Imagining Harrell at Haverford
In the spirit of Harrell Fletcher‘s and Miranda July‘s website/book/ongoing interactive project Learning To Love You More, I present three different responses to assignment number two of a list of eight possible assignments given to the among friends interns by James Weissinger, the Associate Director of Haverford’s John B. Hurford ’60 Humanities Center:
2. Give a brief description of a previous work by one of the artists; then try to re-imagine how it would look/would have looked if it had been undertaken at Haverford. Where on campus would it have been staged? Who would have participated? What changes would have had to have been made?
1. In 1998, Harrell collaborated with Jon Rubin and Anthony Powers on an exhibition at the San Francisco Art Institute‘s McBean Project Space called “Anthony.” The exhibition featured drawings, photographs, videos, sculptures, etc., about Powers, who was a student at the Art Institute, and his interests, which included heavy metal, wrestling, and dogs.
Similarly, in 1999, Harrell did a show called “Boy” at Seattle’s Center on Contemporary Art that focused on a ten-year-old Seattle boy named Gregory. Harrell and Jon Rubin made a head-cam for Gregory, which he wore for about ten days during the summer.
I like these two exhibitions for their singular focus, something I think would work well at Haverford. Haverford has approximately 1,100 students. We’re a supposedly small, tight-knit community. And yet I bet there are any number of Anthonys and Gregorys out there in the Haverford community who lead interesting lives that most students—not to mention other community members—know nothing about. Imagine how amazing it would be to see an entire exhibition in the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery about one person.
It’s the kind of simple, brilliant idea that could be infinitely replicated with essentially no changes from Harrell’s execution of it. I’d like to see a combination of “Anthony” and “Boy”—the head-cam, but also the physical documentation/representation of interests, habits, friends, etc., from the “Anthony” exhibition. This kind of thing would also address one of the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery’s big problems: no one goes there. If an exhibition focused on one person at Haverford, all his or her friends, family, etc., would show up to the gallery opening, instead of the way it works now, where it’s just the same bunch of arts-inclined people every time.
2. Somewhat similarly: in 2002, Harrell visited the Tamarind Institute in Albuquerque to do some lithography. While there, curators recommended that he visit a restaurant next door called the Frontier. Inside, he noticed that the owners had built up a sizable collection of local paintings. This gave him the idea to switch the Frontier’s art collection with the Tamarind Institute’s.
At Haverford, I would imagine this having something to do with the fine arts students’ exhibitions that they have at the end of every semester. How great would it be if every fine arts student got to have their work hung in the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery instead of in the much more haphazard and out-of-the-way gallery space in the Marshall Fine Arts Center? Likewise, for a few weeks, everything in the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery could be moved into Marshall.
It’s this kind of intentional mix-up between “artists”—the people who get their work in the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery—and “non-artist”—the people who take fine arts classes, who might in fact be artists but who are also students—that Harrell finds so productive. I’d imagine that it’d be similarly productive at Haverford, that we could learn just as much about art, life, etc., from the fine arts students and their work as we could from whatever exhibition happened to be up in the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery.
3. Finally, I’d like to turn a project of Harrell’s that I’ve mentioned before, “Corentine’s Turtle.” Harrell was asked to do a residency at an art center in Brittany, France. He spent a month there every summer for a few years and eventually became interested in a local sculpture park. After surveying residents, he found that most people didn’t much care for the art in the park, so he started asking people what kind of art they’d like to see there.
The idea of an eight-year-old boy, Corentine Senechal, particularly fascinated him. Corentine proposed making a sculpture of a turtle out of gold and then painting it green. “This is the kind of … complication you hope for in an art project,” Harell told Shelly Willis in a 2007 interview that was recently published in “The Practice of Public Art.” “This is the antilogic that generally gets cut out of a rational person’s thinking. If you make something out of gold, you don’t paint it green.” To make a long story short, they made the sculpture (substituting bronze for gold) and installed it in the park.
This project reminded me of Haverford because a year or two ago, there was a similar kind of fuss made about Haverford’s outdoor sculpture collection. Apparently, people didn’t like it. A survey got sent out (which I wish I could find and show you) in which people could rate each piece of sculpture on a one-to-five scale (if I remember correctly), and assurances were given that changes would be made.
A project like “Corentine’s Turtle” would have resolved this problem perfectly. Instead of asking students to judge already existing artworks, why not ask them what kind of outdoor art they’d like to have on campus? This would involve students in a positive, rather than a negative, way. Students could submit designs, vote on them, and then work with each other or with fine arts students to produce the art. In the end, people would be happy with the results, and Haverford would have a great outdoor sculpture collection without having had to spend tons of money on stuff that people might not even have liked.