Wriston vandalism spoils freedom of expression

Katharine Enoch

Recent vandalism of student work has forced art students and faculty to question the respect the Lawrence community has for the artistic expression of its students.Several student projects were damaged by acts of theft and vandalism, which occurred when the projects were on display outside of Wriston.

The artists wanted their work to be experienced outside of the gallery. The element of discovery becomes essential to the effect of the display. This is why several students took the risk of creating exhibits that interacted with an audience and an environment outside of Wriston.

In this brave move to bring art out from behind glass cases, the artists’ work was made susceptible to vandalism. Eli Carleyolsen, a junior, was working on a sculpture project that used multiple bicycles that he misshaped and altered and then distributed around campus for students to use. The effect he had in mind was to make the viewer reconsider the shape and form of a common, identifiable object.

Carleyolsen’s idea was inspired by the “Red Bike Project” established on the UW Madison campus, in which bikes were spread around campus for anyone to use on an honor system, understanding that the privilege would not be abused.

One of the bikes Carleyolsen intended to use in his project was stolen from Wriston and thrown over the walking bridge that crosses Lawe Street.

My-Linh Nguyen, a senior, set up a display of orange cones out in the snow of the Wriston amphitheatre for her final critique. But overnight, her cones were stolen and her design was destroyed.

According to Wriston Director and Curator Frank Lewis, these acts of “senseless vandalism” not only ruin the artist’s work, but also are detrimental to the student’s performance in the art class. Destruction of their work results in an incomplete portfolio to be critiqued for a grade.

“The faculty is bothered because it is harming their students,” commented Lewis.

When asked if the art department considered displaying student work in a more protected space, Lewis responded, “We don’t want to consider that.”

He made the point that the artists specifically chose to bring their work out of the gallery and that hopefully, the Lawrence community would have had the maturity to respect their artistic license.

“The responsibility [to preserve the displays] should really be on the community,” emphasized Lewis, “and not the artist.” To limit the freedom of the artist’s display, he said, is like “taking an ecology course and never going outside.”

In their attempts to bring art out into the common, everyday world, the artists are “people trying to improve the environment,” explained Lewis, and regardless of whether or not someone has a passion for art, “they should really be considerate of their fellow students.”

Inside the Wriston Art Center, mounted on the wall, is this: “In memory of Ruth Bigelow Wriston, who did much to further the arts at Lawrence during the years 1925-1937.”

In honor of the many efforts, hard work, donations, and even out of consideration for another student’s classwork and grade, the art department pleads that the Lawrence community respect the creativity of its art students as it respects students in athletics and other academic areas.