FOTA art springs up around campus

By Connie Hsiung

The tail end of this year’s Festival of the Arts (FOTA) program caps a week of student performances and exhibits that, despite allegations of attempted theft and damage to one student’s artwork, participants have said conveyed the spirit of artistic expression on campus.

Ranging from last weekend’s fashion show to concerts and other performance pieces, members of the University have encountered festival entries on bathroom doors, in the lobby of the Regenstein Library, in Cobb Coffee Shop, and scattered throughout the Reynolds Club. The media have included not only traditional forms such as photography, painting, and sketching, but also envelope-pushing exhibits that make use of glass bottles, sand, yarn, and an assortment of pants and shoes.

Second-year Amanda Miller’s mixed media series Wicked Witch of the Midwest displayed human legs attached to various campus buildings. Her aim was to “demonstrate the artificial and revolutionary nature of the expansion of the University of Chicago and universities in general,” according to her explanation on the FOTA website. “The legs evoke stereotypes associated with the particular building they are under to remind us that the University’s tendency towards specialization may actually be crushing those it tries to help.”

After taking in one of Miller’s installations, one student commented, “It made me jump a little—at first I thought it was a kid sitting against the building, and then I realized there was no torso.”

In digital media, third-year Victoria Liu’s Facebook Stalking is a series of portraits inspired by pictures found on Facebook profiles. The portraits are placed “in classrooms where the portrait subject attends class,” according to Liu’s project description on the FOTA website.

In contrast to last year’s festival, most of the exhibits were located inside various campus buildings as opposed to outdoors on campus grounds.

Allegations of attempted theft of and damage to third-year Juliana Pino’s mixed-media project, Still Life?, located in Hutchinson Courtyard, put a sour note on the week’s festivities. The alleged vandalism followed numerous incidents of damage done to FOTA projects in the past two years.

On Sunday, a day after the FOTA launch party, some of the fixtures that were designed to secure her project in Hutchinson Courtyard had been inexplicably moved, according to Pino, a former Maroon photo editor. “It would have taken a lot of work to get the stuff out,” she said. “It also had a huge ‘do not touch’ sign on it.”

Reynolds Club security guards and FOTA organizers spotted a couple the next day working to dismantle the project’s restraints. According to Pino, the organizers said that they confronted undergrad Robert Chan and his girlfriend Beth Miller, a 2006 alumna, while they were leaving the Reynolds Club with materials from the exhibit. The couple said that a FOTA fashion model had told them “all the stuff was up for grabs” following Saturday’s launch show, although Pino said she expressed skepticism. “I think they just wanted it. They thought it would be fun to have,” she said.

In terms of disciplinary consequences, Pino said she will discuss options after meeting with Dean of Students Susan Art. “We’re in the middle of that,” she said.

For his part, Chan said that he was not aware that Pino’s work was part of an art exhibit.

“It didn’t even look like art,” he said of the piece. Instead, Chan said that he and Miller thought that the piece was a leftover or discarded prop from an earlier FOTA event. He said that the piece’s location just outside of Hutch Commons, as well as its composition of cardboard, further contributed to this assumption. “We wouldn’t have touched it if we knew it was part of an exhibit,” he said.

Chan further said that there were no restraints holding the piece down that would have indicated it was part of a FOTA exhibit. He doesn’t believe that disciplinary action is appropriate for what he sees as an honest mistake.

—Hassan S. Ali and Adrian R. Florido contributed reporting to this article.