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Go Ahead: Gawk and Critique : Artist Goes to Public to Stir Some Emotions

May 22, 1986|STEVEN R. CHURM | Times Staff Writer

WHITTIER — For artists with soft-shell egos, going public can be a delicate decision.

But Randy Lindquist, a senior at Whittier College, relishes the risks of putting his art in plain view for all to critique. He invites comment, even encourages interaction with his artwork. An example is his current campus exhibit:

Under cover of darkness, Lindquist placed four life-sized models of humans made from chicken wire in the heart of campus. As students and faculty arrived for classes the next morning, a gawkers' block formed around the patio next to the Hoover-Lautrop Auditorium where the figures were positioned in front of three TV screens. By day's end, several students had even approached the display. Some simply wanted a closer look, while others actually rearranged the models' limbs--much to the delight of the 26-year-old Lindquist.

"This form of art is kind of a reaction against the whole art establishment," he explained during a recent interview on campus. "This gets the artist out of the shrine of the gallery and interacts directly with the public."

Paula Radisich, an art professor at Whittier, described Lindquist's work as "activist art," an art trend that has emerged in the 1980s. Artists like Lindquist, she said, challenge current values by taking their work directly to the public. Muralists, she said, who paint freeway underpasses or sides of buildings fall in this group. Their artwork is big, bold and very visible, and their work is subject to the elements--wind, rain and vandalism.

'Doesn't Last Forever'

"It doesn't last forever," she said. "And much of its importance comes from how the environment changes it."

Besides size and impact, there is another dimension to Lindquist's work--his message. Art for art's sake is fine for some creators, but not Lindquist. Making a statement, one that stirs public emotion, is the reason he wants to pursue art beyond graduation later this month.

His Whittier exhibit, which will be on display through this weekend, is a reaction to TV and what he calls its "numbing effect" on humans.

It's not a new theme, but treatment of the issue with the human models is novel: On a park bench sits a husband and wife. He is holding a beer bottle, she is in curlers as they stare at a TV screen made of Styrofoam. Loose clothing covers their flimsy wire frames that bob, ever so slightly, in the breeze. The woman's face is made of clay, and pasted with headlines from the 6 o'clock news. A few feet away, the couple's teen-age daughter watches another set, while their small boy, wearing an army helmet and surrounded with toy soldiers plays near a third set.

Spilling out of each TV screen are drawings of newscasters, cartoon characters and game-show hosts, which Lindquist believes are shaping public opinion and values today.

"Too many people sit in darkened rooms and stare at this light coming from a box. The basic way people have knowledge of the world today is through TV, and that's not good," said Lindquist, who adds that he rarely watches TV, and when he does it is late at night to catch entertainer David Letterman or the British comedic troupe Monty Python.

Student-Designed Curriculum

Lindquist's arty protest of TV is part of his senior project, a requirement for graduation from Whittier College's Scholar's Program. Students in the program design their own curriculum, selecting classes that more closely mesh with their interests and career choices, rather than following a prescribed path of required choices. The required senior project focuses on a specific topic related to their studies.

Lindquist, who plans to eventually teach, said he combined his interest in art, religion and anthropology into a major he titled "symbols systems." Explaining the major, even for Lindquist, is not easy.

"Let's see," he said, pausing to find the simpliest answer, "I examine symbols, what they represent and how they affect behavior. That's about the best I can do."

Reaction on campus to the exhibit has been generally favorable.

Radisich said she observed two female students discussing the merits of the work at length one day. They focused on the teen-ager in the exhibit, and the cartoon characters, including Fred Flintstone, coming out of her TV set.

"They actually launched into a discussion about the impact cartoons have on children and violence," she said. "Then one of the girls said, 'but I still like Fred Flintstone.' "

Broken Beer Bottle

The only official comment from a campus administrator came from Allan Prince, executive vice president, who called Radisich about the beer bottle. It had apparently been knocked or fallen out of the figure's hand, and Radisich said Prince was concerned that someone would step on the glass fragments.

"He wanted to know if he could sweep it up," Radisich recalled. "I told him it was up to each individual to decide how to interact with (the exhibit). I noticed later the bottle had been swept up."

Lindquist, who plans to take a year off before applying to graduate school, said the exhibit has been a success because it caused some people to pause and ponder a bit. "You can't be afraid to make people think with your art," he said.

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