The girls who live, breathe and sit in boxes for art


A reflective box, two students and 24 hours were all ingredients used in the name of art.

Camilla Stark, an industrial design student, took part in an art project designed by Hannah Cardell, another industrial design student.

Hannah Cardall (left) sat at that table to observe Camilla Stark (right), who sits where the box once stood. Stark holds the last remnant of the box. (Kayla Goodson)

The project, entitled “Portrait of a Millennial in Her Natural Habitat,” required Stark to sit in a box made of reflective material for 24 hours.

This piece was created for one of Cardall’s art classes as part of a four-piece study using mirrors.

“Students tend to be quite ingenious in this course,” visual arts professor Jean Richardson said. “Hannah puts a lot of thought and work into her assignments. She is exploring interesting themes of identity and perception in her work.”

The box quickly became more than a class project, according to Cardall and Stark.

Cardall had already conceptualized the project when she began looking for someone to participate in the project. Cardall asked Stark to participate through Twitter after looking through a list of people she thought she could convince to sit in the box.

Hannah Cardall asked Camilla Stark to sit in the box through a series of tweets. (Hannah Cardall and Camilla Stark)

“So she asked me this and I’m like, ‘Of course I’ll sell my soul for art. Wait, what am I agreeing to?'” Stark said. “Then when she told me about it, I was turning it over in my mind all day, and I realized I already live in a mirrored box, right?”

Stark said she quickly related the project to real life.

“I always am on campus looking at people who are looking at me (and) who are looking at themselves,” Stark said. “We’re all in our boxes.”

Cardall agreed and explained this is why she chose to create the box with reflective materials.

“We all reflect ourselves onto each other, you know? Everything we do constantly comes back to ourselves,” Cardall said.

Stark turned out to be an interesting reflection of millennial culture during her time in the box, according to Cardall. Wearing a hoodie and jeans with her hair undone, notifications constantly dinging and blankets surrounding her, Stark became what she and Cardall call “the androgynous everyday man of the millennial generation.”

This picture, originally from Snapchat, circulated around social media as Stark explained why she was in the box. (Camilla Stark)

Stark was allowed to bring whatever she wanted into the box – most notably her technology. The “dings” of her notifications created a soundtrack in the design lab as she live-tweeted, posted to Facebook and Snapchatted during the 24-hour experiment.

The pair received a significant reaction on social media, especially on Stark’s “Facebook empire.” Internet onlookers became so involved that they started answering each other’s questions, letting everyone know that Stark was in a box for “Art.”

Cardall also set up a camera in the corner of the box to record the entire thing. Stark had a hard time adjusting to the camera in the beginning, but by the end of the experiment, it almost acted as a companion.

“I like that it had this other element because I had the video,” Cardall said. “I like that there was this sort of companion piece in her explosion on the internet.”

Stark noted that other than being recorded, being in the box was not much different than her normal life. Cardall, however, noticed that Stark acted interestingly in light of the box.

After Stark broke out of the box, Cardall says she was “unusually manic.” Stark danced around the design lab, jumped on a trampoline and went out with friends to celebrate her freedom. (Camilla Stark)

Stark had no human interaction during her stint in the box (although she was allowed to leave to go to the bathroom and Cardall brought her food), but Cardall was present for most of the experiment. Stark would speak to Cardall, but Cardall never responded for the sake of the project.

Stark asked permission to break out, but Cardall still did not respond when the 24 hours were up. After about a minute without a response, Stark made up her own mind.

“When I came out of the box, it was triumphant,” Stark said. “I counted down out loud and then kicked my way out and burst out of the box.”

Both Stark and Cardall said they learned a great deal from the box experience.

Stark said she was especially grateful and aware of the outside world and other people after she broke out of the box. She explained that she also became more aware of her social needs.

Stark is preparing for an internship in Munich this summer, and she is nervous about it because of her experiences in Paris last summer where she felt “vaguely unsafe.” When she was alone at night, the box reminded her of that time. In Germany, she will be alone without knowing the language or culture; she will be in a box. After this experience, however, she made the decision to let her metaphorical box be a place of meditation, and she has decided that she is going to be a great success this summer.

Cardall said she learned to be a fearless creator. The box pushed Cardall to go bigger with a higher concept and to explore. It proved that these things are worth trying.

“I feel like post-box, I should make the big things happen because that’s how I’m going to accomplish something,” Cardall said. “That’s what’s exciting, that’s what’s worth doing.”

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