Psychology meets art in the Park Blocks

Last week students and community members merged cognitive psychology and art in an exhibition out on the South Park Blocks.

Last week students and community members merged cognitive psychology and art in an exhibition out on the South Park Blocks.

Portland artist Laura Moulton drew on Jean Piaget’s study on cognitive development in infants, which advanced the theory of “object permanence,” or the realization that objects exist even when they are out of sight.
Working off of this, she created an art project called Object Mobile that asks what objects are considered meaningful to people and why.

“We created this to be a kind of mobile art gallery and exhibition of objects that are important to PSU students,” Moulton said.

The mobile unit held a foldout typewriter for students to add experiences to the exhibit, and small boxes covered by Plexiglas windows displaying objects previously collected with short descriptions of their significance.

Moulton’s work drew several curious glances from students who walked by the area, and more than one stopped to add narrative descriptions and sketches of objects that have special meaning in their lives.

“The second part of the project is interaction, in the nature that students can come by and participate,” Moulton said. “They can use the typewriter to describe their object or sketch it out.”

According to Moulton, Object Mobile was funded by the Oregon Arts Commission’s Percent for Art program. Moulton said the main criterion to receive the funding was that her art must somehow involve the public.

In an effort to engage Portland State art students and reach out to the university’s community, Moulton looked to professor Harrell Flecther of the fine and performing arts department at Portland State.

“I was looking for student-artists to help and I sent out a request with Harrell Fletcher, who put out a list of students who may be interested in doing the project,” Moulton said.

She then received support from Crystal Baxley and Rozzell Medina, two Portland State students who contributed time and effort to the project.

Baxley, a third-year student, said the project compliments her studies in social practice.

“It’s an art practice that looks outside the traditional art studio and involves more interaction; there’s a participatory element,” Baxley said.

Baxley also contributed one of her favorite belongings to Object Mobile. Her contribution was a pair of ankle socks that read, “You Can’t Afford Me,” a gift from her mother.

“At first I thought it was a joke because it was so ridiculous on so many levels—who would buy them?” Baxley said. “I ended up liking them the most.”

Moulton did not choose the project for funding, but instead was inspired by human connections with objects.

“I love the idea of collecting artifacts that at first look homely but when you display it in a nice case, people come and look,” Moulton said.

One of the objects that Moulton finds most fascinating is a crucifix with the following description: “A gift from my grandmother, she is Indonesian and met my Dutch grandpa during World War II. My grandpa’s family resented her ethnicity. When my mom was born, my grandma received it from her mother-in-law as a peace offering.”

Moulton’s Object Mobile art project is also available on her Web site,, where people can upload pictures of their objects and a description to be included in her gallery.

She said for her upcoming project, she is interested in doing something to memorialize Craig Arnold, a poet who has been missing since the end of April after a hike near a volcano site.

“Maybe I’ll do a papier-mâché of a volcano with my kids and I do a reading of his poem,” Moulton said.