It all started when Jeff Robin, art teacher at High Tech High in Point Loma, came across “the largest box I’d ever seen” (a whiteboard had been delivered to the school in said box earlier that day).
“I had been asked by Bird Rock Coffee Roasters if I could provide some art for the walls, and I started thinking, ‘Maybe we could paint that box,’” he said.
Robin started discussing the idea with his students, and they began to brainstorm ideas for the design.
“The problem was how were we going to get that box over to the Coffee Roasters?” he said. “We didn’t have a truck big enough.”
At the suggestion of one of Robin’s students, Ines Diot, the group began to explore the idea of walking the box all the way from the school to the coffee shop, which, as they soon discovered using Google Maps, was exactly 7.7 miles.
Hoping to acquaint his students with conceptual performance art through more than a dry textbook definition, Robin decided to help them create a work of art through the experience of walking to the art’s final destination. And so 47 students took turns hoisting up the immense box, and for three hours, documented by a camera affixed to a tripod on a platform-bedecked bicycle (“Which was sketchy,” Robin said), made their way up the coast.
Robin, who has escorted students to several countries through art-related field trips, surprised himself with his anxiety over walking the streets of his hometown.
“When we were still only at NTC, I was thinking, ‘Will this work?’ I was kind of freaking out,” he said. “I’ve taken kids all over the world, but this made me very nervous.”
Three hours later, the group arrived at the coffee shop, where owner Chuck Patton was waiting with pizza. Students and teacher were tired, but content.
“I think the kids all felt proud. I think they felt like they were a part of something,” Robin said. “They were skeptical at first, but then they understood that the box wasn’t the art. The box and the pictures of us are remnants of the art that was us walking together. That’s a memory they’ll have forever.”
Later the same evening, the group returned to affix a selection of photos taken of the walk, in sequence from Point Loma to La Jolla, to the front of the box — along with a map showing the students’ route — and it was hung on the coffee shop’s wall. The photos serve, Robin said, to draw in and engage the viewer in the creative endeavor.
“People can look at the map and photos and say, ‘Hey, I know that place,’ or, ‘I’ve been there,’” he said.
The purpose of the experience served to show the students exactly how art is created, rather than merely showing them a picture of it, said Robin, who practices the education technique of project-based learning.
“It’s bizarre to me that some people don’t get project-based learning,” he said. “Basically, these kids just did exactly what a real conceptual artist would do, and I have no doubt that every kid now knows what conceptual art is, and there’s no need to give them a test or anything. It’s real-world learning, and doing the real thing is what gives you passion.”
Having the chance to display their work, Robin said, also connects the students to the community and lends credibility to the project.
“They all felt like they were part of a community, and now there’s this connection with the exhibit,” he said. “You need authenticity in art, and exhibiting gives it that. The connection is the exhibition.”
As for the physical aspect of their cross-city sojourn, 10 of the students made the entire 7.7-mile journey, while the rest participated in sections. Robin walked the entire way with his class, and as a result, he said, “I’ve been sore all week.”
The display of the “7.7 Mile Box” project will be on display at Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, located at 5627 La Jolla Blvd., through the end of October. For more information, visit www.jeffrobin.com.