On Wednesday, October 15, the Kenyon Public Art Committee sent out a Student Info e-mail entitled, “Public art vandalism decried”. The e-mail expressed the committee’s dismay in response to the vandalism of two outdoor art pieces that were created for Professor Claudia Esslinger’s Installation Art class.
One of the vandalized pieces was created by Colin McArthur ’15, and the damage was described as such;
“One student’s sculptural “trophy case” made of Plexiglass and wood was broken and defiled. His sculpture covered the 172-year old center post of the “Gates of Hell,” on which male students urinate as a rite of passage. The work was intended to simultaneously prevent the destructive ritual by encasing the post like a trophy thereby asking us what we most prize and value. What is won?”
I had already planned to meet with Colin and discuss his installation art piece, but after I saw the e-mail I had a few more questions. McArthur was good natured in his responses, and was trying to make sense of this reaction to his project. To say nothing of the vandal’s intentions, it was clear from his description of the destruction that the damage to his project was extensive.
On Saturday morning, Colin received a text from another one of the students in the Installation Art class telling him that his project was destroyed. When he went to see what had happened, he found that the sculpture had not only been mangled beyond recognition, but it was covered in what smelled like human poop.
The assignment for the class had been to intervene with Kenyon students on campus in some way, and it was supposed to be geared toward the outdoors. Sitting in the atrium of Peirce after dinner, I asked Colin to explain his intentions in installing his art project, as well as his impressions of the ‘strong reaction’ to his piece:
What was your aim in creating the project?
I was thinking about certain things that I don’t really like about this campus, and I thought, “Hey, what’s something that I don’t necessarily agree with, like this old tradition of peeing all over a stone?”
Freshman year, yeah, I was guilty of it, I did it; I was on the swim team and it was kind of a team camaraderie thing. But if you really think about it, it’s extremely disrespectful. You’re literally pissing all over something that represents ourselves… On top of that, there are people who don’t know that people piss on it, and they put their hands all over it…This tradition is predominantly brought on and continued by male athletic teams and student groups on campus like [fraternity] life. Mainly because guys like to piss on things when they’re drunk, and they’ve been doing it since the ’80s and it’s just, like, a thing…
First I thought I was going to install a urinal on top of Middle Path. But …that was way too heavy-handed. That might just literally invite people to piss on our campus, which is not what I’m looking for. So then I thought…What is something that these groups that predominately continue this tradition behold and love? One of those things is a symbol of accomplishment, or a trophy. So I encased the Gates of Hell in a trophy kind of thing, and played with that idea.
How did people react to the piece?
I hung out there for a decent bit [after I installed the project]; I was supposed to get some reactions [for class]. I didn’t tell anyone that it was my piece so that I would get honest reactions. Some people really liked it; some people thought it was really pretty. Some people really hated it, and were like, “Why is this here?”
I don’t have Yik Yak, but I heard this exploded on Yik Yak.
Explain your reaction when you first saw that someone had destroyed your project:
When I [went to look at my project], it was about twenty feet away from [its original location] so obviously people had dismantled it and were playing with it, which is fine… But then I got closer and I saw that they had really gone to town. They had destroyed it to the point where I couldn’t reassemble it, which kind of pissed me off because I had shown my mom a picture of it and she wanted it. So I was like, “Oh, well I can’t give it to my mom now,” and I started to clean it up. Then I started to realize “Oh, this smells horrible…there’s shit all over it!”… It was almost… I don’t know if it was personal, it kind of seemed like it, but I’m not going to take it that way. It kind of sucked.
How did you address this in class?
At first I kind of felt really shitty—someone literally wanted to destroy something that I made. But then I realized that I was getting strong reactions to something that I was trying to bring peoples’ attention to. I guess it was really effective in that way.
Do you think there is a constructive takeaway from this?
I mean. It’s constructive in the way that I really accomplished what I was trying to do; I really got some strong feedback and reactions out of this, but I just … I don’t know. In our class we addressed this, and we talked about the fact that it almost seems that every year we’re putting more locks on doors of buildings, there’s more vandalism and theft… things are going in that direction, and it sucks, and we don’t know why…Maybe it just comes back to lack of respect for what we cherish. Maybe people just don’t cherish this campus… you know? I love this campus, why would I want to fuck it up?