Students at John McGregor Secondary School in Chatham, led by art teacher Jenn McQuade, took an art concept from renowned Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama and made it their own during Education Week.
McQuade said her class was lucky enough to get tickets to the artist’s show in Toronto at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) and were inspired to recreate one of the artists’ exhibits called an “Obliteration Room.”
“Artist Yayoi Kusama has a truly unique exhibition in Toronto at the AGO right now. It is an insanely popular show; so much so that all advanced tickets are sold out and schools had to apply to a lottery in order to get a spot to go,” McQuade explained. “Luckily, our small group at JMSS got to go. As far as I know, we are the only LKDSB school that won a spot.”
The exhibition by Kusama is called “Infinity Mirrors.”
The concept used by Kusama in the Obliteration Room was to have a living space painted completely white and allow visitors to the exhibit to decorate it however they wanted with coloured dot stickers. It encourages visitors to violate the “look, don’t touch” policy of art museums.
The result, recorded on YouTube, shows a room going from stark white to covered in colour in a random dot pattern by many different people.
“Our room, a mini version, is 8-feet-by-4-four feet and was constructed by John Barrett’s math class while studying linear measurement,” McQuade said. “We involved the entire school in this installation during education week. Every student in the school had the opportunity to put stickers on the room. We decided to extend the project to the end of the year, and when finished, the room will have over 36,000 stickers on it.”
Right now, McQuade estimated there are 32,000 dots on the surfaces of the mini-room, which sits in the library for easy access to all students and staff.
JMSS librarian Martha Laporte is huge supporter of the art project and keeper of the stickers for people wanting to participate.
“The room was in here painted all white for a week and I got asked a lot why it was there. It was actually kind of ugly and students noticed. I would give them hints about listening closely to the announcements but didn’t let on what it was about until Education Week,” Laporte said.
The librarian said the project was truly about accessibility and inclusivity, available to everyone – teachers, custodial staff and the office employees – as well as students with special needs.
“We encouraged staff who don’t usually come into the library, and a student who is in a wheelchair, we moved things around to make it accessible. This is truly an inclusive and accessible piece of art,” Laporte noted.
She added that students are using the room for stop-motion film projects, for selfies and as a place to de-stress while placing dots.
Grade 12 student Anna Searles said the room is a calm haven from the pressure students have in school and life.
“With exams and final projects coming up, placing the dots in very therapeutic and it’s a gorgeous piece of art,” Searles noted. “It’s also so inclusive because you don’t have to be good at art to participate.”
Fellow student Alexander Goldsack said Kusama is his favourite artist and he plans to base an art project on Kusama’s concept of infinity rooms that uses mirrors and art to make a person feel like they looking into an endless room.
“When I saw the room, the absolute chaos was actually calming, unlike what the room was really like,” Goldsack said. “I spent a lot of time placing stickers.”
Evan Rogers, a Grade 12 student and school board student trustee member, let fellow board members know about the project with great feedback. Trustee Ruth Ann Dodman was so intrigued by the project, she went to the school and spent a half hour placing stickers herself and talked with McQuade about making the mini-room a part of Grade 12 graduation this year.
“The feedback from the board was great. I really liked how Mrs. McQuade was taking the messages from the artist, who struggled with mental illness and used art as a coping mechanism,” Rogers said. “I really admire Mrs. McQuade. She is a great advocate for the arts in our school and does a great job of promoting alternative aspects of education for youth.”
McQuade said a Booster Club at the school paid for the wood for the project and the paint and supplies were donated by Dulux Paint in Chatham.
“This year’s theme for Education Week is “Equity in Action!” which is all about embracing diversity. This project accomplishes this goal and celebrates the school community. It makes art accessible for everyone which is always an important message,” McQuade explained.
People interested in seeing the progress of the Obliteration room can check it out at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sC6GT4sN7NQ&feature=youtu.be or to see the inspiration from Kusama, her work can be found at