The fourth floor of Uris Hall has recently come to resemble more of an art gallery than an academic department. The change of scenery is thanks to an economics department initiative to add some aesthetic beauty to their notoriously bare and brittled walls.
“I was tired of seeing the same monotonous walls everyday,” said Prof. Kaushik Basu, economics, the man behind the revitalization. After being appointed Chairman of the Economics Department a little over a year ago, Basu looked to make some changes, starting with the bare walls that encompassed the hallways outside his office.
A connoisseur of art, Basu said he thought it best that he bring in some lively exhibits to brighten up the halls and the minds of his students. “I read somewhere that art helps stimulate that other side of the brain that we don’t use too often, so I thought why not bring some of it here.”
To accomplish this, Basu applied for a grant to get an artist-in-residence to come in and present his or her work and afterward leave it in the hall. Upon receiving the grant, he passed over the project to his unofficial “curator” Karen Drummond who “did all the dirty work,” he said.
Brummund, an artist in her own right, lives in the area and was a visiting lecturer at Cornell this past spring. After being approached by Basu some months ago about the proposed plan, Brummund was tasked with getting together artists to contribute to the project. A student of art with a Master of Fine Arts from London, Drummund thought to integrate a new type of experimental art she had encountered in Germany whereby artists turn a gallery into their studio and perform live art. “Watching an artist work is an artwork all in its own,” she said.
Drummund chose artist-in-residence Heather Layton to fill that role. Layton, a senior lecturer in the Department of Art & Art History at the University of Rochester, decided on an exhibit entitled “Letters to a New Generation” to present for the gallery. The exhibit consists of 500 beige pouches with an unmarked tag tied around the tops. The linings of the pouches are filled with a unique piece of fabric originating anywhere from Japan to New Jersey. Each piece of fabric was hand sewn into each pouch by Layton.
The prompt “given the chance, what would you say to a new generation?” is posted near the pouches, which hang pinned on wires running along the walls of the hall. A table with strips of paper and pens is nearby for those passing by to write a short message and proceed to turn an empty pouch inside out, revealing the fabric, remove the tag and stick the message into the pouch. Doing so seals one’s message for the future, where an unborn artist in 2100 will open the pouches.
“We are becoming an increasingly selfish society nowadays, and there is a desire to see more long term decisions and policy making,” said Layton, describing her inspiration for the project. “Imagining a future generation forces us to reflect on our decisions now, because if we can imagine them we must be responsible for them.”
Layton began her work on the exhibition in August with the help of three University of Rochester art students. It is one of many that follow her personal theme of being conscious of the future and appreciating all that is unique. “Things we buy aren’t precious anymore because they have no intrinsic value,” she said. “Everything is mass produced.” The blank tags on the pouches symbolize this wearisome sentiment, and removing them signifies a step in the right direction.
From Oct. 1 through yesterday, students and faculty passing by could see Layton pinning up pouches or working on an accompanying portrait depicting a fictional scenario of people carrying bundles into the future generation.
A web cam hanging from the ceiling streaming live video on the Economics Department website provided her with a global audience as well, which witnessed the day-by-day progression of dull pouches into art. “As more people write messages and start to look beyond themselves and into the future, the whole room will turn from bland to color,” Layton said.
On Tuesday the department held a presentation of its new artwork, which attracted students, faculty and locals.
“This is so much better than that horrible wallpaper,” said Amy Moesch, administrative assistant to Basu. Moesch has worked in the same office on the fourth floor for 20 years and thinks Basu’s approach to brightening things up is the best one yet. “I’ve actually been coming to work excited lately, because I can’t wait to see some new art,” she said.
Receiving so much positive feedback has encouraged Basu to continue the project in the future, he said.
“This could definitely be a yearly thing,” he said. For now, Layton’s work and the other featured work will remain in the hall for a couple months, which is fine by excited faculty and students.
“Economics is often called the dismal science,” said Prof. David Easley, economics. “It wasn’t helping that our environment was also quite dismal.”
Easley has worked for the department the last 30 years and said the new art gives the department a pleasant feeling. “It cheers people up about being here,” he said “and perhaps it’ll cheer them up about Economics as well.”