Texas Tech University

'Celestial Bodies' a Collaborative, Interdisciplinary Art Installation

Amanda Castro-Crist

November 9, 2017

Celestial Bodies

Led by artist-in-residency Ismael de Anda III, Red Raiders within the College of Human Sciences and the School of Art worked together to create a sustainable work of art using donated T-shirts.

Celestial Bodies

Look up when you walk through the breezeway of the Texas Tech University Human Sciences Building and you will find yourself under a flying sculpture. Sewn together and stretched across a steel frame are more than 100 souvenir T-shirts donated by Red Raiders and the Lubbock community.

The art installation, “Celestial Bodies,” was created in a collaborative effort between students and faculty within the  College of Human Sciences and the J.T. & Margaret Talkington College of Visual & Performing ArtsSchool of Art. For two weeks in September, they were led by visiting artist Ismael de Anda III and Rachel Anderson, an assistant professor of Apparel Design & Manufacturing, with sculpture students building and welding the steel armature and students in the Department of Design cutting, arranging and stitching together the donated shirts to create the canopy.

“This is the first installation located within the College of Human Sciences that students helped create,” Anderson said. “It's really a crossover between fashion and art. It helped them to see people from different disciplines working together collaboratively as a team, and it showed them the process of working on something creative on a deadline.”

Celestial Bodies

Raegan McGuire, a senior apparel design and manufacturing major from Dallas, said she worked as Anderson's undergraduate assistant and helped coordinate students from different classes to stitch together the T-shirts for the canopy. The experience offered several opportunities for improving skills like teamwork, collaborative communication and tackling problems as they arose.

“I hope a lot of people have the same feelings we have, seeing that we're a part of it, and it's such an impressive project we get to include on our résumés,” McGuire said. “I hope people get the same feeling seeing their T-shirts up there. Like Ismael said, it's everyone's project. If you donated T-shirts, then it's just as much yours. I think it's admirable how much he wanted the community to be a part of everything.”

Visiting Texas Tech

Originally from El Paso, de Anda is an internationally exhibiting artist now living and working in Los Angeles. He also serves as an educator who leads workshops for artists of all ages.

“Working with students has always been part of my artistic practice,” de Anda said. “I get to work with the next generation of artists and, hopefully, that keeps my practice fresh. I am also a big supporter of education. I think it's very important to culture.”

Celestial Bodies

De Anda was invited by Texas Tech alumna Francesca Vega, who was a recent graduate of the art history and political science master's degree programs, to apply to the School of Art's Visiting Artist Program. De Anda said he was very interested at the prospect of visiting Lubbock and working with the Lubbock community and students of Texas Tech for the first time. His proposal for an interactive installation was accepted and the sculpture was scheduled to be created during his two-week residency.

“The proposal was to interact with the community and the students, and coming in as a visiting artist, it was important for me to do that as much as I could,” he said. “I wanted to be able to give the students the opportunity to do something new or different. They're talented and they're donating their skills, and I appreciate their willingness to help. For me, as an artist, when I've had a chance to work with other artists, those experiences have been worth their weight in gold. Hopefully this was a beneficial experience for them as well.”

It also was important for him to use locally sourced materials and inspiration for the artwork, something he said he tries to do in many of his installations. During his time in Lubbock, de Anda visited the Silent Wings Museum and the American Wind Power Center, taking inspiration from local aviation and wind history, and from the local bird population. Some of this can be seen in the curvature of the steel armature, while the donated T-shirts serve as a representation of the local culture and the Lubbock cotton industry.

The shirts were cut and reconfigured, with re-stitched logos, to create what de Anda calls a “mutant canopy” in order to surpass the common concept of a quilt or banner for commercial advertising. The result was a contemporary artwork that also functions as an archive reflecting the community and history of Lubbock.

Celestial Bodies

“It's exciting because it seems like there's growth happening in the art scene in Lubbock,” de Anda said. “It's exciting for me to witness and be a part of that, and it's been great meeting people here in the university who are interested in working on interdisciplinary projects, which I think is important for an institution of education – always trying to find new ways of doing things.”

The collaborative nature of many projects at Texas Tech also played a big part in de Anda's artistic process.

