Its like a scene from a science fiction film: a long corridor with white walls,
no activity and little sound other than the faint hum of fluorescent lights.
But keep walking, and a blast of color suddenly assails your senses in the form of a painting covering a huge chunk of otherwise snow-white wallboard. Stylized human figures are entwined like modern dancers; above them in one corner is a human heart, connected by a band of pinkish color to a blue-green image of a brain scan.
This is Cleveland Institute of Art student Bill Zhengs interpretation of Picker International, and a graphic representation of how the Cleveland-based manufacturer of medical imaging equipment and supplies has used human hands and paintbrushes to portray some of the most high-tech equipment in the world.
Picker International was finishing the first stage of a $20 million-plus renovation of its world headquarters in early 1996. When work was completed in the factory portion of the building that fall, we found we had a lot of white space, says Chuck Morano, Pickers manager of creative services. So white, in fact, that it was downright sterile.
Cary J. Nolan, Pickers president and CEO, suggested to Morano and corporate communications director Rob Spademan that the company find a way to add some color. We've spent all this money on this facility, Nolan said to them, and weve got a very high-tech, very white area that we really need to jazz up.
But instead of simply purchasing art or papering the walls with corporate advertising, the Picker executives decided to take matters into their own hands or put them into the hands of local art students, rather by creating a scholarship competition through the Cleveland Institute of Art.
Spademan contacted Greg Gibson who, as vice president of external affairs for the art school, is responsible for giving students such real-world opportunities. Picker officials decided to sponsor a competition for interested students, from which four works would ultimately be chosen to decorate Pickers factory walls.
A group of 40 interested students toured the Picker factory in January. They were given a basic explanation of the company's operations worldwide, then told that in addition to housing employees, the Miner Road facility also frequently hosts important visitors, from physicians to government officials.
But beyond descriptions of what the company does and who would be seeing its new building, Picker officials provided no other parameters. We gave them very loose guidelines, Morano explains, because we didnt want them to go into this with closed minds. The result was a wide variety of potential installations. We saw everything from a ceramic tile execution of a doctors office of the future to a three-dimensional clock with a backing of discarded radiographic images.
The fact that Picker is an international company was well understood by the students, says Gibson. Virtually all [works] had some theme of nationality. A brightly colored abstract painting by third-year student Harvey Tsoi is one example. The work incorporates images of disjointed heads and bodies floating in a multinational sea of flags, all resting on a backdrop of a schematic.
The hardest part for the students, Gibson notes, wasnt so much the subject matter, but the site: The element here that wasnt normal was the scale. That was very challenging.
Students were given about one month to come up with renderings, and by March, presentations were made to a jury comprising Morano, Spademan and two Cleveland Institute of Art professors before ultimate review and approval by Nolan.
The jury process explaining the rationale behind artistic decisions, why a particular media was chosen, how an idea will be executed is valuable real-world practice for young artists, according to Gibson.
My motivation for involving them in these projects is that its another aspect of education, he says. They have to learn to deal with a real client. They deal with imaginary ones all the time. But [here], they sit with me and watch negotiations. They have to learn to communicate and how to get the project done on time. They learn more doing this than they do in a semester in a painting class.
Eight designs were chosen as winners four second-place winners of $500 each and four $1,500 first-place winners, who then devised time frames for completion and a work plan detailing how, exactly, to put their product on the wall. All four winners chose to install their pieces themselves, with some help from fellow art students. Picker, in addition to providing the scholarship money, purchased all necessary supplies and paid the students and their helpers for their time.
Other first-place winners were Toby Costello, a third-year student from Cincinnati, whose very modern installation is a graphic representation of a vascular system although if you look closely, you can see outlines of faces and heads in the orange-pink links. Eric Belknap, who graduated from the institute in May 1997, chose a unique installation in which a bright green neon tube snakes along a white wall behind panels of orange industrial felt into which are cut paper doll-like figures. The neon connects two groups of X-ray viewers that illuminate different radiologic images that Picker machines create.
While most work was completed at night or on weekends (the students were doing this in addition to their regular classwork), Gibson says one of the most enjoyable parts of the Picker project was seeing employees reactions as the artwork took shape.
All the employees became instant art critics, Gibson says. They'd say,
That's a horrible color or I like this a lot. It was fun to ask the employees
what they thought. The whole involvement of employees and visitors was very
positive. And they actually got to see the students working.