KOKOMO, Ind. — Hands covered in dirt, Brittnee Collins flicks open a pocket knife and begins whittling the end of a stick into a sharp point. As rain drizzles on her, she stands back, examining the fortress-like rectangle she’s built in the mud, before jamming the sharpened end of the stick into place.
“The story in my head is getting lengthy,” she said, stepping a few steps away to consider her progress.
As an Indiana University Kokomo fine arts student, Brittnee is more accustomed to working in paints and clays than mud, sticks, and leaves. But this particular week, she and seven other students in the New Media Art Technology (NMAT) program stepped out of their comfort zones — and off campus — retreating to the Camp Tecumseh Leadership Center, at Brookston, for the Connected Foundations course.
Once there, students and five faculty members disconnected from technology, and spent the time in creative work and contemplation. They began with journaling and reading each morning, then moving into daily projects in the afternoon, to be presented and discussed in the evening.
Brittnee , from Jamestown, appreciates challenging herself by working with natural materials.
“I’ve only brought a charcoal pencil and a mechanical pencil with me,” she said. “I wanted to see what I could create with what I could find. I’ve been working with too many electrical objects.”
Chris Burke, Galveston, plans to create video games for his career, but enjoyed the chance to produce more nature-based art.
“It’s so unorthodox compared to everything else,” Burke said. “It’s encouraged me to stay off my laptop, stay off my phone, and notice what’s around me. A lot of our projects are based on nature, and the affects you can have on your audience, based on what you are making. You can create things that cause other people to have emotions.”
Those are lessons he can carry over into his future, even if he chooses a more technology-based medium.
“As an artist and a student, this has been helpful training, opening my eyes to avenues I can take to use the environment around me to create the emotions I want my audience to experience.”
Projects have included creating a piece that would make sound, making something inspired by the topography of a specific location within the camp, and creating work that represents two random words pulled from a hat.
Using charcoal out of the fire pit to draw in her sketchbook, Mary Ade, a fine arts major from Kokomo, sat on a wooden rocking chair and listened to the rain fall on the porch. To create her sound project, she laid gravel, sticks, twigs, dry leaves and pine cones over a narrow place in a trail, which created varied sounds as people walked across them.
“It’s actually the sounds we make every day, put into different contexts,” she said. “It makes you think what it means to walk in this space, and to pay attention.”
This year’s class was a pilot for future classes, intended to be a Sophomore Sojourn as part of the KEY (Kokomo Experience and You) program Future NMAT students will take it after completing their foundations classes, introduce the elements and principles of design.
“The Connected Foundations course is meant to tie together the skills they learn in the foundations program,” said Minda Douglas, associate professor of fine arts and NMAT program director. “It allows them to apply those skills to open-ended projects.”
In addition to Douglas, Erik Deerly, assistant professor of new media, Wayne Madsen, assistant professor of new media, Gregory Steel, associate professor of fine arts, and Yunjin Woo, assistant professor of fine arts, taught and supported students through the retreat.
“It’s not really about the work being completed,” Woo said. “The point is contemplation, and the creative thinking process.”
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.