Winning Shot

Towson High student photographer's moody entry earns a spot in London's renowned Tate Modern

March 28, 2007|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,Sun Art Critic

School is not cool, math and history are a drag and most of what's left is just kind of ... well, boring.

So what's a 17-year-old high school student who's still trying to figure out who he is and what he wants out of life supposed to do?

Why, become a photographer and make movies, of course. Exhibit your work in one of the world's most prestigious museums. Post your videos on YouTube.com so your friends (but not necessarily your parents) can see them.

Not every precocious teenager with a digital camera and a laptop computer loaded with PhotoShop and Windows Moviemaker gets to act out such dreams. But Towson High School senior Andrew Sliwoski is one of the lucky ones.

Today, the quiet kid in Kate Morrill's photography class at Towson High is in London on an all-expense-paid trip to the world renowned Tate Modern museum, where a photograph he took as part of a class project will be exhibited alongside the work of one of the world's foremost contemporary artists.

Not that the budding young artist lets on how excited he is by the prospect.

That wouldn't be very cool, after all.

"I'm sort of looking forward to it," he said last week while sitting in the living room of his family's suburban home with his parents and his best friend and collaborator, Dan St. Ours, who's also a Towson High senior and an art student.

"We'll be in England a week, and they've got an itinerary for us to see museums and galleries," Sliwoski said. "I'm just taking some clothes and all my cameras and stuff. I'm taking a couple of nice shirts and a sweater, but no sports coat. I also got a couple of ties."

At this announcement, Sliwoski's mother, Pamela Sliwoski, looked at her son with a pained expression and sighed.

"Typical teenager," she murmured.

Sliwoski, with a shock of Andy Warhol-like blond hair in the middle of his mostly brown locks, is representing the United States as one of 18 winners of the Unilever International Schools Art Project competition.

The contest, sponsored by British-based Unilever Corp., the food, home care and personal products giant, brings gifted young artists from around the world together for a week of workshops, networking and sightseeing pegged to the exhibition at Tate Modern of a major work commissioned by the company.

This year, Unilever commissioned Belgian contemporary artist Carsten Holler to install a curved, six-story-high sliding board in Tate Modern's cavernous Turbine Hall, where viewers can either take the plunge themselves or merely watch other, more adventurous souls fly down its twisting aluminum and Plexiglas chute.

Holler's sliding board, titled Test Site, is the largest of several similar works the artist has installed in museums and galleries around the world. The seventh work in the Unilever Series for Tate Modern, it was conceived as an enormous sculpture intended to explore the simultaneous feelings of childlike delight and utter dread that visitors experience while riding the chute or watching others plummet down its shiny tube.

The piece also inspired the theme of this year's school art contest, "Reality & Dream." Sliwoski's entry, which he called Stars Have Teeth, is a moody, 18-by-24-inch print that shows part of a playground photographed at night under the sulfurous orange glow of an overhead street lamp. He took it last summer as an experiment when he was trying out a new digital camera, placing his Nikon on a tripod in front of the subject, then walking around for a minute or so while the shutter remained open. Later, he edited the image in PhotoShop and printed it out on the school's large-format ink-jet printer.

The photograph combines a classic image of childhood innocence with an ominous sense of foreboding, like the hellish scenes on the final panel of Hieronymus Bosch's famously unsettling triptych, The Garden of Earthly Delights.

Yet by cleverly confounding opposite emotions of pleasure and fear, Sliwoski's photograph mirrors the conflicting feelings of Holler's giant sculpture, which similarly evokes mixed responses of delight and dread. (Holler's piece will remain on display through April 15. The work by Sliwoski and the other contest winners will be at the Tate Modern tonight, then move to the National Theatre in London, where they will be on display Friday through April 21.)

`Original individual'

"He is a very original individual who is always on his own page," said Morrill, who added that she wasn't surprised when her student won the prize out of hundreds of entries from across the country.

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