Installation art project mistaken for vandalism is vandalized

Just a few yards of red tape draped across a light post are all that remains of a student art exhibit that was destroyed last week.

The art installation, in the Southern Oregon University art courtyard and art buildings, consisted of 36,000 feet of red tape. The piece, titled "The Depravity of Society Juxtaposed Against the Apathy of Contemporary Culture," was placed in the courtyard on May 19 and was planned to be shown through July 2 as a final project in an Installation Art course taught by SOU art professor Madeline Alt.

Artist Paul Messenger said, "As a public installation I knew it was a risk that it would be altered."

Messenger, 24, and a graduating senior of SOU is working with an art therapy group at Rogue Valley Youth Correctional Facility. He plans on entering SOU's masters in teaching program.

The piece, he said, was a commentary on society's apathy to its problems, but was left for interpretation by the viewer.

"People have become blind," he said.

The red tape was meant to contrast with the grey stone of the buildings. "It's a very dull atmosphere, a very sterile environment," Messenger said.

"I had been inspired by street artists and their rejection of the gallery and use of everyday spaces," Messenger said. "Placing art in that context removes the aspect of it being an art object."

Messenger had tried to assemble his art before. Campus security removed it thinking it was vandalism.

Messenger pointed out the irony of the situation, saying, "An object that was once considered vandalism was seen as art and then vandalized."

Police cited Genevieve Hummel for tearing the installation down, and the SOU art department is pressing charges.

"I didn't know it was an art project," Hummel said. "It wasn't labeled. No one knew it was an art project."

Hummel, a 19-year-old SOU sophomore, said that other people were tearing the art installation down and she was cleaning it up when SOU art Professor Cody Bustamante confronted them.

"I was just picking up what people had made messy," Hummel said. "Everyone else split."

Bustamante brought her into his office where the two began to argue. Ashland police were called.

"I don't have anything personal against the individual," said Messenger. The two talked after the situation and they worked out their differences. Messenger chose not to press personal charges, saying, "That's one of the risks of public art."

Hummel was accused of 11 different conduct and student responsibility charges. She is being charged with criminal mischief two. The SOU art department is seeking $83.39 for six hours of labor and the supplies required to replace the installation.

"The piece will be re-assembled," Messenger said. "Third time's the charm I guess."

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