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Outdoor art exhibits decorate campus

October 16, 2008

There were many sights to see at UW-River Falls from Oct. 6 to Oct. 10 – a pair of human hands rising from the soil, glass bottles growing from the trees and even Ronald McDonald and the Burger King fighting on the University Center lawn.

These were just a few of the 34 works created by UWRF art department students for the 17th Annual Outdoor Art Installations. The diverse collection highlighted different parts of the campus, and was concentrated around the University Center, Davee Library and the Kleinpell Fine Arts building.

There were exhibits made from string, wood, metal, cloth, glass, bricks, paper, plastic, or just odd pieces of junk. All exhibits were marked with signs noting who built them and which classes they were done for (if any). The department also printed maps of the installations.

One of these exhibits was by Jim Engebertson’s studio glass course. Their old glassblowing furnace in KFA had stopped working and had to be replaced. The students took some metal framing and bricks from the old furnace and built them around the trunk of a tree, put old pieces of recycled glass inside the structure, then used wires and fishing line to hang bottles made in the new furnace from the tree’s branches.

Senior art education major Rachael Anderson told the exhibit’s story, saying the class used the tree to symbolize growth and progress.

“It’s kind of a funeral for the old [furnace] and a celebration of the new one.” Anderson said.

Every exhibit had a different message to send. One included many rows of empty plastic water bottles near KFA, joined by metal wire and framed with rods. The department had tried to prop these up and pitch them like a tent, but that idea did not work out, art professor Morgan Zimmer said. Around the bottles were signs with messages critical of bottled water and the environmental impact of excess plastic.

Another exhibit between the University Center and Library had black and white photos of people with glasses of water, and a message about chemicals from 3M that were found in some Minneapolis-area tap water.

Two intro to art classes, headed by instructors Rhonda Willers and Kaylee Spencer, took 24-by-24 inch pieces of plywood and put their own distinctive designs on them outside of class, using only black and white acrylic paint. The pieces, which depicted all sorts of logos, patterns and messages, were put together in squares and displayed by the picnic tables between KFA and the Library.

“They’re just supposed to be different words and symbols that represent you,” freshman conservation major Cody Goulette, who designed one of the pieces, said.

Bill Peake, a freshman accounting major, commented on an exhibit called “Let’s Play Checkers!” The exhibit was set up on the grass near the Library and had square blue tiles in the shape of a checkerboard, with dinner plates painted black or white to serve as the pieces.

“I like it,” Peake said. “I guess you could say it’s simple, but it kind of makes a point. It caught my eye, maybe because of all the different shades of blue.”

During their 17-year history, the installations have allowed for many different messages to be expressed at once, art department associate Susie Zimmer said.
“Some of it is personal, some of it is political, some of it is just fun,” Zimmer said. “My involvement with this is peripheral – getting the forms ready, making sure the signs go up.”

The Annual Outdoor Art Installation was launched by art professor Morgan Clifford 17 years ago. Clifford has also taught the UWRF fibers program for 18 years. Her students learn how to dye, weave and work with cloth. Clifford said she got the idea from a similar project she did in graduate school and in her second year teaching she decided some outdoor art could brighten up this campus as well.

“Some of the classes will do it as a side project that everybody has a part of. The students can also independently sign up.” Clifford said. “The point is to do something fun, something that doesn’t have to stay around… As you’re walking around enjoying the campus, it makes you more aware of things, of what a nice campus we have here.”

Students who submitted independent work also had to sign a contract promising their installation would not harm the environment, and would be removed by Friday with no materials left behind, Clifford said.

One of Clifford’s classes was assigned to decorate 11 trees all over campus. A few had colorful cloth draped around their trunks, while another wore a skirt of playing cards attached with string. Another class of Clifford’s made 4-foot diameter circles on the ground from various small parts.

Warren Page, a senior majoring in environmental science, expressed appreciation of the art.

“Things like this always intrigue me,” Page said. “At the college level, you never know whether [the artists] are still developing their skills, or are already just exploding with creativity.”