For Todd Bartel, visual arts teacher at CSW, artist, Thompson Gallery curator and father of two, life is already busy, but when the opportunity arose for a chance to work on a project based on the box designs of artist Joseph Cornell, he couldn't pass it up.
The Rhode Island Tourism Department was seeking a graduate from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) to create box construction art as a concept design for creating an interactive tourism website. Within hours of sending in his application, Todd was hired to create four works of art corresponding with the four areas of tourism: art culture, food, history and outdoors.
"It was an honor to be commissioned for this project, and a no-brainer to say I wanted to do it, but having to work three jobs, teaching, curator and art making, was an elaborate balancing act."
Todd has been creating box construction designs and working within the lineage of Cornell since 1983.
The design firm, Duffy and Shanley, out of Providence, who were responsible for the website, asked Todd to physically create the interactive components, which were then photographed and turned into the replicated interactive website. The entire project needed to be completed quickly, in about four weeks. The size of the project, as well as the timeline and Todd's teaching responsibilities might have been too cumbersome, but, instead, it created the perfect opportunity for him to work with his wife, Talin Megherian, also a RISD graduate, with whom he had never had a prior chance to collaborate.
"When you work with your partner for first time in collaboration you are concerned with getting different opinions, but we worked so well together I had withdrawals after the project was over," Todd said. "I felt like it was a beautiful synthesis of all of our skills, we are a great team in that way, but we had not experienced it with art. This was a collaborative exhibition where all our creative processes and decisions were made by two people, it was fun and exhilarating."
Talin spent much of her days, while Todd was teaching, distressing and painting the wood, searching for Rhode Island memorabilia and artifacts online, antiquing in Rhode Island, and helping where she could. Todd would spend his nights working on the project and on the weekends they would combine their efforts working together.
"I liked being able to work with Todd, doing something together," Talin said. "It was a wonderful collaborative thing to do together as husband and wife."
In order to keep with the authenticity of the project, the two scoured the state of Rhode Island and the Internet looking for fossils, arrowheads, postcards and other collectables. Having both graduated from RISD, they also created a painting as a homage to their time there that only they would recognize.
In creating the four elements of the site, Todd was left to his imagination and own design. Everything he created in the four boxes was sculpted with the interactive capabilities that were mimicked digitally. The glass bottle, made in Providence, Todd and Talin found, is the exact bottle seen in the history section of the site. The postcards they found online are scattered throughout.
"One really fun piece of the project was the interactive aspect, coming up with ideas of what the boxes could contain," Talin said. "Coming up with gondolas on the summer river WaterFires, seeing the flames or the ballerina dance, stacking rocks on the nature box, that type of thing."
Now that the project is completed they have a digital reminder of not only how well they work together as husband and wife, but also as artists. And the four long weeks they spent together creating part of a website, for the second state in the United States to be part of the National Geographic Geotourism sites, which incorporates the concept of sustainable tourism and preservation of local destinations. For Todd, who as an artist, teacher and curator has spent the past 15 years working on ecological concerns, the opportunity to contribute to a geotourism site within the lineage of an artist who greatly influences his own work was remarkable.