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Statue Sets Questions in Motion at Design College

Student Alan Marrero went out on a ledge in seeking an A in art.  Last Sunday, he positioned a startlingly  life-like sculpture of himself on an outcropping 15 feet from the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning floor.  Double-takes – along with scoldings and incredulous questions directed at the statue – have followed ever since.

Date: 2/4/2005 12:00:00 AM
By: Mary Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Lisa Ventre

UC ingot  

University of Cincinnati urban planning student Alan Marrero is beside himself with satisfaction – or at least he quite literally could be.

Marrero, 22, stole up a ladder last Sunday morning to place a sculpture of himself on a high ledge overlooking the main thoroughfare of UC’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning.  He’d made and then positioned the life-like statue as part of an elective “Installation Art” course taught by Matt Lynch, assistant professor of fine art.

Come Monday, the work immediately began attracting attention.  Jay Chatterjee, former dean of the college and current professor of architecture and planning, actually began scolding what he thought was a student foolishly endangering himself.  "I said, 'You get down from there right now!'" admitted Chatterjee, adding that he then went right into the administrative offices to report the matter: "I didn't stop.  It was early morning , around 8 a.m., and I wanted the staff in the office to help get that student down.  So, I said, 'There's this guy up there.'  They then told me to go out and take another look."

Chatterjee stated that he was more than startled by the statue, which added urgency to his reaction.  "It actually gave me a flashback to about 12 years ago when I was dean.  Some students went on a similar ledge outside on the south side of the building.  They were sunbathing or reading or something like that on a three-foot ledge that was about three stories up.  One of them actually fell and was seriously injured.  That's why I was doubly startled and told him to get right down," he explained.

He isn't the only one to mistake art for reality.  Passing students have been heard to question the statue, “How did you get up there?!”

“I’ve heard some of the reactions myself,” said Marrero who admitted to walking by the work as often as possible to gauge reactions.  “I’ve also heard people talking in class about it.  They don’t know that I’m the one who made it.  Considering that you make art to get a reaction, it’s been pretty cool.” 

He explains that his assignment required students to make site-specific sculptures that fit within the culture of their college.  Marrero figured that nothing was more ubiquitous at DAAP than a student working on his laptop.  So, he gathered up wood, chicken wire, plaster and paint – plus some of his own clothes and his own glasses – to make “Ethan,” the name he gave the work. 

“’Ethan’ turned out to be a self-portrait, not because I planned it that way but because when I needed a model, I was always there,” said Marrero who took a week to fashion and paint the sculpture.  Even in studio before he’d even put a head on “Ethan,” Marrero began getting reactions:  “Teachers were startled when they’d walk in and see him at night.  The proportions were so right.  People would come up and say, ‘That’s creepy.’  Everyone reacted even then.  I found that very encouraging.”

Marrero needed that kind of encouragement to paint the “Ethan” face.  Never having painted before in his life, he recalls sitting and staring at the paint and the paint palette a long time before daring to wield the brush.  “Fortunately, I was using acrylic paint, which dries quickly.  So, when I messed up, I could paint a new face pretty quickly,” Marrero stated.     

The work, even while deliberately making use of humor and surprise, dovetails naturally into his academic and research interests as a planning student:  “I’ve always been interested in public art that reflects the space which it inhabits.  In fact, my thesis is about using public art in the process of place making.” 

The class requirements for Marrero and other students in the course called for a week-long exhibition of pieces; however, it seems that “Ethan” will perch in place a little longer.  Said Marrero, “I’m not taking him down till I’m told to.”

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