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Julie Boldt


We crafted our own bubble... Experimenting and simply enjoying the basic materiality of creating with kids

Julie Boldt

Covid has led me on a TOY project journey. When the pandemic first hit as a reality, I immediately wanted to contribute, no matter how small it may seem in the larger picture. What began as a puzzle auction has evolved into developing an art curriculum for the children in our building.

We’re all coping with this differently but working alone in a studio during Covid forced me to question the premise of art itself. Puzzles for a falling sky was an outcome of that crisis/epiphany. I felt a need to write vs make, and, what now seems like a myopic responsibility to do something for the collective good within the confines of what-feels to be our contemporary purgatory. I sorted through my inventory of jigsaw puzzles that I’ve collected over the years as part of my art practice, and then used the ready-made products to write pseudo-art theoretical dissections of each puzzle, ultimately putting each puzzle up for auction on eBay. 100 percent of the proceeds went to Direct Relief, amounting to over $1000.

However, during the development of “Puzzles for a Falling Sky,” I had a series of run ins with the five children that live in our building, ages ranging from 5-12. One little girl, Val, would always ask whenever she saw me leaving, already knowing the answer, “where are you going?” I’d always reply, “the studio!.” This inevitably led us to discussions about art (at age five, young Val informed me she has been a chef since she was two and artist since she was three, so we were bound to connect). With the secretarial oversight of their parents, we organized a visit to my studio with all the kids. As soon as they came in, the children all scattered and explored. I followed their lead as they scavenged through my materials and supplies, naturally making little works along the way. Our conversations were littered with their questions remarkably in line with the historical avant-garde, as they constantly inquired, “Is this art? What about this? And this - but upside down?”

One of the children, Elon, found some old puzzle work remnants, and although he’s the shyest of the group, he uncharacteristically shouted out to his mom that “there are puzzles here!!” Turns out, one of the young theorists is a major jigsaw enthusiast!

As Covid and puzzles for the falling sky grew, I immediately thought of him and how he would certainly need some puzzles so left him and his siblings a jigsaw care package. This renewed the discussion about art. When Val told me she had never painted before, I had to schedule a paint day. I’m not very familiar with the diversity of kinetic and cognitive abilities of children at particular ages, so I wanted to find a technique that was more physical and playful versus technical. Thus our first “lesson” was Bubble painting. We crafted our own bubble making tools and played with various painting vs printing methods. It was amazing to witness them absorbing new ideas, experimenting, and simply enjoying the basic materiality of creating.

While we worked together, we stumbled upon the topic of remote learning. With all Chicago public schools being remote this semester, they informed me they will not have arts instruction in their zoom curriculum. So, we are doing monthly Saturday afternoons in our backyard (or my studio given weather conditions).

To me, there is something funny in how this TOY project evolved. The main text I cited in “Puzzles for a falling sky” was Hito Steyerl’s “In Free Fall: Thoughts on Vertical Perspective.” A significant point of the essay is how our apparatuses create an ontological perspective that sees everything from above and at once. Yet, this theory based upon the macro led me to see how I could create conversation and a difference in the most proximate of places. Covid and the subsequent TOY Project made me reconsider my understanding of 'a neighbor' and reimagine the potential of what we can do for each other, here and now.

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