The irregular angles and slanted walls of Michigan State University’s Broad Art Museum get another layer of complexity this week. Shiny copper pipes snake their way through the museum’s education wing. But unlike most of the pipes in the building, these don’t carry water. These pipes carry sound.
“We think of it as a sound mural,” said Jan Tichy, artist-in-residence at the Broad Museum.
Tichy created “Beyond Streaming: A Sound Mural for Flint” with the help of nearly 80 high school students from Lansing and Flint. The exhibit opens with a reception Saturday.
“I brought in the idea of a pipe as an object, almost like a trumpet, that sounds out the concerns of these young people,” Tichy said.
The sounds piped into the installation are taken from recordings made by students from two schools, Everett High School in Lansing and Carman-Ainsworth High School in Flint. The students worked with Tichy over the course of several months to document their experiences with the ongoing Flint water crisis, which has left many city residents without safe drinking water for over two years.
The museum’s residency is also designed to foster community involvement in art. The Broad invited Tichy to address the Flint water crisis as part of MSU’s yearlong, multi-disciplinary focus on water-related issues. While the museum had already decided the theme, the use of the pipes as a metaphor came later.
“It became clear somehow that it’s all about the failure of communication, and that people didn’t listen,” Tichy said. “And there was also the notion of a pipe as something that brought pollution to people’s homes. On a more abstract level, all these different pipes are running between us and among us, allowing us to communicate with each other.”
Students from Flint met with students from Lansing to share how the crisis has impacted their lives. In turn, Lansing students shared stories about life in the state capital. Tichy, who serves as assistant professor of photography at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, guided the process, coming to Michigan for five days each month.
“I thought it would be valuable to work with high school students from Flint and from Lansing, which are two places that are so close yet so far apart from each other on so many levels,” Tichy said. “I was thinking about what the next generation of local leaders needs to be able to do in order to share and talk to each other.”
When students weren’t working together or with Tichy, they worked on the project in the classroom with teachers. Flint students worked with an English teacher to create poems and other texts, while Lansing students worked with an art teacher on visual responses.
The resulting installation will be unveiled Saturday. Listeners can open valves to hear the soundtrack inside the pipes. Many of the recordings used are related to water, but some reflect other aspects of the students’ lives and home cities.
“It’s their way of sharing their own experiences and concerns,” Tichy said. “The new relationships they formed with each other were woven in as well.”
“Beyond Streaming: A Sound Mural for Flint” opening reception
January 21, 2-4 p.m.
Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum
547 E. Circle Drive, East Lansing
(517) 884-4800, broadmuseum.msu.edu