One hundred life-sized plywood water buffalo, a replicate of a
death-row waiting room and an 80-foot floating inflatable balloon:
These are some of the projects of self-described artist and
activist Richard Kamler.
Kamler, who spoke at the Michigan Theater last night, was
educated at the University of California at Berkley as a sculptor
and has been making “issue-driven” art since he created
his first piece in 1976 titled “Out of Holocaust”
— a full-scale replica of one of the barracks in Auschwitz.
His work addresses such issues as capital punishment, nuclear
weapons and the U.S. justice system.
Kamler said many of his installations are “clearly
interventions, guerilla actions without a permit.” These are
temporary pieces set up illegally in public places, usually shut
down by police and intended to send a highly visible message
through the media. Other pieces are more formal, housed in
During the lecture, Kamler who has been teaching at the
University’s School of Art and Design for the past week,
reflected on some of his more recent projects. An 80-foot long,
20-foot tall inflatable loaf of French bread, floated into San
Francisco Bay in 1996, is an example of the offbeat
“guerilla” art Kamler often produces.
Kamler dragged the piece, created in just three days as a
response to French nuclear testing in the Mediterranean Sea, into
the bay with some help. It was emblazoned with the slogan
“Make bread not bombs” and painted with the colors of
the French flag.
Adding to the effect was the presence of a number of high-level
government officials on the bay observing the activities of Fleet
Week — a week celebrating the U.S. Navy — who
eventually tried to sink the inflatable with helicopters.
Kamler, however, was anything but apologetic for the
“The intention of some of this public action is really to
embarrass,” he said.
Another notable guerilla installation was titled “The
Sound of Lions Roaring.” This action was prompted by the
plight of Robert Harris, the first prisoner to be executed after
the end of California’s short-lived ban on capital
At the time of Harris’s execution, Kamler and a group of
sailors stationed off the coast blasted the sound of lions roaring
through huge speakers outside the waterfront prison, where the
state executed Harris.
Kamler said this was an audible expression of the
protesters’ anger. The sound was so loud that it could be
heard by employees inside the prison, who promptly responded by
sending the U.S. Coast Guard to arrest Kamler and his group.
“The sound really was enormous — this deep bass
sound coming from the dark,” Kamler reminisced.
Kamler also spent significant time discussing his current
project, titled “Seeing Peace.” Kamler said this piece
is unlike some of his other work in that he is striving to obtain
the necessary permits. However, he said he still aims to send a
Its main focus is on “bringing artists to the table”
in the field of politics, thereby injecting imagination and
creativity into the global political debate. Kamler said he
believes strongly that an increased focus on imagination could
prevent a lot of political strife throughout the world, especially
“What if Picasso had painted ‘Guernica’ before
the bombs had dropped?” he asked, referring to
Picasso’s masterpiece addressing the horrors of the Spanish
Civil War in the late 1930s.
Kamler said his plan for “Seeing Peace” is to bring
191 artists — one from each member country of the United
Nations — to the U.N. general assembly to sit with their
respective representatives for one day. It will also be accompanied
by a gallery in which each artist’s representation of peace
will be displayed.
The lecture concluded with a scaled-down version of
“Seeing Peace” using University students’ own
interpretations. Students walked to the Diag and gathered in a
circle holding letters that spelled “Seeing Peace,”
which they created in class under Kamler’s guidance. Each
letter was supposed to be a representation of how the students
perceived of peace.
The event was the culmination of Kamler’s week long visit
to the University, where he worked with students taking the Concept
Form and Concept course. Kamler said the goal of his visit is that
“students think of the role of imagination in peace –
how we can envision it.”
Art and Design junior Joe Ostrander said he thought
Kamler’s visit was informative and that the school was
“taking a step in the right direction” by bringing
experienced artists to the University.
“It was great to be able to talk to someone with
experience in the art world,” Ostrander said.
Art and Design sophomore Ariel Sundel echoed Ostrander’s
sentiments, adding that Kamler’s presentation gave her new
insight into art and activism.
“I think seeing this tonight has really reaffirmed (the
compatibility of art and activism),” Sundel said.