, the students discussed their assignments in detail. Students commented on the thought processes they went through to realize their projects, relationships between the imaginary worlds of their Little People and the real world and the key findings that emerged.

Using the art of Simonds as a catalyst, the students' attempts to fuse the fantastical with the real heightened their awareness of themselves, their environment and societal attitudes towards art and the imagination.

"Before I began construction, I had many preconceived ideas about how the public would react," said one student.

"I was disappointed in the lack of communication and interest in the Little People while I was building the dwelling. At one point a family passed by and the child was looking with intent. The parents now had an excuse to show interest and also looked on, but only briefly. I could sense that many other people were interested in the dwellings but they felt it inappropriate for some reason to discuss or ask questions about the purpose of the dwellings. It hurt me to sec how repressed our society is towards self-expression and the arts. It was only when I was packing my tools that a young man came to me and asked, "What's the little castle all about? "

Attempt to Affect Social Change

This assignment taught students to stretch the parameters of what traditionally constitutes art. it showed them that art can take place anywhere and the imagination can be a force, however small, in the attempt to affect social change. Simonds acknowledged the difficulty of fundamentally changing patterns in society. He once commented that we can only "scratch the surface." However, scratching the surface marks a beginning. A


Patton, Phil. "The Lost Worlds of the Little People. " Art News (February, 1983). Smagula, Howard. Currents: Contemporary Directions in the Visual Arts. NI: Prentice Hall, 1989.

Dorinda Neave teaches art history at Capilano College, North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
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Title Annotation:art lesson based on Charles Simonds' works
Author:Neave, Dorinda
Publication:School Arts
Date:May 1, 1995
Previous Article:Creative Connections.
Next Article:Community outreach.

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