February 16, 2006
The undergraduate exhibition Antiques Show at Tjaden Hall this week does not deserve the modern connotations art bears on its broad shoulders. The art we know in museums and private shows is not supposed to make us feel as intensely engaged with life as this show does: lie on your stomach in once corner by J.J. Manford’s work to sense the strange combination of melancholy inspiration, sit in a sofa near Ben Shattuck’s paintings and feel strangely enamored with the natural environment, take a knee somewhere by Tim Taranto’s mirrors to feel the warmth of your grandmother’s photo albums and folktales, and most importantly, exit feeling an inexplicable satisfaction with the complexity of your time alive, in both its happiest and most unpleasant memories. The emphasis on a past which may or may not be accurately portrayed in this show forces us to take stock of our own history and dust off the memories we thought we forgot years ago, but also begs the question few of us want to hear: How will I be remembered?
This show takes the viewer and wraps him up in thoughts like these rarely realized by the art of a museum or private collection. The show’s conception, in fact, originally developed as a response to the “dentist office gallery” that we all know: a room of well-dressed yuppies who pretend to be impressed with flat-panel photographs, sterile sculptures, and paintings bereft of any inspiration. No, art of our age does not make us feel at home like Antiques Show does, it does not make us miss the house we grew up in, the photographs our family took when we went to England that one summer, or a Thanksgiving when everyone finally made it. Because for all the different ways we can look at Antiques Show, we should see it first as a home that these five collaborators have created out of material expressions of their own memories, meditations and imaginations.
Upon a cursory look, the show appears merely as five personalities on display near one another, divided by sewing tables, old motorcycles, or perhaps a football trophy; the emotions the exhibition elicits after even a half-hour of engaged viewing seems to gesture otherwise. Perhaps its most consistent idea is the notion of memory, and more importantly, the hazards of trusting completely its resurrections. Nevertheless, the exhibition drives home the point that even the haziest recollection is a crucial piece of our essence and the creativity that it entails.
The exhibition begins with the work of Blake Fall-Conroy, a sculptor who constructed the entrance screens, hospital bed headlights synthesis and a fan whose blade is responsible for the deeply-carved circles. The structures emote unnerving helplessness: knives and bare hospital beds remind us of uncomfortable trips to the hospital for surgery or to visit a sick relative. The sculpture bleeds into a motif that becomes constant: quaint wallpaper covered with the work of the artists side-by-side with various high school diplomas, family photographs, and stamp collections. Amidst these fierce oddities are Tim Taranto’s enamel-painted mirrors, which painstakingly recreate the frames we normally stuff with precious photographs and stamps. While the art of Antiques Show has intentionally been placed in close contact with outside heirlooms, Taranto’s work pushes this ambiguity to its thought-provoking edges: How accurate is memory and the reconstruction of the past? While dazzlingly photorealistic, his work playfully points out the minor pitfalls memory is entangled with.
J.J. Manford’s portfolio hangs mostly in the one far corner, a quintet of blurry images of his father’s lifetime each hued in a different color, perhaps symbols of memories where the context – the sun, sky, and personalities involved – are easily recalled but the event itself is a mystery. This intensely personal series is abruptly interrupted with Nick Zimmerman’s light-hearted outdoors prints, Reverend Moon paintings and Ben Shattuck’s takes on pastries, chickadees, windpipes and sea monsters. The common thread between these three artists and memory is a little tougher to grasp, but perhaps it points out that not everything we recall has to be intensely emotional but rather imaginative: in real life it’s out of the question, but art can show help show us what would happen in cupcakes could fly, a giant squid turned up on a fishing reel, or we were married in a massive ceremony with thousands of strangers in black tuxedoes and snow white dresses.
Last Sunday night, the artists installed Antiques Show, and I learned that the process of making art is more fascinating than the product. The night began slowly: By midnight, only a few works had been hung, and the rest of the room was a maze of antiques, artwork, homemade cookies, sheets of wallpaper, and the generic flotsam that builds up whenever we temporarily make a room a place of residence. The rush of the gallery’s opening in a few hours hadn’t hit yet: Zimmerman was still in the basement making prints and Manford seemed unconcerned as we conversed about the project. But as the night went on, the music was turned up, the laughing and chatter died down, and conversation turned to rapid-fire bursts: “Look good here?” was the most murmured in a few hours, perhaps followed by a quick response, like “Maybe on the couch?” The room was rarely occupied by more than two of the artists at a time – unspoken shifts in curating the room emerged as others ran home for more wood, back to the studio for window frames, or next door to the Green Dragon Caf
February 16, 2006
Prof. Temple Grandin, a Frank H.T. Rhodes Class of ’56 professor at Cornell, is hailed by animal welfare activists, the government and the agriculture and food industries for her work in humane livestock facility designs that take an animal’s behavior into account. She is known for her criticism and attempts to reform livestock facilities that show little regard for their animals.
