Onion/Academia Nuts -Hi Tech/Hi Touch in Academia  2001

52”W X 36”T  Mixed Media,  Photographs, handmade paper, wood, motherboards.

Hi Tech/HiTouch in Academia- The artwork Onion/AKA Academia Nuts represents  a “lived experience”, as described by Van Manen,  in visual. This work, commissioned by MnSCU, focuses on the connectivity of the digital delivery Ecommunity.  Hi Tech/Hi Touch is the motto of DliTE and FasTrack -two online teacher licensure programs.  Is it true? People are often shocked to hear I am an online professor.  “You never get to know your students” they exclaim.  Not true. The opposite.  Read on.


My personal mission is to employ the creative process, and empower others to employ the creative process, to effect social change.  As a strategy to meet this objective, I provide a deconstruction map of the work. I share specific details describing how my objects come into being.

The Birth of Onion/Academia Nuts
On April 26, 2001, at my 50th birthday “happening” ,  we were all asked to name our bliss. I identified “making art”.  Next, I had to admit that I had not been making art for a decade. I had become an academic bureaucrat- a digital warrior.   I promised to make art at the next opportunity.  A month later, a call for proposals for an artwork focusing  on technology and communications was forwarded to me by Pat Rogers, my colleague at Bemidji State University. I deleted it immediately.  I did not have time.  A few minutes later, along came a follow-up email.  “Did you erase that email?”, she asked, “you promised”.

The artwork “Onion” is a hybrid style of art, which incorporates postmodern, conceptual, and social practice style characteristics. In the artwork Onion I also employed a methodology I will call “recordari”, from the Latin “to remember, call to mind (re-restore and cor, genitive, cordis heart, understood by the ancients as the seat of judgment and memory” (Barnhart, 1988) (p. 896). I would like to identify  Onion and artwork like it, as representing our “lived experience” (VanManen, 1990) in visual form. Onion  takes you on a journey, which explores and records all the communication modes employed by our BSU virtual elearning community. onion 4 bridges

Naming an Art Work
The title of my art work is chosen with great care. Naming an artwork provides me with an opportunity to take an etymological trip, a journey which always fascinates me. Words are simply symbols of an idea-similar to an image. The origin of the word “community” is found  in the Latin ”unio”, meaning, onion or large pearl. The concept is that many layers make one sphere. Although the investigations into technology and art were equally fascinating, Onion kept calling me back. “Many layers make one sphere”. What a wonderful way to describe a healthy learning community.  I also selected the name, of course, so the viewer would think, “What?” and pick up the deconstruction map to learn more. It worked.  You are reading!

I chose an assemblage method of construction for Onion/Academia Nuts. I am drawn to using rescued objects to create art for several reasons. I am drawn to objects which hold memory and meaning.  The idea of rescuing these objects and re-organizing them to make new meaning PLUS saving them from the landfill appeals to my eco-commitment to the planet.


Photographs: I took pictures of my elearning community. I recorded the eyes, ears, mouths and hands –the communication tools of all the students, faculty and administrators who made up the Bemidji virtual ecommunity. The experience of collecting these images was powerful. There were many teachable moments, of course.  Our art methods professor, Sally Gibson, would have been proud to hear the students discuss how to  arrange their hands for the most powerful effect-from an elements and principles of design point of view.

I am sure our president, Jon Quistgaard, was nervous as I took close-up pictures of his ears. Everyone wants the ear of the president. I got it. His ear is in Onion, can you find it? The creation of this artwork, Onion, built community as it was built.

The photographs felt powerful to me. My experience in Chiapas, Mexico taught me that certain traditions believe photographs capture the soul. I felt the power of the images as I cut, printed, arranged and handled them. It was a very positive experience-revisiting our shared history. I decided to re-move the distraction of color. It also seemed more appropriate for the formalism of “The Academy”.

Papermaking: During the creation of Onion/Academia Nuts, I was also working on a MnSCU Emerging Curriculum grant with 17 community college partners. As you might imagine, there were dozens of whole document edits. I was inspired, when I finally sent the last edit in, to create handmade paper from the plethora of drafts. I employed a rough blend technique- leaving large chunks. Look closely- you may find yourself or a person you know.

“Wallpaper” is a techie term for background patterns.  Look at the “walls” of the rooms (boxes) and you may find yourself.02BridgesB

“Hidden” Meanings: Under each room/box are hand written messages to all the people in MnSCU who worked towards the creation of the online teacher licensure DLiTE program.

The back of the Onion sports handwritten comments from people who have attended each Appearance.  Please add your comments!

Deconstruction Map Holder
Mounted on the front of the Deconstruction Map holder is the drive for a motor. Information/data is the driver for our particular ride.  The silver name plate speaks to our profession-Education-the only word which uses all the vowels. Education grows tarnished occasionally but we bring it out, polish it, reflect on it, modify our practice and move forward with zeal.

onion deconstrction map holderThe Framing Material; I gave great consideration to this choice. The shadow box design protects the community we have created. The rooms/boxes are held together with liquid nails. I have served as the liquid nails for our learning community.

The silver circuit boards represent the heart of our communication mode, so fast moving, doubling all human knowledge every 3 months-obsolete the day it rolls into production. The silver nerve center is surrounded on all sides by the traditional gold picture frames which represents tradition and binds us to the history of the academy.  In a very real way- the worlds of the academy and digital delivery were alien worlds in 2001.

Onion Handout Map

Onion OpeningAppearance 1    2001
O/akaAN was commissioned by MnSCU to illustrate “Technology: Teaching and Learning” and has been installed in the World Trade center (now called Wells Fargo Headquarters) for the last decade.  The visual artwork and first chapter of The Life and Times of an Academia Nut takes you on an insider tour of the surreal world of the academy from the viewpoint of a professor who served as a standard bearer for a paradigm shift in a 100 year old academic institution.

 Appearance 2   Academia Nuts Book Stand
The second appearance will present  the first chapter of the graphic novel/journal – The Life and Times of an Academia Nut.  It will be premiered at the exhibit and appear created on handmade paper book (12” X 18”) and displayed on an antique dictionary stand sitting under the classically framed Onion/aka Academia Nuts .  Each time Onion/aka Academia Nuts is shown, a new chapter of the graphic novel The Life and Times of an Academia Nut  will also be premiered.  The artwork is guided by an eight page deconstruction booklet which each viewer may keep. (Artist will provide the booklets).  Academia Nuts Chapter 1 

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