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The Blue & Gray Press | August 24, 2019

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UMW art class takes over campus with socially charged installations

UMW art class takes over campus with socially charged installations


As students walked across campus to get to their classes, they saw large sculptures seemingly scattered around the Monroe Fountain all the way to Blackstone. Some students may have walked by without noticing them, others may have snapped a photo. Each one of them was textual in nature and focused on appropriation.

Chris Mahonski, an adjunct professor at the University of Mary Washington, assigned this project to his Design Principles classes. The idea was to take something from popular culture and transform it into something that criticizes its existence or the way that it is used and perceived by people in our society. The parameters for the project were to build at least five letters, each at least two feet in one dimension and four inches in thickness. Use cardboard, paper tape, hot-glue and papier mache as your base structure. An on- campus installation of the sculpture was also required.

His classes worked in groups on this large-scale project for three weeks after approval from the instructor. They only existed for one day as public art, but their messages remain.

A few pieces took center stage because of their central location on campus. Considering the tension surrounding the presidential election, one group of students decided to take the Goosebumps series and replace it with the word “Trump.”

They encountered a few problems when they installed their piece the night before the art class critique and it was stolen. It was painted in red, a color associated with the Republican Party, placed beside the political science building. The group consensus was that someone thought it was pro- Trump propaganda and wanted to mess with whoever put it there. After relentless online posting, the project was returned undamaged, but missing a letter. It read “rump.” The “T” was discovered soon after in a tree.

The group reinstalled the project near another sculpture, “Sexflix,” a play on the site Netflix and the phrase “Netflix & chill” and yet another that read “Losers” was created in the logo used for the 90’s television sitcom “Friends.”

One of the groups used the Twitter logo as a basis, and changed the text to “shut up” including the bird with its beak taped shut. This was a critique of the ways in which people abuse social media like Twitter through incessant posting.

Another group decided to take the Subway logo and change the text to “No Way” in lieu of the company being under fire regarding the criminal accusations of Jared Fogle, a major spokesperson for Subway. They fittingly placed their sculpture outside of the Nest.

These text sculptures popped up everywhere, with yet another in the font for the brand UGG, reading “UGLY.” One more you probably didn’t see was installed in a bathroom of Melchers, consisting of a large winky-faced Snapchat ghost and text reading “nudes.”

It is very important for students to be able to express their feelings towards the world that we live in, particularly the places where there is room for improvement. Now more than ever, focusing on positive change through criticizing existing systems will promote the growth that our country and campus community needs to combat the negative forces so prevalent around us.