Living in the era of late-stage capitalism, consumers are aware of single use plastics overpopulating landfills, rivers, food sources, and the ecological effects of rapidly changing fashion trends. Perceptual Engineering challenges artists and viewers to envision new possibilities of everyday items once their originally intended use has ceased. Letting go of preconceived notions of what objects are, this exhibition presents an opportunity to explore the world with fresh eyes and imagine what else could be.
Regional artists and twelve students from the fall 2022 class Problems in Contemporary Art at Rutgers University – Newark were given a “perceptual engineering” prompt by Express Newark’s Artist-in-Residence Willie Cole. Inspired by Cole’s practice of upcycling objects condemned otherwise to landfills, artists were tasked to choose an everyday object and discard prior conceptions of its form and function to create works of art. Once the object was chosen, the first phase of “discovery” commenced. The object was completelv disassembled and all parts saved. As preconceived notions of the object fell by the wayside, a new space opened for reimagination, allowing the mind to wander freely among the pieces.
The second phase, “documentation,” required documentation of each individual piece from the original object as sketches, focused primarily on silhouettes and non-detailed renderings of the disassembled pieces, playing with scale and form. The final “transformation” stage, likened to a phoenix rising, an entirely new object was perceived and fabricated using pieces of the original, altering the perception of both the old and the new.
The Problems in Contemporary Art class was co-taught by Artist-in-Residence Willie Cole and American Studies PhD student, Colleen Gutwein O’Neal.