INSIDE Chico State
0 March 8, 2001
Volume 31 Number 12
  A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
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Commentary

Art and the University Humanities Center Fiasco

A bird’s eye view of Bachelor of Fine Arts student Jason Long’s sculpture, a catalog of his life memories.
A birdŐs eye view of Bachelor of Fine Arts student Jason LongŐs sculpture, a catalog of his life memories.

( Photo Courtesy of Jason Long )

A Chico State student named Jason Long did a very interesting thing the other day: He mounted a rather grand sculpture in the Humanities Center gallery space in Trinity Hall. Then the university did an interesting thing of its own: It made him take it down, immediately, and before the show's official opening reception could take place.

Long's sculpture, or installation, or "piece," consisted of several groups of large wooden packing cases stacked in towering, orderly rows and a wooden chest of working card-file drawers that seemed, in part, to be a miniature version of the stacked crates. An art reviewer might say that it was a charming piece of bricolage, a "conceptualist" work that also made satisfying and impressive use of form, space, scale. I think it's the single most interesting use that any artist has made of the Humanities Center space to date, and there's good reason to believe that no one will ever get a chance to improve upon that particular achievement.

By the time that a university employee had gotten a fire marshal to condemn the stacked crates, Jason Long's work was mutating further into an ironic and perhaps definitive statement about institutions and creativity -- at CSU Chico, in the Humanities Center, on a fundamentally bureaucratic campus, in a system of education more and more devoted to an industrial model. And the perfection of his redefinition of the Trinity Hall "gallery" became more corrosively evident as well.

The Humanities Center is a fine idea, and it has already been the scene of a good many worthy and even memorable events, but it is central in name only. It, too, is a kind of conceptualist installation, and we owe a debt of gratitude to Dean Heinz, Robert Burton, Thomasin Saxe, and many others for their sustained acts of imagination therein. But the "gallery" that Jason Long used so brilliantly is primarily an absurd and incoherent space, a hallway in an office building, an L-shaped room born of the utilitarian grafting of cell-block office spaces onto the pseudo-classical hallowed halls of a nondenominational bell tower. Jason Long's creativity and daring are among many signs of vitality in the humanities at Chico State, but the Trinity Hall fiasco should be an embarrassment to the entire university. Chico State should be proud of Jason Long's triumphant completion of a course of study, but what we gave him instead was a lesson in institutional indifference and bureaucratic hostility.

Peter Hogue, English


Like a Ship in a Bottle

The more I think about Jason Long's B.F.A. exhibit, the more brilliant I think it was; it is an incredible shame that he was forced to take it down before his opening, and well before the end of his exhibition week. Just Monday afternoon, I gave my Humanities 100B students an extra credit assignment: They were to view Long's exhibit and write a response to his artwork. Of course, they have been coming to Trinity to do this assignment and finding the space virtually empty.

I loved the way the artwork totally reconfigured the space, and the fact that the piece was constructed in the space (like a ship in a bottle). The hours and hours of labor involved in taking the crates apart and then reconstructing them inside Trinity added to the meaning of the work for me. I also liked the fact that the piece made us look at these common items in a whole new way. I am intrigued by the concept behind the piece and the use of the small file cabinet filled with memories to get that message across.

Not least important, the buzz that the installation created over the days it took to construct it inside Trinity just added to the impact of the artwork. Speculation abounded -- what was in the boxes? And why did nothing come out of them, while, instead, the stack grew taller and taller? And then, when these same folks realized that the boxes were the exhibit, debate began to ensue: What was art? Was this art? If so, why? I wish we could have had the rest of the week, at least, to view the work and continue the discussion.

Jeanne Lawrence, Art and Art History
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