NATHANIEL DONNETT | Backpack Exchange Project | MCLA Arts and Culture

5 Mar

Artist Brings Backpack Exchange for New Project


 Jillian Currier


March 2, 2022

Nathaniel Donnett, current ART LAB Artist in Residence, is bringing students together with a backpack exchange. Used backpacks given to Donnett will be featured in his new art project.

MCLA Arts and Culture is welcoming Nathaniel Donnett, the current ART LAB Artist in Residence, to bring students together in a backpack exchange. Students participating in the exchange will give up their old backpacks to be used in a unique art piece done by Donnett.

“Generally, when you have a backpack, it’s usually moving along with a body and carrying some kind of information. It also has a history based on the relationship with the person who’s attached to it. That kind of history is attached to the object— the backpack,” Donnett said in an interview with The Beacon.

The backpack exchange not only involves the student’s old backpack to be used in the new 2-D piece, but it also involves a yearbook-style photo of the student as well as quick questions asked by Donnett to help access the past, present, and future regarding the student and the piece itself.

The idea behind using backpacks for these pieces stems from an older project that Donnett worked on in Houston, which involved the idea behind objects as symbols, and the symbolism that something as simple as a backpack can carry. The yearbook-style photos are taken along with the exchange of the backpacks to be used in an archival ‘yearbook’ encapsulating the project and the student’s involvement.

“I thought it would be interesting that the book wouldn’t be something that would just be for me,” Donnett explained. He went on to say that the yearbook would be a way to expand his outreach of the project through the participating students, as well as creating something that the students can look back on.

Donnett focused on backpack exchanges as well in Houston, with the idea of objects being symbols as the driving force. He explained how after once seeing a backpack hung over a fence, it made him realize just how many meanings a simple object could convey.

“This time I wanted to get more activity from the spaces where the students are from, which is why I wanted to go to the schools,” said Donnett. The project in Houston kept the backpacks in one piece, but Donnett wanted to take it further and create something that transforms the backpacks, while also leaving a piece of them behind for the students.

The finished pieces of the backpacks will be on display at Gallery 51 in downtown North Adams at the end of Donnett’s residency with ART LAB, which will open in October of 2022.
Nicholas Rigger, the program coordinator for MAC, explained that all ART LAB Artists in Residence have the opportunity for a solo show at the gallery. The yearbook documenting the students’ experiences and photos for the piece will be archived in the library as well.

As for student’s potential hesitance, Donnett explained that “it’s just something that has to be experienced.” He went on to say that every experience he’s had with a student during the exchange so far has just been fun and eye opening to see students trip up when engaged about their past.

“The idea of just reflecting on some of the questions and thinking about it in a different way is interesting, and to see all these different voices come together in a kind of object is also interesting to find where you are in the piece,” Donnett explained.

“To know that a part of you is now something more, and to gain some sort of perspective…” Rigger said, is why students should be open to this experience and interested in collaborating.

The backpack exchange is available to students in the Campus Center on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. Any student that is interested that is not available during those times or wants to participate after March 1 can visit Gallery 51 or can reach out to either Nathaniel Donnett or Nicholas Rigger.

Available artwork by NATHANIEL DONNETT

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