Science has thrown art in our faces, and frankly, it isn’t so bad.
The neon molecules, the red ribbon roots, the arboreal memorial, the rows of smiling yellow tulip pinwheels – these Diag installations are the products of Beth Diamond’s Natural Resources and Environment 501 class documenting the history and theory of landscape architecture.
Diamond is a first-year professor in the School of Natural Resources and Environment’s department of landscape architecture, the only one of its kind in the country.
This campus, Diamond said, “is crying out for things that will get people to talk to one another.”
And she’s right. Students clustered nearby in discussion each day these installations were up.
“(We) are so anesthetized to our environment,” Diamond said. “How do you use a public space, especially at a public university?”
Diamond’s solution was to blend the spheres of art and ecology into a visceral, 3-D medium that not only appeals to a sense of aesthetics, but also challenges its viewer to enter into a dialogue with the work of art.
For instance, if you frequent the Tisch Hall side of the Diag, you probably spotted – and were initially confused by – an interesting installation just outside Angell Hall. It’s comprised of logs and orange spray-painted boughs forming concentric arcs around a previously existing concrete block, draped with a black canvass.
Closer examination would show you that each log lists in chronological order various arboreal epidemics – either parasitic or viral – in Michigan’s history. With that in mind, the reasoning behind the installation is made clear: This is a tomb.
To be sure, it’s a macabre image, but it’s also a pointed one.
“This is accessible,” Diamond said. “People are hungry for interaction.”
Public art is no stranger in Ann Arbor. Large-scale murals can be found alongside Borders Books and Music on Liberty Street and in the alley behind Amer’s Mediterranean Delicatessen. There is a constantly evolving display of spray-painted stencils underneath our feet – “Pink is the new conformity,” for instance.
And what about those footballs that still grace our sidewalks and are purportedly still under police surveillance? It’s been done before. Chicago had cows, Kentucky had horses and Washington D.C. had donkeys and elephants. One minute of casual observation will tell you that hardly anyone glances at them anymore.
Not so for the Diag gems, unfortunately scheduled to be taken down throughout the weekend. The installation “Flux,” made up of linear arrangements of neon-orange pegs, originally featured a comment book that was quickly filled.
Coincidentally, several other installations not affiliated with the SNRE have appeared in odd places around campus, but the truth is that though they are probably well-meaning and pop up unexpectedly, they are mostly hit-or-miss.
The aged mailbox in front of the Espresso Royale Coffee on State Street has been obnoxiously romanticized as a crossroads of communication. “Standing through rain and shine / my mouth remains open / for your correspondence / between traveler’s hands united,” drones the mailbox’s label.
This is not to claim that Diamond’s students created flawless, expertly crafted works of art. But their uniformity of vision lends a didactic edge to the installations.
We need this.
The aesthetics of the Law Quadrangle and the fa