Thursday, March 13, 2008

Truly Random Art

Having taught at a handful of universities and colleges, I've seen my fair share of what I'd call -- not being a trained artist, I don't know if there's a technical word for it -- temporary art. Over a decade ago, when I was still a grad student at UCSB, there was a student who had covered himself with so much protective gear that you couldn't see who it was, tied his bike to a rope lead with a light pole as the center, and rode 'round and 'round the pole. My fellow graduate student and I had a great time interpreting the "message" of the temporary art project -- we saw it as a metaphor for the life of a student at that university: The bike was the student's drive to succeed; the rope lead was the strange and contradictory rules and regulations for getting done; the light pole was the immovable administration which had no real interest in helping the student succeed in a timely manner. We were pleased with our interpretation and never did find out what the true message of the piece was.

Every quarter, the art department would send its students out onto the wider campus to express themselves through some sort of temporary art. That kid on the bike making endless circles has always stuck with me. Along with the kid who raised money by swinging in a hammock in a spiny coral tree and allowing the females to rub his chest hairs, which he had shaved into the form of a heart, for romantic luck. As temporary art that one was noticeable for its mercenary interpretation -- self-objectification as art. Yet each quarter, we looked forward to what would be next crop of temporary art.

I had forgotten about those installations until midnight -- the magical hour -- between Tuesday and Wednesday when I found a random art project that tickled my funny bone: an homage to random thoughts.

In the darkest hour of the night, the piece seemed a bit piratical. Bits of magnetized words were plastered randomly on a bit of normally boring artwork on campus. This "soft metal" work is in one of the main walkways, yet is often overlooked and ignored.

Not that night.

That Tuesday night, when it bordered on Wednesday, the sculpture spoke in random words. Inviting the passerby to express themselves in poetry and prose, only to have that expression erased in the temporariness of the piece -- words would be shifted and used by others and, finally, removed.

I could not help but be intrigued. And take pictures so that this temporary piece could find permanency in the greatest gallery of permanently fixed temporary art, the Internet.

Perhaps this message was prophetic.

By 5 p.m. the next day, all the magical words had disappeared.

All that remained after someone had removed most -- but not all -- of the words were these, remaining above eye level and so missed by the cleaners.

Or, perhaps, they were the final message of the temporary artist.