May: Mental Health Awareness Month

Mental Health Month was first observed in May 1949. It was started to raise awareness about the importance of mental health to our overall wellbeing. This spring, Marquette has observed four mental health days: one per month in February, March, April, and May. Working together, the Ott Memorial Writing Center and the Haggerty Museum of Art have invited the campus community to draw connections between mental health and Black history, women’s history, and poetry. Now we invite you to look, write, and listen to art that speaks to us visually, spatially, and through sound. Along with looking good and writing well, we encourage you to listen closely and to feel the sounds all around you.

American sculptor and furniture designer Harry Bertoia (1915-1978) is known for his sound sculptures, which are often generically titled Sonambient. These works are visually simple and consist of vertical bunches of metal rods mounted on a base. When they are touched the rods strike against each other to produce sounds ranging from delicate rustlings to bell-like peals. According to the Bertoia Foundation:

The tall tonal wire pieces came about when he was bending a single wire and it broke off, flew through the air and made a wonderful sound. It made him wonder what two or twenty rods might sound like. Thus began the adventure down the path of Sonambient. He never made the same piece twice, always seeking a different or richer sound with varying rods or metals.

Three variations of the Sonambient sculptures are installed at the Haggerty Museum of Art: Sonambient (1978), Untitled (1976), and Tonal (1973).

Three variations of the Sonambient sculptures are installed at the Haggerty Museum of Art: Tonal (1973), Untitled (1976), and Sonambient (1978).  

Looking Good, Marquette: Art & Writing for Mental Health

Post and tag your writing with #LookingGoodMarquette #WHM #HMA #OttWC

Prompt 1 (5 minutes)

Look at the three sculptures on view with an eye toward form, that is the three-dimensionality of the sculptures and the ways they take up space. Consider the part to whole relationships within each sculpture. What happens if you focus on a single rod? What happens when you view the rods together? How do the sculptures resemble one another and how are they different?

Prompt 2 (5 minutes)

Harry Bertoia never stopped experimenting with, playing with, and enjoying his art. His Sonambient sculptures explore relationships of cause and effect. Lighting them in different ways produces different shadows. Manipulating them in different ways produces different sounds. If you are in the galleries, we invite you to touch the sculptures and observe the sonic and visual effects of doing so.

Prompt 3 (10-15 minutes)

Several different Sonambient sculptures are featured in this video.

Watch it and then reflect on the different qualities of sound and tone that you heard. Which one did you respond to most favorably? Describe the sound.

Spend a few minutes reflecting on the sound you enjoyed and imagine yourself in a setting where you might hear something similar. What does that place look and feel like? Who or what might make the sound(s) the sculpture made? How might you and others respond, either directly or indirectly.

To extend this reflection into a writing exercise, use the ideas and impressions you have collected to launch a poem or short story. Set a timer for 5 minutes and discover where the sounds you heard might lead you.

Prompt 4 (10 minutes)

Bertoia experimented with a wide range of materials before he produced the sculptures on display this month. Take inspiration from his work and bring your attention to your own surrounds.

  • Set a timer and spend 5 minutes looking around you and listening: What objects and materials do you have on hand? What noises do they make on their own or in regular, everyday use? What sounds can they produce if you interact with them in new ways: If you hold them differently, tap them gently, knock them strongly (if they can withstand it), and so on?
  • Now spend at least 5 minutes writing: Start by describing what you heard. Next, imagine the same sounds as part of a symphony and describe each movement. Imagine how a child might interpret the sounds you made. Imagine what visitors from another planet might think.