Michelle Illuminato’s art factory helps people find what they’re looking for

Michelle Illuminato’s art factory helps people find what they’re looking for

Michelle Illuminato’s art factory helps people find what they’re looking for
February 28
22:32 2018

Sparkling red letters spell out the word “FACTORY” in front of the tinsel that is draped down the wall. Young artists work with sewing machines, needles, thread and glue guns to recover what cannot be found.

This art exhibit gives new meaning to the phrase “lost and found.”

Michelle Illuinato’s Lost and Found Factory, part of the Mary Jo and V. Lane Rawlins Fine Arts Series, is currently being exhibited in the Union’s art gallery. The installation began on Monday and will officially display its work from 5-8 p.m on Friday, March 2.

“It’s a place where we’re inviting people to talk about things that they’ve lost and have artists hear their stories … and really respond to them,” Illuminato said.

Illuminato lives in Portland, Oregon, where she works as an artist and professor at Portland State University. She has been interested in combining art with social engagement from an early age.

As a kid, she and her friends made haunted houses and backyard carnivals for others to play and participate in.

The Pittsburgh native feels her Lost and Found installation is, in part, relatable to her childhood activities because like her carnivals, it allows for creativity and social interaction. The first installation of Lost and Found was at the Three Rivers Arts Festival in Illuminato’s hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It also received an award from Americans for the Arts.

“[The award] gave it this honor of being one of the most compelling pieces in the United States,” Illuminato said.

Her other exhibits include The Neighborhood Revisited (displayed in Pittsburgh), Pop Rocks (displayed in New York) and Lenz (displayed in Darmstadt, Germany). Illuminato brought the exhibit to UNT after Mike Flemming, arts coordinator for the Fine Arts Series and Union Arts, invited her to showcase her work. She also previously worked with UNT professor and sculpture coordinator Alicia Eggert at Alfred University.

Illuminato does not have a specific source of inspiration for this project. She said her work usually involves “engaging in structure,” and with Lost and Found specifically, she wanted to give something back to people. Illuminato also said she does not believe ideas only come from one place, and that she tends to be inspired more by things she reads and researches than by the works of other artists.

“Sometimes as an artist you come up with an idea just because you want to see something exist,” Illuminato said.

This exhibit is a form of social practice art. It is considered a relatively new art form, so Illuminato was not able to study it when she went to art school at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

UNT sculpture professor Justin Archer has students participating in the installation because he feels this kind of art will add to their learning process.

“Social practice art aims to engage the audience either in the making of art or in the process of understanding and participating in the creation of art,” Archer said.

Archer also thinks the participation in this exhibit will especially help those in Sculpture I and II “get their hands dirty.” He also said many young artists feel that because they labored over a project, they must protect it and keep it.

“There’s this idea that what we make is precious,” Archer said. “I had to learn to let that go a long time ago.”

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Sculpture professor Justin Archer explains the process of the Lost and Found exhibit. The Lost and Found is an exhibit hosted by the Fine Art series for participants to tell what they have lost and UNT students design it for them. Kelsey Shoemaker

Helping people find their lost objects in the creative process is what is most rewarding for some. Biomedical engineering junior Hayley Cooper came to the Union to do homework and passed by the factory. Originally intrigued by its sparkly decorations, she was soon sitting on the floor filling out one of the exhibit’s lost object forms.

The form asks what the object is and gives participants space to describe the item and even draw it. Cooper lost her leather wallet her friend gifted her, which she described as “this weird blue cat on it with a ladybug shell.”

“The money was a bit of a bummer to lose,” Cooper said. “But it was mainly that it was sentimental. It was the first gift I ever got in college.”

Although she didn’t know what to expect to find, she was optimistic.

“Hopefully [I’ll get] a new wallet,” Cooper said. “I can’t find one I like.”

When students fill out their forms, they receive numbered tickets. They keep one half while the other is attached to a bag. Once the item has been made, it is photographed and then placed in the bag. The bags hang on a wall, which is already about halfway filled with items like shoes, a camera and a ring.

As of Tuesday, the factory has produced about 140 items. Illuminato wants students to know they will likely only make 200 total, so anyone who wants to find an item should come visit the exhibit as soon as they can.

Along with the graduate and undergraduate students who work in the factory, Illuminato said there will be guest artists on Friday during the official exhibit. She estimates there will be about 130 artists total working in the installation.

Although students are not receiving the exact same thing they once lost, Illuminato sees beauty in the concept of trying to recreate it.

“Even though it’s a metaphorical object, someone’s carefully thought about their story, responded to it and generously made [the item] for them,” Illuminato said. “That can then be a physical thing that allows that memory to exist again.”

Featured Image: A team of students create items that students have lost as part of the Lost and Found exhibit. The Lost and Found is an exhibit hosted by the Fine Art series for participants to tell what they have lost and UNT students design it for them. Kelsey Shoemaker

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Camila Gonzalez

Camila Gonzalez

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