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Empty high school becomes a playground for artists exploring memory, nostalgia

November 15, 2018
art professor stands in a disused classroom that has been filled with old-fashioned fimlstrip screens, each showing an image from an old high school yearbookAssociate professor of art Allen Topolski with his installation, “A Common Inculcation.” The work was part of an immersive art exhibition called “PLAY/GROUND,” featuring 29 artists at the former high school in Medina, New York. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

Memory holds a central place in the human experience, in many ways even defining identity. The fleetingness and permanence of memory inspired a recent collaborative art project at the former Medina High School, in Medina, New York.

The large, Victorian-era building hasn’t been used as a school in many years. Its empty rooms and halls this fall became fertile ground for artists from Toronto, New York, and places in between. Named “PLAY/GROUND” by the curators, the immersive art project offered 29 original art installations in classrooms, hallways, stairwells, the gymnasium, and the auditorium. Each piece was created on site in less than a week; in a gesture toward ephemerality, the project was on view for only one weekend before being dismantled.



Allen Topolski, an associate professor of art at the University of Rochester, made the piece “A Common Inculcation.” The act of remembering has long shaped his work, and he drew from Medina’s 1950 high school yearbook to produce an elaborate display of projections, screens, and portraits.

Yearbooks, he says, are a kind of index to a “pivotal moment in most people’s lives,” and he calls his piece an exploration of the “gray area” between memory and nostalgia.

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illustration of a human face being constructed out of boxes by a construction crane to illustrate how memory is builtCommitted to memory
“I mostly come to memory through objects, which I see as remnant, component, evidence, keepsake, memento, document, heirloom, or souvenir—and I enjoy the investigation of the subtle differences between them.” Allen Topolski joins other Rochester artists and scientists to answer the question: How does memory shape our sense of who we are?


In photos: More from “PLAY/GROUND” 

(University of Rochester photos / J. Adam Fenster)

artist Allen Topolski stands next to a classroom door, lit from behind and showing the silhouette of a person

Allen Topolski, University of Rochester associate professor of art, poses with his installation at the “PLAY/GROUND” art exhibition.

a white room completely full of white balloons

A piece by Kyla Kegler.

a large room with a wooden floor, and on the floor are wooden blocks the appear to form a cityscape or skyline

Works by Kyle Butler.

a stair case of an old building, and on each step there is writing so that the whole staircase spells out THE TRUE OBJECT OF HUMAN LIFE IS PLAY. EARTH IS A TASK GARDEN: HEAVEN IS A PLAYGROUND

Works by Elizabeth Cooper.

large room filled with colorful, star shaped balloons

Works by Virginia Melnyk.

classroom painted in different shades of pink stripes with a large geometric sculpture in the center of a tree

Works by Colleen Toledano.

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Category: The Arts