One class of Penn students pushed the community to see things differently this summer by altering public spaces around campus.
Foundations of Art Design and Digital Culture, a class taught by Design professor David Comberg, recently finished up a summer session project in which each creation had to intervene in a public place.
Students were urged to consider the behaviors of the members of the community who frequent their public area of choice. They were also asked to “provoke a response in the viewer, creating questions or thoughts, laughter, delight, re-examination of assumptions, etc.,” according to the course syllabus.
“The Penn community, in general, is kind of conservative.” said Comberg. “So this is trying to push that a little bit, trying to get students to think about the campus as a form for dialogue and to stop people in their tracks and have them think about other things.”
Laurie Zimmerman, a student in the class and an employee at the Perelman School of Medicine, was inspired by her mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s when creating her public intervention project.
“I recently found out that the National Institutes of Health spend $3 billion on AIDS related research and $504 million on Alzheimer’s and other age related dementia,” Zimmerman said of the motivation behind her project. “This is insane given the fact that Alzheimer’s affects five times the number of people that HIV does.”
Zimmerman’s 100-foot long project — which includes granite blocks featuring a question mark and a ratio of the funding spent on HIV and Alzheimers related research — was installed on Hamilton Walk, just outside of the Perelman School of Medicine.
Although her project — true to the objective of the class — “intervened” in the public walkway, Zimmerman said that passerby did not seem particularly perturbed.
“I did not experience any negativity,” Zimmerman noted. “A fair amount of people stopped to look at it. A larger number just walked by.”
Each student brought his or her distinct strengths to the project.
2014 Wharton graduate Shawn Zamechek used his background in math when coming up with the idea behind his project, which he said he hoped would “expose people to a secret.”
One installment of Zamechek’s project was a sign attached to Claudia Cohen Hall which encouraged onlookers to rethink their conceptions of the College with its message reading, “The College offers 64 majors and 76 minors. There are 4,864 unique paths of study.”
Although most of the projects were taken down soon after they were installed, the class will bring a slew of new conceptual interventions when it is offered again in the fall.
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