“Public Art Vandalism Decried”, Continued

Courtesy of Greenslade Special Collections and Archives

Middle Path 1956 – Courtesy of Greenslade Special Collections and Archives

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…

Colin building his art

McArthur building his project

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.

A Screenshot of one of the Yik Yaks about McMahon's project

A Screenshot of one of the Yik Yaks about McArthur’s project

Another yak

Another yak

Responses to above yak

Responses to above 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.

Colin art destroyed

“I’m really just kind of pissed off because… now my mom can’t even see it, you know?”-McArthur’s primary reaction when he saw what someone had done to his art installation.

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?

colin art at night

14 responses

  1. A few questions about the intentions of the piece of art….For one, I know many people (boys and a few girls) who have urinated on the rock throughout their Kenyon career’s who are not a part of fraternities or sports teams. I am sure that sports teams and fraternities do contribute to a fair amount of pissing on this rock, but they are by no means the sole providers of said piss. Further, Colin states that, “You’re literally pissing all over something that represents ourselves…” In what way does this rock “represent ourselves?” Is it really all that destructive to the rock itself, or to the area around the rock, to pee on it? Some may find it in poor taste, somewhat juvenile, but destructive seems like a huge stretch to me.

    Im not trying to defend this pissing as some sacred tradition that is crucial to the Kenyon experience. Some might argue that peeing on the Beta rock is a tradition that is much more entertaining, fulfilling and beneficial to the community.

    None of this has to do with the incredibly rude and disrespectful destruction of Colin’s art project. That is seriously messed up and whoever POOPED (!) on it has some serious issues. But come on, since when does urination fall within the same realm as much more malicious destruction of campus property such as theft or vandalism.

  2. 100% agree that this was a shitty act, sorry someone felt the need to destroy your hard work. However as a four year member of the Kenyon Men’s Swimming and Diving team, I can say with certainty that peeing on the rock is not a “team camaraderie” thing. We have a lot of traditions, but this isn’t one of them. Again, sorry about your artwork getting trashed. Just wanted to clarify that the swim team, like yourself, cherish this community.

  3. I thought that this was a very beautiful and well-made art piece and I’m sad that this happened. To Colin: don’t let it discourage you, it’s not personal. Just some silly people not thinking fully about the consequences of their actions. It was a thought-provoking project and well executed.

  4. To answer your question, “since when does urination fall within the same realm as much more malicious destruction of campus property such as theft or vandalism”: Urination falls within the same category as vandalism when the art piece meant to denounce it is itself destroyed! Yes, your question concerns reasons for constructing the piece- but do we really need to ask ourselves why the gates of hell are a part of what represents us? The gates of hell? It seems as though your inability to understand the function of this piece is the same as your inability to understand how pissing on something is symbolically destructive. If we don’t respect the most cherished parts of campus (and I would argue the gates of hell certainly fit this description) then they become worthless to us. We might as well destroy them.

  5. The fact that you were able to evoke this kind of emotion from your installation art is a testament to its effectiveness as a piece. It was a shitty thing to do, certainly, but ultimately it shows that it succeeded in all regards, esp. as installation art. I’m really sorry you had to deal with the aftermath though – it’s pretty fucked up.

    • ok sure but one of these pieces of art is doing something relatively interesting and at least challenging some kind of a status quo and the other is “MAN SMASH, MAN POOP, MAN PISS, MAN MAINTAIN TRADITION”

      • I interpret the “vandalism” as a call to return to nature and to spurn modern technology. Building an artificial box with highly processed materials limits the viewers ability to interact with the stone, a more natural and ancient material. The destruction of the installation is a commentary on a preference for the old and simple in the face of a constricting newness. This conflict is exemplified by how the gothic stone buildings (Ascension, Old Kenyon, etc.) on south campus contrast with more modern, glass buildings (Gund Gallery).

        Defecation, in a Joycean twist, is the most pungent reminder that mankind retains a bestial element despite how “advanced” we become. Embracing and accepting the traditionally disgusting elements of the human experience offers an path to freedom, as opposed to being enslaved to rigid definitions of what is “proper” as well as the alluring glow of technology (iPhone addiction).

        Blake, Wordsworth, Byron and Rousseau would serve as a good starting point for anyone who still thinks this instance of “vandalism” is not legitimate art.

      • not saying at all it isnt art but good work on your pseudointellectual defense of your outdated values

  6. Pingback: We’re #1! We’re #1! ( At Landscaping, Apparently) | The Thrill

  7. Typo: under the yik yak screenshot, you refer to the project as belonging to “McMahon” when you earlier said it was from McArther

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