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James and the Box Keswick

Thinking inside the box

A Keswick teacher is spending three days inside a two-metre cube in his high school's foyer to show students art is more than a painting on a wall.


A student peers through a peephole into a 2-cubic-metre box in the main foyer of Keswick High School. Yesterday, art teacher James Ruddle, not pictured, began a three-day painting marathon inside the performance art cube. He emerges Thursday at 8:30 a.m.

By: Daniel Girard EDUCATION REPORTER, Published on Tue Apr 03 2007

It's Cubism, Keswick style.

Art teacher James Ruddle is spending three days this week painting in a two-metre cubed container set up in the foyer of a high school in the York Region community. The goal of the performance artist's installation is simple – get people to think while he's inside the box.

"I want to show that art is more than just a painting on the wall," Ruddle, 25, said before climbing into the cube yesterday afternoon. "I want to get the public involved and basically show that they're just as important in the creation of art as the artist."

To that end, the cube, which was built by Grade 12 construction technology students at Keswick High School, will serve as a canvass for the graffiti and other artwork of students and the public who visit.

Ruddle is scheduled to emerge at 8:30 a.m. Thursday.

Visitors will be able to leave videotaped messages for him on the makeshift Speakers' Corner attached to the structure. And, they will also be able to follow what he's doing through a live video feed displayed outside the cube as well as via a 6-inch screened hole cut on one side.

"It's actually allowing the public to see inside the mind of an artist and see the actual work come to life," said Ruddle, who had the cube built at his height because "I didn't want to do too much crouching."

Along with his paints, a light and a comfortable chair, Ruddle was taking in a half-dozen bottles of water, potato chips and, at his wife's insistence, chocolate bars to ward off hunger. He plans to take a five-minute bathroom break each day.

Fellow art teachers are using their preparation time to staff the classes he's missing.

"It's a real group effort," said Ruddle, who has done two similar performance pieces while studying fine arts at McMaster University in Hamilton.

Ruddle is calling this work James and the Ambiguous Box.

Ruddle's installation is the focal point of art awareness week at Keswick High.

While the Cubism movement of the early 20th Century that included such artists as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque was considered revolutionary in European painting, scultpture, music and literature, the goal in York Region is a modest one – trying to raise art appreciation in the school and the community.

"Art isn't a core subject like math or science and isn't viewed as important," said Amanda Miller, an art teacher and head of the visual arts department at Keswick High. "But it nourishes the mind and the human spirit.

"It's authentic learning that helps with problem-solving, cognitive and analytical skills. Kids need that."

Among the other events this week at the school, which has one of the largest visual arts programs in the York Region District School Board, is an art-a-thon. It will feature more than 40 students in small teams painting murals throughout the school for 24 hours straight.

The school will also host an art show tomorrow night, which will feature the photos, drawings, paintings, canvases, sculptures and other works of many of the students taking art classes this semester.

Many of those same students will also work on paintings on the outside of Ruddle's cube.

Even before Ruddle went inside the cube, students and teachers said there was a buzz at the school as people saw it in the foyer and talked about it and the week's other events.

"I think it's kind of crazy," Lainna Buch, 16, a Grade 11 student, said of Ruddle's performance art. "But I also think it's really cool.

"It shows how passionate some people can be about their art and how important it is."


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