Section: Arts

Student art installations vibrant but vulnerable

Student art installations vibrant but vulnerable

by Bailey Blaker

From chickens to consent to commentary on economic diversity, student-artists sparked conversation this week with interactive projects constructed around campus.

These projects were created as part of  Professor of Studio Art Claudia Esslinger’s Installation Art class.  This week marks the class’s first major project, which, according to Esslinger, aims to “intervene” in everyday life on campus. Esslinger characterized intervention as an interaction with students. “It’s different than something one would just look at,” Esslinger said. “The goal is for it to not be just observed but interacted with.”

Having taught installation art for the last six years, Esslinger has seen a definite shift in the way students have approached social issues through art. “I think there’s more emphasis on a consideration about ecological issues, as there is on all of the campus,” she said.

For example, according to the  United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 31 percent of food produced in the U.S. was disposed of uneaten. Food waste, specifically in Peirce Hall, inspired Claire HarnEnz ’17 to create a photo series showcasing the genetically modified chickens the Kenyon Farm raises for AVI.

“At the Kenyon Farm, we raise chickens for Peirce, and like 120 of them just got taken to slaughter yesterday and 50 percent of them will end up in the trash,” HarnEnz said. “The chickens that I’ve taken pictures of will actually be served at Peirce in this next week or so.”

The artist selected a group of chickens to bring into the studio for a photoshoot. She then printed and laminated the photographs and placed them on the dish return in Peirce Hall.

HarnEnz spent four hours Sunday evening assembling the piece, but was shocked when she found them missing on Monday morning. AVI staff members removed HarnEnz’s photos within 20 minutes of the servery being open. “I’m really disappointed that I can’t put it up like how I wanted to,” she said, “and I don’t think that anything that I do will be as powerful.”

Kim Novak, AVI resident director, said the removal was the result of a misunderstanding about placement. “In our communication she was thinking one thing and I was thinking another,” said Novak.

HarnEnz’s project, now installed on the walls surrounding the dish return, will be on view in Peirce until the end of the week.

This is not the first time that student installation pieces have been tampered with. Last year, a few incidents of vandalism destroyed a piece about issues in the Middle East. A see-through trophy case that was placed over the stone post at the Gates of Hell was also targeted on the basis of the piece disrupting tradition.

Though her installation may not be considered provocative, the collection of resin hummingbirds created by Natalie Wardlaw ’16 have already been subject to vandalism.

“One of the birds has already been stolen,” Wardlaw said. “No other birds have been taken, but I’m interested to see how many will be left by the end.”

Other projects, such as Leah Annitto’s ’16 consent bench and Anna Shinbane’s ’16 gallery simulation, have also sparked conversation across campus. Esslinger believes   student reactions, whether positive or negative, are important when creating this type of art.

“Part of the conversation is always that part of the reaction might not be positive,” Esslinger said, “especially if you know [the project] is going to be provocative.”

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