By: KATE LUCE
Outside of the gallery in EA, there recently was a sculpture. It featured five empty beer cans and emptied rifle cartridges.
Now, the place where the sculpture was previously has been filled with just a piece of paper that reads, “This installation has been deemed too potentially offensive for college students and professional adults. It went against university policy as well.”
In order to abide by IU’s policy on alcohol and weapon policy, the beer and rifle shells were deliberately emptied.
This piece was up for a total of four months. It was created by an anonymous group of IU South Bend alumni, named the Installers Guild. They are a group that accepts open general submissions from anyone in the community.
Josh Miller, gallery director, was notified that the work could be problematic for students by an administrator. Although he had the chance to move the pedestal holding the sculpture inside the gallery, he and the Installers Guild believed if the sculpture was moved out of sight in the gallery, it would still be censorship. To be respectful, the work was taken down.
To take action, they created an Instagram account to document their work.
“Initially, the materials were deemed potentially triggering. I got passed a few emails that said that. Honestly, they did not ask me to take it down, but I did not want to move it because that is why I put the pedestal there,” Miller said.
According to their Instagram, the Installers Guild stated, “Let it be known that we are against all forms of censorship and will continue to fight the good fight. Life and art are meant to be experienced, loved and hated, challenged and accepted. Discomfort and challenging ideas are part of personal growth.”
Usually, when a piece is deemed to be particularly offensive, the gallery will make sure their audience knows that they might be offended.
Speaking to Betsey Stirratt, gallery director of the Grunwald Gallery of IU Bloomington, she stated making sure the audience is aware of her themes is important for galleries, however there is usually a reason why a gallery is showing the work.
“We have displayed some artwork that some people might find offensive, but we always post signage outside the gallery letting visitors know that there may be content that they should be aware of.
Also, galleries must be able to argue that work displayed in their spaces is there for a reason and should be able to articulate the value and contribution that this artwork makes to the exhibit on show,” explains Stirratt.
“There is no IU guide for the campus that galleries adhere to. That would be censorship, which would be unacceptable on a university campus,” Stirratt added.
This action brought many conversations to fine arts departments, particularly for students.
“I think it is censorship, plain and simple. Someone got offended, claimed it was against school policy, and had it taken down. However, as an artist, we are looking to illicit a reaction from our audience.
In doing that, the sculpture was successful. It elicited a reaction in a viewer, that unfortunately led to it being censored,” Kolt Sizer, BFA Painting and Drawing, said.
“I’m not really sure what happened, but I saw the aftermath…When I was a curator, work that could possibly upset people we would always place within the gallery. So, people would have to make the choice to cross the threshold and make a choice to experience it” explained Bill Tourtullotte, lecturer in fine arts.
“This piece was in a public space, and I don’t know who saw it or reacted to it. I don’t know if taking it down was contingent to people coming across it to an unsuspecting way. Obviously, it was enough for someone to be upset about the work.”
Tourtullotte continued, “I’m not comfortable with censorship. In this instance, the compromise is that the work moved and there is a threshold to view the work.”
If a student was to show work that could be particularly offensive, Miller says that students would have more power in that situation. Having work taken down due to content is unlikely.
“I might be able to stifle a better case if it was student work. The email that I have read, [an administrator] stated that that they did not want to stifle creativity with students.
They assumed it was student work, but it is not, but I don’t know if [it was student work] would make that much of a difference. I would think we would get more administrative support from the dean or somebody else,” Miller stated.
If interested in viewing what once was shown at the gallery, the Installers Guild posted their sculpture on their Instagram: @installers_guild. There is also a QR code attached to the pedestal with the photo.
They are open to ideas and submissions from anyone looking to show work or collaborate with the group.