Apparel and Textile Design major Gwen Pinger used a $500 CREATE! Micro-Grant to build a sculpture consisting of thousands of glass beads that hang from elastic strings, each representing a life lost from COVID-19 in Michigan.
“The sculpture functions as a sort of wind chime with many long strands of string and glass beads that twinkle in the sun. The beads — in red, white, and silver — form the shape of IV needles,” said Pinger, who is in her junior year at Michigan State University. “I am choosing this specific form of sculpture because I want it to be something people can interact with and experience. The goal is for the piece to just feel more real to the viewer in a way that demands their attention.”
At its base, the sculpture consists of a tall wooden box frame with no walls.
“Standing at nearly seven feet, the height of the sculpture is very intentional,” Pinger said. “I want people to be captivated by its beauty and haunted by the imagery of the needles and the thoughts they provoke.”
Pinger’s project proposal was one of 12 student proposals selected to receive a 2022 CREATE! Micro-Grant offered by MSU’s College of Arts & Letters in partnership with the MSU Federal Credit Union and facilitated by the Dean’s Arts Advisory Council (DAAC).
“Standing at nearly seven feet, the height of the sculpture is very intentional. I want people to be captivated by its beauty and haunted by the imagery of the needles and the thoughts they provoke.”
Each of the 12 proposals received $500 to create their projects that critically engage, through art, with the past, present, or future of the COVID-19 pandemic. Pinger said she hopes her work will stand as a reminder of all those who have lost their lives to the virus and to the ongoing battle with COVID-19.
“The point of the work is to draw attention to the still very real presence of COVID in Michigan,” Pinger said. “While restrictions are lifted and, to some, it may seem as though it doesn’t exist anymore, or is not as serious, it’s important to remember that people are still losing their lives to the virus.”
Making this project an “imposing object” to grab the attention of viewers, Pinger said she’s found this to be hard, but necessary.
“Recently, I’ve been using my art as an outlet for the things that I find difficult to write coherent sentences about, such as rage, loss, and fear,” she said. “I channel these things into my work. I want the viewer to feel all of it, but with a touch of beauty that makes it just so hard to look away.”
Pinger originally planned to create a piece that centered around the spike of domestic violence during the pandemic but changed her entire idea the night before the applications were due.
“While restrictions are lifted and, to some, it may seem as though it doesn’t exist anymore, or is not as serious, it’s important to remember that people are still losing their lives to the virus.”
“I ended up scrapping it literally the night before. It just didn’t feel right — my heart wouldn’t have been in it. It felt like something I didn’t think I could properly address,” she said. “I was speed-writing this proposal and I remember calling a few friends and asking, ‘Does this sound crazy? Does this make sense?’ It was 2 a.m. and I was calling people to see if my late-night thoughts were coherent.”
Pinger is grateful for the financial support provided by the CREATE! Micro-Grant and for the opportunity to work on this project.
“Over the summer, I work quite a bit to save money for school, and then once the semester starts, I’m working and doing homework as well,” she said. “I find the time and funds to get smaller projects done, but a project this size is a little more difficult to take on, especially on a limited budget.”
Now that her project is complete, Pinger said she is motivated by people getting to see her work and expressing their thoughts. She said she eventually would like to present it in a public space “where people can experience it.”
“I am really excited because my art is being validated and seen,” she said. “It’s hard as an artist still in school. It’s this thing where you ask, ‘Oh, is this real? Am I just trying to do something fun? Or can I actually do this right?’ So seeing my piece viewed by others is going to be different.”