Grilled cheese at the center of the newest IUPUI University Library sculpture

In a playful sculpture of floating cartoon-like images, artist Michael Helsley chooses a favorite comfort food — grilled cheese — to take the edge off his grief, represented by five rocks and a bear. The mobile-style sculpture, installed in the University Library atrium, tells of Helsley’s journey of discovery following a personal time of grief.

Helsley’s sculpture is the newest installation in an annual art competition the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis University Library sponsors for Herron School of Art and Design students. As this year’s winner, Helsley received funding to create the large-scale sculpture. It has been installed in the second-floor atrium in the University Library for display for one year.

Helsley’s art draws in its viewers as the images simultaneously appear and disappear, reflecting the movement of the five stages of grief outlined by Dr. Kubler Ross. Helsley constructed the images from rigid foam sheets, using commercially printed material salvaged from billboards and repainted by hand. The Herron student cast an astronaut as himself, part explorer, part cowboy, among the boulders, a bear and the grilled cheese sandwich as he floats and sometimes falls during his journey of exploration of both the past and the future.

The size and flatness of the images allows them to simultaneously disappear in one location while appearing to a viewer in another location. The act of “revealing” themselves relates directly to the act of discovery, whether it is new or as it relates to memory.