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art teacher turns abandoned mail truck into art

WILTON — Three years ago, Ben Quesnel’s friend found two abandoned mail trucks in the back of his woods in South Windsor. Inside one of the mail trucks, they discovered a box of magazines, advertisements and other mail dating back to 1982 that never made it to their final destination.

Now, Quesnel is turning the abandoned mail truck into an interdisciplinary art installation at his studio at 5 River Road in the Wilton River Park Shopping Center. Inside the installation, visitors will hear different sounds, view video works and read written letters by local authors, poets and other creatives from Connecticut mixed with some of the abandoned mail he found.

Anyone, including visitors, can also submit a letter or piece of artwork to the installation — as long as it goes along with the theme of “Undelivered.”

“It can be poetic, it can be romantic, it can be political — it can be an array of things,” Quesnel said in his studio space. “But I like the idea of a message we haven’t sent yet or want to send but just haven’t said”

“I think people will start making connections with each other, or people amongst each other in the space, because I’m sure we’ll have similar things to say,” he added.

Other than the discovery of the abandoned mail truck, “Undelivered” has many different sources of inspiration: a class Quesnel took three years ago at The School of Visual Art’s Art Practice program taught by award-winning author, educator and curator Steven Henry Madoff; two trips to see New York City immersive play, “Sleep No More”; and his desire to connect with the community and to create a piece of art that engages them in the process while still leaving room for individualized exploration.

“I want people to feel as if they’re a part of the work, so they’ll be kind of involved in it so they exist within the sculpture,” Quesnel said. “It doesn’t really function without the help of the visitor.”

The Stamford artist and Greenwich art teacher said “Undelivered” is his most immersive piece to date.

He started working on the piece at the beginning of the year, taking several days just to the cut the abandoned mail truck into pieces and to bring it into his studio space. For the past few weeks, he’s been busy with making sure the pieces are functioning and safe — removing any dangerous metal parts, cleaning out dust and dirt, and adding wood to areas where visitors can sit.

The hope is to have a grand opening of the art installation within the next month or two. But before then, visitors are welcome to stop by for questions, conversation or simply observation.

“I’m excited for it to get warm out so people can actually come in and create their letters or whatever it may be,” Quesnel said. “Anytime you come, you’ll hear or see something different. So I’m hoping to create that communal space for a diverse experience.”

Throughout the year, Quesnel also plans on holding several community art workshops where people can learn more about the installation and create their own pieces of undelivered art. They can also view some of his other recent work. Several deconstructed chairs from his recent project, “Standing Room Only,” hang from the ceiling and a few pieces reconstructed with parts from old tobacco farms are fixed on the walls, along with a commissioned painting.

Quesnel won the studio space for a year through a juried competition by the Clementina Arts Foundation in December. The Stamford-based foundation partnered with Kimco Realty for the launching of its Sprouting Spaces program, which helps artists land free studio space in commercial vacancies.

“Collaborations that are synergistic for communities wouldn’t have been possible without a proactive and willing landlord such as Kimco,” Clementina Arts Foundation Founder Fernando Luis Alvarez said. “Its team quickly saw the importance culture and the arts bring to a community, and the quality of experience within their complexes that it creates.”

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