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Burden installation doesn’t integrate community

Published: September 19, 2014
Section: Opinions


Once people associate you as “that guy who wrote about light pollution,” it can be hard to avoid being typecast into an endless series of conversations about light bulbs. It’s not that I’m complaining, but sometimes it can get repetitive. So when a friend asked me about my opinion on “Light of Reason,” the new installation outside the Rose Art Museum, I was a little surprised. It was nice to not talk about my favorite type of light bulb, but I hadn’t actually gone to see the piece after its installation. Once I had, I realized why the installation was so divisive.

First of all, the sculpture is just about the worst source of light pollution the university could have invested in, short of buying a series of spotlights just to blind passing birds. The lights do not have covers and use specially powered bulbs to really pump the energy from those fossil fuels out into space. Of course, as a piece of art it doesn’t have to be entirely sustainable, but this installation seems almost designed to waste energy. As a piece designed to modernize the Rose, sustainability should have been kept in mind by either the artist or the administration. Unfortunately, it seems many of the design goals decided on by the artist slipped through the cracks.

When it comes to this installation itself, what we got was not what we paid for. In contrast to the concept art envisioned by the artist, the sculpture was designed as a meeting place on campus that would draw students into the museum. The concrete blocks the lights are located on were apparently designed as benches for people to sit and work on. However, since the work has opened, I have not seen a single student sitting on the installation or even walking near it. The piece doesn’t invite conversation, and at night the lamps are so glaring that being around them is unpleasant. If the installation’s purpose was to improve community involvement with the Rose, it has certainly failed.

However, I believe the purpose of the installation was never to integrate the Rose into our community but instead win the art community back in favor of our university. Our administration unified the art world against us when they decided to use their artistic resources as an ATM and close the museum to pay their operating expenses. They did not expect the level of criticism their plan received, and ever since have been desperately trying to gain forgiveness. We can see the installation of “Light of Reason,” and all the oppressive marketing the university has done around the piece, as just another pawn in their game of public relations. “Light of Reason” was designed to be a symbol, no matter how forced or how fake, of the university’s commitment to the Rose, and perhaps more importantly, to any wealthy donors who might enjoy art. It’s unfortunate our university had to waste so much money to build that symbol, but it’s too late to get our money back.

That being said, it can be hard to criticize a piece of art on the grounds of practicality. After all, the purpose of an artistic piece is to challenge everyday conceptions of the real-world. However, the current state of the Rose deserves special understanding. This is a museum that, less than 10 years ago, was looking at closing its doors forever. This is a museum that was only saved by the tremendous efforts of our Brandeis community and the donors who gave the Rose the operating budget it needed to keep its doors open. To spend $2 million on a single installation, from a budget that couldn’t afford a $200,000 cut just four years ago, is incredibly short-sighted. This installation will not keep the museum open if the market should crash again. It will not unify the student body to fight for our common artistic resources. It will never truly serve as a symbol of our university. All it does is serve as a symbol for the mismanagement this university has imposed, and will most likely continue to impose, on the Rose art museum.

During Orientation, the first-year class met for a candle-lighting ceremony beneath “Light of Reason” to celebrate the beginning of their journey at Brandeis. It was an uplifting event and will hopefully become a tradition for first-years, yet when the lights turned on, three of the bulbs weren’t functioning, and the piece was incomplete. This is “Light of Reason”—it’s beautiful if one doesn’t look too hard.