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Shipwreck in Eliot Circle

By Lucy Bellwood '12 on March 04, 2011 05:16 PM

trainwreck.jpg

RAW is in the air. Since Wednesday morning, projects have been cropping up throughout campus, with concentric circles of laundry rising from the front lawn, surreal living rooms materializing in Commons, and rolling pallets of grass drifting around the ground floor of Eliot.

Today, a grubby crew of artists in sweatshirts and Carhartts could be seen industriously striding around Eliot Circle, stacking and welding several tons of scrap metal into a labyrinthine tower. The piece, entitled Assembly of Freight, is the brainchild of sculptor and installation artist Ben Wolf.

I found him inside the upturned prow of a tugboat, surrounded by bags of chips, bits of orange peel, and flakes of rusty paint. He gave me a firm, sooty handshake. For a guy who's been living in a tent by the Theater Annex for a couple weeks, he looks to be in fairly good condition.

The project began with a blue freight car from Prineville, Oregon--the very same one that's now lying in pieces on the grass before us. After driving it to Portland in a 24-foot box truck, he and co-conspirator Andrew Schrock set about preparing to combine it with the hulk of an ancient tugboat.

Unfortunately, scrap thieves stole several tons of metal from the staging area earlier in the week, but Wolf seemed largely unconcerned. The piece is constantly changing form as scraps and sheets of old metal are recombined at irregular angles and planes.

Wolf cites his main aesthetic interest as "the decadence of abandonment," something that pulls him towards disused, crumbling spaces. With Assembly, he takes this interest a step further by reusing abandoned materials to create a dynamic, interactive installation space--one that he hopes will combat the distance between observer and artwork.

"Art can be really ostracizing," he notes. "But when the viewer has the option to experience and explore it, there's a whole new type of communication between the viewer and the piece."

With a workforce made up of close friends and fellow artists, Wolf knows that "limited conversation is not an option." The work must speak to everyone in some way, since it wouldn't exist without their help. This egalitarian philosophy seems perfect for RAW, since many students are annually baffled by the "artyness" of the event. As the project rises higher over the next 24 hours, its twisted, rusting presence may breathe fresh life into the question of what art really is.