Grandin is also autistic. She has a milder form, known as Asperger’s Syndrome. In addition to researching and speaking on animal welfare, she is actively involved in the autism advocacy movement. Grandin has published over 300 articles in scientific publications and is responsible for designing one-third of the livestock-handling facilities in the United States.
Provost Biddy Martin introduced Grandin last night before her lecture, titled “Animals in Translation.”
“All of [Grandin’s] contributions sound conventional enough,” she said. “But of course her contributions go way beyond. She has contributed to our understanding of animal handling and welfare, autism, and what it means to be a human in the most fundamental sense.”
One of the most notable aspects of Grandin’s work is her unique perspective.
“She uses the mysteries of autism to decode animal behavior,” Martin said.
Autism provides Grandin with a greater understanding of animal behavior because there are similarities between an autistic brain and an animal brain.
“A normal brain drops details while an autistic brain remembers details,” Grandin said. “Animal thinking is sensory-based. I have autism and I think in pictures. To understand how an animal thinks, you have to get away from verbal language.”
Mollie Hurley’08, who is studying animal science, said that Grandin was an excellent speaker who carried herself well.
“I thought she was very dynamic and captured the audience’s attention,” she said. “I did not notice anything different about her, but knowing she was autistic, I sat there thinking that this woman was amazing and has had such an impact, regardless of autism.”
While describing what it is like to think with autism, Grandin compared her mind with the internet.
“My mind works like Google for images,” she said. “You type in a word and a picture comes up. The older I get and the more information I download, the smarter I become.”
Although she has a photographic memory, Grandin lacks other abilities. “I cannot do algebra because I can’t visualize it,” she said. “I also did not know people had secret eye signals until about ten years ago when I read about it in a book. I was 50 years old.”
Another aspect of autism is that its sufferers are often prone to panic attacks.
“When I got into puberty, I had constant panic attacks,” she said. “I was the type that as I got older, they got worse and worse and worse. Anti-depressants were the only way I could control them and I had results in three days.”
Grandin was able to overcome many of the difficulties that autism has presented and has channeled her unique abilities into a successful career.
“When designing a system, I can get a three-dimensional running movie in my head,” Grandin said. “For a while I didn’t know other people could not do that.”
Part of Grandin’s success derives from her ability to be an important figure in both the animal figure and the autism worlds.
“I heard of her throughout different animal science classes and through the pre-vet society,” Hurley said. “My roommate heard of her because she has done a lot of work with autistic kids.”
Despite her personal achievements, which she largely attributes to excellent teachers, many people with autism have difficulty finding a job. Grandin said one of her biggest concerns is that there is too much focus on the deficiencies autistic people have, and not enough emphasis on what they can do.
“Einstein today would have been labeled autistic,” she said.
Grandin is able to use her abilities to discern what things could be distracting to animals. For example, while visiting at a cattle facility, she noticed that the light behind the building was casting a shadow into the chute where the animals were supposed to walk. Seeing the dark passageway, the cattle were afraid and refused to move. By understanding this, Grandin was able to advise that changes be made so the chute remained well-lit and approachable to the animals.
Hurley was struck by Grandin’s devotion to understanding animals.
“She told us she would lie down on the ground to get a cow’s point of view,” she said. “You have to consider the little details when building things for animals.”
Keeping in mind the tendencies of animals, Grandin came up with the innovative design for a curved chute system. This method allowed the animals to walk in a circular shape so they could not see what was going on ahead of them, and thus remain calm.
“A calm animal is easier to handle,” Hurley said. “You use an animal’s behavior to direct it instead of [using] force. If you sit down and think about it, it is practical stuff. She was able to see things from an animal’s perspective and therefore she could see what needed to be changed.”
Many of the innovations Grandin created were designed to reduce the amount of fear livestock feel.
“Fear is the main emotion in both animals and in people with autism,” she said. “Animals feel stress.”
In addition to being afraid of darkness, animals can also be spooked by loud noises or sudden movements.
“The worst thing you can do to an animal is make it fear,” Grandin said. “It is important that an animal’s first experience with a new place, piece of equipment, of person is good. An initial experience that is averse can create a permanent fear-memory.”
Grandin gave an example of a horse that was terrified of black cowboy hats because he was abused by a person who wore a black cowboy hat. White hats, however, elicited no reaction.
Archived article by Bekah Grant Sun Staff Writer