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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Professors create open discussion about new Rose Museum installment

Published: September 19, 2014
Section: Arts, Etc.

On Sept. 17, Professors Chris Abrams and Gordon Fellman stood near the platforms of the “Light of Reason” lampposts as people set up stools to circle around them. Abrams was the first speaker to come up and talk in-depth about the piece and its significance. The discussion of the lights felt even more appropriate knowing that the architecture is reminiscent of “The School of Athens,” where philosophers are strategically placed around the composition, supposedly debating the meaning of life.

At first, Abrams admitted he wasn’t so sure about the piece because of how different it was from Burden’s older compositions, which included the artist as the central figure of the piece. For instance, one of Burden’s pieces called “Shoot” involved him getting shot in the arm. Another one of his works, “Transfixed,” includes him being crucified, with real nails driven into his hands, on top of a Volkswagen Beetle. His pieces challenged the most extreme societal topics, especially his politically charged pieces including “All the Submarines of the United States,” which were models of submarines hanging from a gallery ceiling.

Recently, however, he started taking himself out of his work and started transferring other objects into them. With this change, the physical scope of the compositions started growing in size. He wanted to be taken more seriously but also wanted his works to be open-ended and leave space for the audience to interpret his works in whichever way they wanted to. That is what Abrams proposed was part of “Light of Reason’s” mission: to create not only a functional composition, but also an open space for students, faculty, visitors, professors and everyone else on campus to walk toward the art piece and make out whatever it is that they find from the whole landscape.

Fellman then came up to start talking about what his first opinions were concerning “Light of Reason.” He described the lamps as a sort of revelation, not only because of the distinctive features of the arrowheads and the structure of it all, but of the amazing power that electricity has and how we take it for granted. He also pointed out that the infusion of the street lamps brings the cities of Boston and Waltham together onto Brandeis’ campus. Additionally, he identified a connection between the university’s logo which has the Hebrew word that means “truth” and the lamps, which are a representation of transparency.

The transparency that Fellman referred to is not only a criticism of the lack of governmental and bureaucratic transparency, but also reaches to the transparency of sexual assault cases, which is a growing problem on more and more on college campuses.

Fellman also went into a deeper approach of thinking about the lights, commenting on how they are reminiscent of phalluses with two heads, which also signifies a sort of bold defiance of power and art.

The beauty of this piece is that people can either see it just as a bunch of lampposts, or they can interpret it to be something else entirely, just as students did during the question and answer portion of the discussion on Wednesday. Some people viewed the structure of the composition as a contrast between the traditional arts, with its evenly spaced posts and neatness reminiscent of Greek columns, compared with the contemporary features of the piece, with its Victorian-era lampposts and benches. One alumnus who graduated last semester noticed that the piece translated into some kind of meditation and enlightenment experience. The reflection off of the bulbs of the lampposts in the sunlight served as a sort of backdrop to spark discussion and knowledge in all the students who sat underneath the lights.

These types of pieces that encourage interpretation help to revive the Rose Art Museum’s contemporary style and serve to create an open and scholarly discussion about the purposeful, conceptual and emotional aspects that this space intends to challenge.