Image and Imagination

Imagine you are watching a reality TV show about a postmodern family living in a neo-eclectic house with tasteful d├ęcor and no windows. Okay, now imagine you are actually in that neo-eclectic house, in fact a brightly lit set with a director and cameramen and a control room with monitors, watching actors who are getting kinda surly after three hours of Monopoly. If you are a mere mortal like me you are questioning, by now, what is real and what is neo-eclectic, not to mention what is the attraction to reality TV. This is just a tiny taste of the lengths that Lakshmi Luthra ’05 will go to build up the ol’ tension between illusion and reality.

Lakshmi is the visiting professor of photography this year, while John Willis takes a sabbatical, and she shared some of her recent projects with folks gathered in Apple Tree yesterday. Her talk coincided with an exhibit of her recent photos, called “Still-Life,” now hanging at Drury Gallery. Clearly, our Lakshmi is as comfortable doing performance art as she is taking photographs of stark industrial landscapes, and her talk demonstrated her versatility in the pursuit of that dizzying edge between object and image. The amazing thing is that she doesn’t get dizzy at all, but can negotiate this no-man’s land of perception like she is talking about driving to work.

In addition to her hyper-reality TV show at Las Cienegas Gallery in Los Angeles, called “Final Cut,” Lakshmi shared photos from the L.A. Zoo, a work called “Logo” that explores the role of brands in creating value, and images taken from a 1967 issue of Mademoiselle in an exhibit called “Fetish.” And here is one more that illustrates that edgy stuff I’m talking about, a photo of an exploding vase in the tradition of “Doc” Edgerton’s photos of bullets flying through apples and Memorex ads of Ella Fitzgerald breaking wine glasses with her high C. Except sneaky Lakshmi’s exploding vase is carefully crafted from broken shards hanging from fishing line and supported by wire, testing our convictions in the authority of the image. I mean, we are really lucky to have Lakshmi back with us on campus this year, but next time I see her I am going to have to think twice: Is she real or is she Memorex?

 

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The Signs They Are A’Changin

Marlboro may be teensy enough to fit on a hill o’ potash (potassium carbonate leached out of wood ashes, once a thriving industry in these here parts), but it can still be confusing to the uninitiated. You know what I’m talking about, the dining hall is that thing that looks like an old barn (which it was), the campus center looks like it was built by a bunch of passive solar hippies (which it was) and Mather House mysteriously has nothing to do with mathematics. Some well-placed signs could make all the difference, but the Rubik’s Cube of the dilemma is to make things clear without marring the pastoral splendor of the place, “blocking out the scenery, breaking my mind,” etc. The illustrious Standing Building Committee (I think they’re in charge of all buildings still standing and other landscape features, like signs) has worked long and hard to reach a systematic yet sustainably sensitive signage solution, and we saw the very first exciting results installed this week.

The SBC brought in a Jedi master craftsman, Mark Littlehales ’80, to make signs that are shipshape and seaworthy. I mean, Mark has tons of experience painting the fancy, gilded names on more wooden yachts at the Brooklin Boatyard than you can shake a yardarm at. Don’t worry, I checked to make sure he didn’t change any of the building names to Flying Cloud or Seas the Day or something like that. I was not surprised to find that the signs actually match, like they have the same kind of lettering and the same color and all, so they don’t look like earlier versions that resemble several different people’s art projects from the 1970s. The signs totally help pull together the central buildings on campus, part of the master plan to make this area more integrated, pedestrian-friendly and, well, visually agreeable.

 

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Networking with the Stars

I mean really, should we trust the career advice of someone who verbally challenges white supremacists, Koran-burners, anti-gay activists and porno pastors for a living? In David Pakman’s case, I’d say “heck yeah.” Although he looks barely old enough to drive, let alone host a nationally syndicated talk show, David says a well-timed handshake with progressive radio host Thom Hartmann helped launched his show into a viable business. David was the keynote speaker at yesterday’s Career Day festivities, sharing his sage, erudite, 20-something wisdom on doing what he is passionate about, being his own boss and navigating threatening emails.

If David’s talk wasn’t enough to fire up any soon-to-be-unemployed college student into a juggernaut of networking enthusiasm, it was followed by a reception in the dining hall with several local organizations offering jobs and internships. They could get their hands dirty at Fertile Fields Farm, in Westmoreland, New Hampshire, or leading groups of young farmers in UVM Extension’s Youth Agricultural Project. They could get all artsy and cultured with the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center or the Arts Council of Windham County. Or they could harness the raw power of adolescent hormones in Tuscany or Provence as a group leader for the Experiment in International Living. For those of us who will put off working at all costs there were even opportunities for advanced degrees, including master’s programs from SIT Graduate Institute and a master’s in teaching with a focus on social justice from our own Marlboro College Graduate School.

And even if a summer internship was the last thing on your mind at first, and I can’t let this by without mentioning it, the food was fantastic. After my fill of crab cakes and strawberries and spanakopita pillows and artichoke heart dip, I was stoked to volunteer for anything.

 

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The 3,000th Paper Cup

Being a well-rounded and astute liberal arts kind of creature, you have probably heard of the ol’ hundredth monkey story. You know, how clever Japanese monkeys had a social revolution of sorts in the 1950s because they reached some magic number of monkeys that learned to wash the dirt off of sweet potatoes? Well, it seems that we’ve reached a similar critical mass in the number of paper cups we’re going through in the dining hall, causing all kinds of campus monkeys to rise up and muster their forces for innovation. At yesterday’s Town Meeting, the Food Committee brought a resolution that would ban the purchase of any more paper cups, except for catered events and guests. This was after revealing that the number of paper cups used every week was approaching 3,000, or about 10 for every primate on campus, at an estimated cost of $180. Every week.

Besides the fact that 180 smackers every week could be buying some cool, wholesome food like organic quinoa or locally grown arugula or fair trade Fruit Loops, I think the sheer number of paper cups was enough to stir the conscience of every Macaca fuscata in the room. Oh, there was some grumbling about having tried this 180 times before, and being forced to drink tea out of bowls, hats, cupped hands and even chair seats, and there does seem to be some absurd problem with getting reusable cups back to the dining hall. But, I’m telling you, the sense of social innovation in the room was as palpable as if we were all scrubbing sweet potatoes to the same primordial rhythm. The Environmental Quality Committee proposed a method for gathering all the used mugs in bins in each dorm. The Food Committee agreed to look for mugs that are larger than a teaspoon, like some of those available now. The resolution passed resoundingly, along with fund requests for a snazzy rowing machine and a professional drag troupe to regale the Gender Bender this spring. Just remember to bring your own mug.

 

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