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Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Western student artist strives to break norms

Weston Horner poses in front of his artwork. // Photo by Kesia Lee
Weston Horner poses in front of his artwork. // Photo by Kesia Lee

The hum of a shredder fills the air at the end of the Skybridge. Money dropped through a slotted wooden box with clear glass only to be instantly destroyed. The top of the box reads “Liberate & Celebrate — Currency to Confetti. Paper money only please,” and the bottom contains a pile of now-useless money.

Students who decide to take on the challenge of the money-shredding box, called the “Appreciationizer,” are active participants in the library’s current art exhibit titled, “An Emotional Young Person Just Like Yourself.” The exhibit spans two floors, giving passers-by a glimpse into the mind of the creator who wants to show the world his philosophies about life.

The artist himself is tall and thin, with short hair and a calm demeanor. Weston Horner, a 23-year-old Western student studying for his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, said he created the “Appreciationizer” piece to remind people money is nothing more than paper.

The piece aims to show onlookers that money is without worth until society gives it worth. His entire exhibit is centered on displaying pieces made up of garbage that isn’t of use, until onlookers find value in what they view.

“It’s about making art within the gesture that says ‘I don’t need this money to do great things,’” he said. “But of course, you do need money. That’s how the system is put together.”

Horner lists how societies have different ways of living; socialism, capitalism and communism.

“I think it’s important to at least question  how you’re playing a role in this society, and something I think is interesting is the question of ‘are we using money or is money using us?’”

The “Appreciationizer” is a piece that has prompted student reaction, ranging from negative to curious.

“I’ve had a lot of positive feedback, and also negative,” he said. “People were leaving notes on my money box.”

The anonymous comments in his guestbook reflect the variety of emotions that his pieces evoke in observers.

“Why would you legitimately shred your money? I don’t get art,” one writer said.

Another anonymous writer said, “Well, first of all –it is against federal law to destroy U.S. currency, so good luck when the FBI comes for you, you should donate it instead of shredding it.”

Other anonymous writers are more positive, leaving notes of support and expressing their interest in the exhibit. “Art is all about evoking emotion,” someone wrote.

Horner said he has never heard of a student art exhibit prompting negative student protests and said he does his best not to take it personally.

“I try to be excited about the energetic response, because it is a provocative piece.”

“An Emotional Young Person Just Like Yourself” features Lego models, cardboard held together with tape, words written in spirals on loose-leaf paper, a mailbox with a doorstop glued on, and collages made from advertisements. Essentially, all items used would otherwise be trash or worth nearly nothing.

“The art I want to be making is non-exclusive. I want people to be delighted and disturbed by what I do,” he said, “[I want them] to be attentive to the fact that what I am doing doesn’t cost anything and doesn’t take any skill.”

The materials Horner uses are also reflections of his past and his philosophy.

His parents are both designers and he says he grew up in a household that emphasized thrifty spending and creativity. His father designs homes, his mother designs costumes for theater and his grandmother paints.

“They have taught me to be resourceful and that working on projects with your hands is always satisfying,” he said.

His friend, Shingo Kawamura said in an e-mail, that there is something charismatic about him.

“It may be his height or friendliness,” Kawamura said, “but at the same time he is extremely goofy and it shows in his art too.”

Kawamura said Horner’s work is always adorable or childish, visually. He said it uses ideas that are more sophisticated, in an innocent and good way.

They met at Western’s transfer fair two years ago and have since had classes together and collaborated on many art projects.

“His hair was green and he was dressed in Goodwill clothes, and I thought he might be interesting one to get to know,” Kawamura said of first meeting Horner.

“Weston might object, but he definitely has a style,” Kawamura said.

“He is a middle class suburban white kid who went through the social and cultural upheavals in the turn of the century, who owns a goofy backpack, generic brand art supplies, and everything not trendy.”

Sharron Antholt, Horner’s former art teacher at Western, said while she taught him, he showed great interest in learning outside of school.

“He would ask for additional readings and then read everything I gave him and came back for more,” she said in an e-mail interview.

Horner also worked as a teacher’s assistant for her painting class.

“During that quarter Weston often stopped by my office to discuss ideas in the class,” she said. “He is one of the most intelligent and thoughtful students I have had the pleasure to work with.”

Horner said he does not willingly call himself an artist or call his creations art. He said the problem is labelling in general, and though he is not anti-label, Horner believes it does not help people.

“I think it does the opposite, it makes people think they understand something because they put a label on it, but it’s only distancing them,” he said. “If this wasn’t thought of as art, people would be a lot more involved.”

Horner said there is a certain irony in his art. He knows a story of the artist who sold cigarette butts for over $10 million. He said the artist was showing how people will pay money for an artist’s cigarette butts.

In his exhibition, he puts cardboard, tape and trash front and center.

“Why should calling them art make them more valuable? They’re still worthless,” he said, but he said he knows that his exhibition gives the trash a new value.

Another attention-grabbing piece in Horner’s exhibit covers a wall of the third floor in Wilson Library. It’s an expansive cardboard and paper map of a grocery store, a model of a “Superstore,” according to Horner.

He aimed to recreate the inventory of Fred Meyer from over 1,000 newspaper advertisements, each product painstakingly cut out and glued back together.

“I wanted to show the whole store at one time –the presentation of the superstore,” he said.

“This is about how high any shelf in Fred Meyer is,” he said, pointing to the top of the piece. The ads are grouped into sections and include cars that would be in the parking lot.

“The thing about visual art is that it can catch the eye,” Horner said. “There are people who wouldn’t stop for just for writing, people are going to ignore that,” Horner said while pointing to a shelf of economic books.

In the near future, Horner will have another large art exhibit. “An Emotional Young Person Just Like Yourself” ends May 31. Horner and Kawamura are currently collaborating to create work for an upcoming bachelor of fine arts show next month at the Western Gallery.

Kawamura and Horner hold deep beliefs about creativity and its meaning, and their ideas lead to collaborative artistic expressions.

“Sometimes our ideas become fused together and we forget who originally came up with what,” Kawamura said. The two friends each view “art” as something more than the paint and paper.

“We made a bonfire with paintings and called it art,” Kawamura said, “We organized reading discussions and called it art, it’s more of an attitude we have, we call art.”

After college, Horner plans to work and live in Seattle and eventually attend graduate school.

“I am always questioning: should I be doing art? Should I be a writer? Should I be doing city planning or architecture? Should I be a politician or should I be trying to do more poetry?” Horner said.

He said he would like to work in a museum or a library, and eventually hold an occupation as a teacher.

“I think I would like to be a professor for interdisciplinary studies,” he said in an e-mail interview, “because it would be really challenging to have such wide range of students pursuing individual questions.”

After the “Emotional Young Person Just Like Yourself” exhibit is over, Horner said his art pieces will return to the garbage and recycling where they once would have permanently remained.

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