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Art installation brings people together

A 'Before I Die' wall urges visitors to share their hopes.

July 11, 2013|By Kelly Corrigan, kelly.corrigan@latimes.com
  • Kevork Kurdoghlian kneels next to his life wish to be president at the unveiling of a wall with the phrase "Before I die," where people can fill in the blank with their life wish in the fine arts gallery at Glendale Community College on Wednesday, July 10, 2013. The project was brought to GCC by 2nd year student Kevork Kurdoghlian who got the idea from a TED Talks video he saw online.
Kevork Kurdoghlian kneels next to his life wish to be president… (Tim Berger / Staff…)

Finish this sentence: "Before I die I want to…."

The ellipsis confronts visitors to the fine arts gallery at Glendale Community College, part of a large chalkboard installed by Kevork Kurdoghlian, complete with the utensils for people to fill in the blank.

PHOTOS: "Before I die" wall at GCC art gallery

The responses left by visitors are as wide ranging as they typically are in conversation, many of them involving world travels or matters of love. Others are more explicit, such as "Cut Johnny Depp's hair," or "Prove my parents wrong."

The chalk wall may come off as just one big conversation starter, but its impetus is rooted in something much more grim, and its purpose is a serious one.

Kurdoghlian, 18, brought the installation to Glendale Community College after his friend, 17-year-old Campbell Taylor, jumped to his death from a building at La Cañada High School in March.

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The two became friends while working on the student newspaper.

"Nobody really knows why Campbell jumped," Kurdoghlian said, adding that in the weeks prior, his friend would often communicate feelings of being stressed out by the usual suspects — exams, personal life and other commitments.

"Things any high school student can relate to," Kurdoghlian said.

Before Campbell's death, Kurdoghlian said staff members at La Cañada High had been working to display the wall on campus, but they backed off after the suicide.

Kurdoghlian had hoped the wall would become an outlet for students to express and display their challenges publicly.

"It's to make what's private — public," he said.

The wall's concept was first created by New Orleans artist Candy Chang, who was inspired by the death of her own friend, after which she put up a large chalkboard in her neighborhood and asked the public to fill in the sentence.

Similar walls have since gone up in cities around the world. But when La Cañada Unified turned Kurdoghlian down, he turned to Glendale Community College, where he recently completed his freshman year.

His art history professor, Emily Haraldson, suggested the wall go in the gallery.

"As a contemporary art historian, I find art that draws in its viewers in a participatory manner to be most effective and powerful, and 'Before I Die...' does that," she said.

Kurdoghlian is still hoping La Cañada school officials will embrace the project and allow it on campus. He may even seek to install one at a Glendale Unified campus.

La Cañada Unified officials did not return requests for comment.

In the meantime, the chalk wall that beckons visitors to leave their aspirations for all to see will be in the gallery through July 25. By Wednesday evening, nearly all 28 lines had been filled in.

Burbank resident Stella Escarcega revisited what she wrote in orange chalk the day prior: "Play the guitar."

"It just seems to bring people together," she said. "We all share a common thought, 'Before I die.'"

FYI

The wall will be on display in the Glendale Community College fine arts gallery from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. — Monday through Thursday — through July 25.

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Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.

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