Life-size art goes political, symbolic

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Author: Stephen Nemeth

The Occidental community is no stranger to large-scale political statements and interactive art projects, and the life-size replica of a Predator MQ-1B drone in front of Thorne Hall embodies both.

Organized through OxyArts – an initiative created to raise the visibility of the arts as part of the Occidental community – this sculpture was created by Los Angeles-based artist-collective Finishing School, in collaboration with independent artists Nadia Afghani and Matt Fisher. They chose to call the piece, “We Will Show You Fear in a Handful of Dust.”

On March 14, the foam components of the drone were carried off a truck and assembled in the area in front of Thorne Hall. Over the next few days anyone walking by was allowed to join in and help mix adobe or apply it to the foam structure.

Art History and Visual Arts major Jack Baker (junior) recalls at least 30-50 Occidental students participating in the installation’s creation over the weekend of March 14, getting their hands dirty working on the drone while over 100 students looked on. The sculpture took three days to complete and will stand on campus until May 9.

Ed Giardina, a member of Finishing School, delivered this quote by historian Lewis Mumford in his essay “Authoritarian and Democratic Technics” initially inspired the group to pursue this type of project:

“From late Neolithic times in the Near East, right down to our own day, two technologies have recurrently existed side by side: one authoritarian, the other democratic, the first system-centered, immensely powerful, but inherently unstable, the other human-centered, relatively weak, but resourceful and durable.”

OxyArts director Aandrea Stang has already organized several other projects on campus, such as Liz Collins’s KN12:H20, Kenneth Tam’s exhibition The Trouble Between Us and Devon Tsuno: Watershed.

“I first worked with Finishing School in 2008 and have watched their artistic practice evolve since then,” Stang said via email. “Last summer after we received funding from the Kathryn Caine Wanlass Charitable Foundation for the Wanlass Artist in Residence Program, I began talking to the collective about doing a project on campus and what it might look like. The Wanlass family is interested in supporting projects that promote cross campus dialogue, so Liz Collins’ Knitting Nation piece, KN12: H20 andWe Will Show You Fear in a Handful of Dust’ both respond well to that mandate.”

In addition to the drone being a statement piece, it was intended to foster public engagement and interest. Along with members of the Occidental community, local community members were also welcome to take part in the project to create a life-size replica of a Predator MQ-1B drone. Students from Cypress College, where Giardinaand Afghani both teach, also contributed to the project over the weekend.

Baker helped publicize the project on campus and build the drone.

“We’re utilizing the space that we have and our connection with these amazing L.A. artists to work to create a dialogue that needs to be talked about and I had an amazing time doing it,” Baker said. “I do not know if it really changes anyone’s political position on the subject because that is not really the point of it. The point is just to spark a dialogue on the abstraction of killing with drones, this remote killing.”

According to Afghani, the artists were able to sculpt large blocks of foam to create the form of the drone using a computer numerical control (CNC) cutter.

“We wanted to juxtapose that by using a very human-centric way of architectural building, which is to mix adobe and apply a coat of adobe mud on top of this industrially manufactured form,” Afghani said. “We were really drawn to represent this technology in a way that is both new and old.”

For more information on the project and drones, Fisher wrote an essay available at the project site outside Thorne Hall.

 

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