“When people think of art, I think most times people expect artists to do everything themselves,” he said. “It is a very heroic attitude toward artists, but so many art forms are collaborative, so it's OK to get that collaborative outside help.

“It's interesting that the apparel design program is in the human sciences college, but there are a lot of different programs that people might think are unrelated. With this installation, maybe people will think of different ways of creating and, instead of having a certain idea or a certain medium or genre they're working with, they can expand it by tackling something else, whether it be music or video or genetics.”

Two-week turnover

Though de Anda spent just two weeks on campus in September working on the piece and installation, the initial stages of the project began last semester. T-shirts were collected and donated by individuals in the College of Human Sciences and the School of Art, and templates sent by de Anda provided a guide to students in Anderson's Sustainability for Fashion class for cutting and stitching the pieces together.

Celestial Bodies

“You had to do one panel at a time, so everyone had to be on the ball of getting theirs done on time, because then we had to move on to the next section,” McGuire said. “Once the diagonals and then top-stitching the scoop neck were done, we would sew that long panel together and then sew those panels together and it just kept getting longer and longer.”

Old and new shirts came together in the design, prompting students to find or create solutions for issues like older shirts losing their shape or pulling apart when the canopy was ready to be stretched over the base. Once de Anda arrived, he worked with the students to pick out some of their favorites and what they thought looked best together, and to create a color scheme using the pieces that best represented Lubbock and Texas Tech.

“He really was passionate about seeing the community in it and wanting to use every bit of the T-shirts he could so someone could walk in and say, ‘That's my T-shirt up there,'” McGuire said. “He really was interested in learning about Texas Tech and wanting people to see the art side of it. He came to Lubbock and was an advocate for all these things.”

Within the School of Art, de Anda enlisted the help of several sculpture artists to create the steel armature. Chiseum Dent, a senior sculpture, jewelry design and metalsmithing major from Sweetwater, said although he hasn't done it much, he enjoys the collaboration of working on a piece with other artists.

“When you're working with another artist, you're focused on the piece,” Dent said. “You get focused on the work, that's what matters and you instantly connect. The art kind of just makes you instantly friends. Every time I work with other artists, it's a good experience, and it's good to see how different ideas start to come together to form the piece.”

Dent said putting the frame together, which included welding the wings and the individual supports, was a different experience because he usually works with heavier metals in his pieces.

Celestial Bodies

“A lot of it was getting used to the flexibility of it, but it was a similar process,” Dent said. “However the metal speaks to me, I go with it.”

As the pieces came together, de Anda and the other artists made several trips between the College of Human Sciences and the School of Art to gauge how the panels would fit on the armature and where adjustments needed to be made before the entire piece was put together.

“After we sewed the whole panel together, he took it over to the art department, then brought it back over here to do the template,” McGuire said. “It went back and forth so many times, and I think once we realized how much really went into it, it was remarkable to see it go up in such a short amount of time.

“It definitely was a good team-building experience, having to work with other people and different personalities. I saw the art department like I've never seen before. Getting to see stuff like the welding, I've never been a part of that side, so it was really interesting to go over there and see it.”

Sustainable art

Anderson said the College of Human Sciences plans to have the piece up for up to a year. After that, there are plans for the canopy to be removed from the armature and used in other pieces by students in the apparel design program.

“It's a relief to see it up,” Anderson said. “I'm amazed. In fashion, we see a lot of things up close, and to work on something and see it up in the air where a lot of people can see it kind of transforms it.”

The project was the perfect way to help students understand the importance of collaboration and how different concentrations throughout the university overlap, she added.

“Whether it's art or fashion, it's about building,” Anderson said. “You have a problem you have to solve, you have a sketch or rendering and you have to figure out how to make it. It was an amazing experience.”

Though he has no plans yet to return to Texas Tech, de Anda said he is open to the idea of future collaborations at the university. He said he hopes others throughout the community appreciate the installation as much as those involved do.

“I hope they take pleasure if they donated T-shirts, I hope they're interested in the idea and maybe that will inspire other ideas and make them consider the artistic process,” de Anda said. “Hopefully, there will be other projects like this on and off campus.”

Find Texas Tech news, experts and story ideas at Texas Tech Today Media Resources or follow us on Twitter.