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Saturday, May 15, 2021

Not so secret garden

Wright's Triangle is located right outside of the Western gallery plaza, marking nearly half way from one end of campus to the next. // Photo by Caitlin Cohen
Wright’s Triangle is located right outside of the Western gallery plaza, marking nearly half way from one end of campus to the next. // Photo by Caitlin Cohen

It takes just 10 minutes to walk from one end of the Western campus to the other. Along the way there are countless distractions, all fighting to grab your attention.

These distractions aren’t activists in Red Square, construction workers working on the Sam Carver Gymnasium, or the trees swaying as the wind whistles. Rather, they are the countless sculptures of Western’s famous collection, meant to inspire creativity and contemplation, yet so often ignored by passersby.

Fairhaven student Andrew Bermel was fascinated by the role the sculptures played in the lives of Western students and created an interactive guide app for students to navigate Western’s sculpture garden.

“The sculpture collection is so imbedded into the experience at Western,” Bermel said. “They don’t jump out unless you really give them your attention. They made me think about what their meaning was or what the artist’s intention was. They just made me feel, they made me think, they made me wonder and I appreciated that.”

The sculpture app is currently not available to the public, due to ongoing copyright issues with the artists, an issue made more convoluted by the fact that many artists have passed away in recent years.Assistant art professor Pierre Gour believes that the response of his students has the potential to be an excellent resource for Bermel to use in the future.

“The collection on campus is renowned.”

Assistant art professor Pierre Gour

“We’re not going to stop the entire project until we understand the copyright stuff,” Bermel said. “If we can’t publish the product because we can’t get copyrights that’s fine, because people still did all the work and that’s the most important thing.”

 Gour is somewhat of a romantic when it comes to the collection, but is now challenging his students to realize just how special it is.

As part of his visual dialogue course, students must craft their own interpretations of the sculptures. The variety of perspectives from students will potentially be installed in a student-developed smartphone app, which is is meant to be a visual and oral guide for students, visitors and art connoisseurs who visit Western.

The purpose of the assignment is to foster an appreciation for Western’s sculptures among his students.

“The collection on campus is renowned,” Gour said. “Especially in the 1970s and 1980s you had all of the top artists having work produced for this collection.”

Bermel, who had already been hard at work developing the app with his 12-member team, reached out to Gour, who was eager to incorporate it into one of his classes.

“Rather than giving a typical assignment about doing research on the sculpture app, I was more interested in having the students follow along the same premise that Andrew had set forth,” Gour said.

Though most of the pieces in Western’s collection date back several decades, Gour has a particular interest in several of the newer additions to the collection.

He finds the piece Cause and Effect by Do Ho Suh particularly captivating. The sculpture, located in Academic Instructional Center West, is some two stories tall and is comprised of thousands of human-like figures stacked on top of each other, all collectively suspended from the ceiling.

“At first you think of it as a chandelier or light fixture then you look at it again and it changes your way of thinking of this as a sculpture to begin with,” Gour said. “It brings about the idea of an academic institution and the notions of community and how we’re stronger together rather than individually.”

“I think it encourages a closer connection with the campus and not a lot of colleges have that.”

Freshman Miranda Abrashi

Similarly, a favorite of Gour’s is Richard Serra’s Wright’s Triangle, located between the Morse Hall Chemistry Building and the Ross Engineering Technology Building, namely because it serves as an obstacle for students walking on the walkway.

In addition to building camaraderie among students, he hopes that by becoming more aware of their surroundings, students will be inspired to to push the boundaries of their own academics, even if it’s in a subject other than art.

Art gallery director Hafthor Yngvason sees the sculptures as a sort of forgotten treasure.

“When these big sculptures here were being installed, people heard about the collection, they knew about it,” Yngvason said.  “I think it has been forgotten a little bit.”

Yngvason said how he sees variety in some of Western sculptures, such as Wright’s Triangle, which may be more difficult to understand while others, such as Feats of Strength by Tom Otterness near Arntzen Hall, are more approachable.

“I think that these sculptures can stand on their own and people experience them as art, and get an experience from them that you wouldn’t have in a museum,” he said.

Though freshman Miranda Abrashi didn’t know much about the sculpture collection when she first arrived at Western, she believes they are integral to the campus.

“I think it encourages a closer connection with the campus and not a lot of colleges have that,” she said.

For now, Gour will continue make every effort to instill greater appreciation among all of the students he teaches.

Gour said his class is a General University Requirement, therefore educating a larger part of the student population instead of just those in the art department.

“The more we let students know about the sculptures on campus the more respect they’ll have for the pieces themselves and the more considerate they’ll be in terms of not just walking by something but really getting a chance to see what’s out there,” Gour said.

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