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“#CurrentStatus,” one of the exhibition pieces created by Perham students, asked visitors to take a “selfie” with a Polaroid camera in a booth. Visitors then make up a hashtag defining their thoughts at the moment and post the photo on the booth’s exterior. Submitted photos

Students explore tech and privacy in new art exhibit

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Some Perham High School art students recently had a unique opportunity to contribute to a collaborative art exhibition currently on display in Fergus Falls.

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“This art project, Private/Public, is a collaborative exploration into the role and effect of cell phones and the Internet as a form of communication in our society,” lead artist and coordinator Su Legatt told the Focus.

Legatt, a 1998 Perham graduate, started working on this idea about one year ago.

The name comes from the way information is shared on the Web: something that was private then becomes public.

Apps like Snapchat and Instagram have changed how young people communicate, Legatt said. In cases where, in the past, words were used to convey a message, now it’s sometimes as simple as one image.

Legatt said teenagers make up the minority of social media accounts, but they post more than three times the content as older users.

She wondered what sort of input these tech-raised teens would have on the topic – so she asked them.

“They have been around technology all of their lives,” Legatt said of the students who were involved in the project. “So it only made sense to work with them.”

Legatt first approached the art teacher in Moorhead, Minn., where she currently lives. From there, she decided to include Perham, and then Minnewaska, Minn., so each district would have a different background and makeup compared to the other two.

After Legatt and the art teachers decided which class would participate in the project, she addressed the students and led a conversation about cell phones, technology and what direction the students wanted to go in with their work.

“Each school went a different direction,” said Legatt.

Moorhead focused on texting, Minnewaska zeroed in on privacy, and Perham’s students chose the idea of ‘statuses’ and their comfort level for sharing information online.

“I really wanted the students to come up with their own ideas and own it,” Legatt said of the students’ side of the project.

After the initial discussions, groups broke off to brainstorm their pieces.

“I was surprised by how involved the students got,” Legatt said. “They had smart and insightful approaches – very in-depth.”

One of the resulting projects was “Not Your Status,” a physical version of the online ‘wall’ where users post their information and thoughts.

To begin the piece, a one-question survey was sent out to the Perham student body asking, “What would you never post online?”

Some answers were sarcastic or general, like ‘my weight’ or ‘my social security number,’ Legatt said. But then, there were some responses that surprised her with their honesty – sharing rough family situations, substance abuse and other similarly intense topics.

These responses were written onto cards and posted anonymously on the wall. At the display, more cards are available for gallery viewers to add their own ‘secrets.’

Another project asks viewers to write down their last text message on a two-sided curtain. One side has bright colored squares for positive messages. The other has dark squares for negative messages.

The idea the students had was to examine which type of message we send more via text – good or bad?

Conveniently, the three involved districts form a triangle, with Fergus Falls near its center. It is there, at the Kaddatz Gallery, where the exhibition is currently on display until June 14.

“I’m exceptionally proud of the ideas they are exploring and the quality of the work,” Legatt said. “It was a really great project.”

Gallery manager Gretchen Boyum said the overall response to the exhibition has been positive, with a lot of participation by visitors.

The exhibition is free to see and open to the public during the gallery’s hours.

Legatt and some of the students will hold an artists’ talk on Thursday, May 29 at 6 p.m. at the Kaddatz Gallery.

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