When I left my office a few days ago, on my way through the lobby I was startled to see a nearly life-size papier-mâché figure of a person. Nearby were a series of smaller papier-mâché objects, some looking like partial human figures. I had no idea what it was or why it was there in the lobby, but I thought it was pretty good – whatever it was.
The next day, an identifying sign had been added displaying the title of the 3D artwork, “Time Winding Down.” Other than the presence of a clock, I couldn’t figure out how the title related to the work as a whole. But I brought in my camera to take pictures of it. Even without understanding its significance, I appreciated the use of color, shape, size, and different materials.
Yesterday I finally found out that information on the college website explains that it represents a man melting into the floor. Each successive figure is sunk further into the floor, until only a head and arms remain (the pieces I had not identified as human). Of course, some people who saw it before the title was added thought it went in reverse order, with a man rising up out of the floor – which makes sense visually because of the direction the figures are facing.
I found myself pondering the significance of the newspaper. One of the most widely used types of paper in papier-mâché projects, it was probably chosen for practical reasons – it’s widely available and low-cost (old copies of newspapers would just go in recycling anyway), easy to tear up and cover objects of various shapes. (I’m curious what framework they used underneath.)
But newspaper is also very time-oriented. There are some features in a newspaper that could be printed pretty much any time, but most of it has meaning for the time at which it was printed, and very little thereafter (unless used for purposes of historical research much, much later). The newspapers used in the artwork have no value any longer as a source of information, because of the passing of time.
Yet by turning them into art, the students (in ART 111 3-Dimensional Design) gave these papers a value that transcends time. I have no idea whether the idea of a man melting into the floor is supposed to say that we lose significance with time, or to suggest a general sense of decay and loss, or if there is really any statement at all being made intentionally. But I find the work intriguing both for its visual appeal and the thoughts about time that it evokes.
I also learned yesterday that it is only one of five works done by the ART 111 class, and I was eager to see the rest. Today the registrar and I walked around campus, finding the other four and taking pictures. All are considered examples of site specific art, art “that is integrated with its surroundings and that explores its relationship to the topography of its locale.”
“Identitree Crisis” sits in the middle of the lawn, and at first glance we couldn’t even find it. The registrar spotted it first, and once you look at it, it’s clearly not a real tree, but it fits in well enough that from a distance it doesn’t immediately stand out as man-made. It is covered with bark at the bottom (I couldn’t help wondering where they found bark without taking it off a living tree), with pieces off real trees forming the lower branches, then copper wound around the wood of higher branches, and the top ones formed entirely of copper wire.
So is it a real tree trying to become a decorative copper tree? Or a copper tree trying to establish itself as a real tree? It didn’t catch my imagination as much as the human figures of the artwork in the lobby, but it also combines aesthetic appeal with a thought-provoking title.
I have to admit that I found the remaining three works less interesting. “Arachnophobia” asks little of the imagination, and is stark enough in its representation of predator and prey that my arachnophobic companion chose not to take any photographs of that one.
“Sky, Wind, Earth and Water,” set up in the middle of a creek, certainly integrates itself into its surroundings, but that’s about all I can think of to say about it.
“Orderly Chaos” has the advantage of an evocative title, but the art itself was only slightly interesting. I like both the geometric shapes and the chaotic mass of string (I had to actually touch it to realize it was painted string and not melted and fused wires as I had first thought – until it occurred to me to wonder where the art students would have found the facilities to do all that melting and fusing), but their union failed to live up to the promise I had found in its title. (It also is the hardest to see in the photo,despite my having tried various angles to get the light better.)