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Site art

If you're walking around Southern Oregon University and notice brass tubes and honey-covered twine hanging from trees, goofy recycling bins for diapers and banana peels, and thousands of free-form words scratched in chalk on walls, don't be alarmed: It's "site art" created by students.

Professor Marlene Alt said site art occurs when you "choose a site that makes you want to create a sculpture as a response to that particular site." And that's what a dozen juniors and seniors did, most of the art whimsical and engaging.

The most imposing statement comes from Kyle Peets, who Googled "makes me feel," got hundreds of sentences and chalked them on the block walls in front of the Schneider Museum of Art. The effect is like mental popcorn: You can't read just one.

The statements pull you in with such random thoughts as, "This place makes me feel like a broken super hero." "Makes me feel tingly." "Makes me feel angry at popular culture." "Makes me feel like it just jump-started my creativity." "Makes me feel like I'm in a song." "Makes me feel like I'm flying."

Peets labored 16 hours and stayed up half the night, writing to the light of a miner's hat. He said he was worn out by the project, which is "a mixture of the banal, the poetic, the insane, the vulgar — a melee of voices found on the Internet that points to the materiality of language and can be poured from one container to the other."

Bringing many a chuckle and comment, Taej Laughery's sculpture is a bunch of recycling bins crazily labeled for body hair, banana peels, prosthetic limbs, label backing and soiled diapers. Someone actually dropped in hair and a manikin's arm.

"A lot of people were entertained by it and wondered what my perspective was," said Laughery. "Well, instead of combating consumerism, we're moving to a more complex system. We're not filling landfills, but we're filling the landscape with recycling bins. Art? Who knows if it's art or trash."

Alt said she's trying to encourage students to deal with unusual formats and push the limits of how art can be defined.

"It's so different when it's outside like this instead of in a gallery," she said. "You need space to get student interaction."

MaryAnne Carey's sculpture is a honey, literally. She strung twine from tree branches on the quad, anchored them to piles of flour and coated them with honey, which sparkles in the sunlight and draws a lot of thankful bees, who take it back to hives and don't have to do the work of making honey.

Message? "It's aesthetic, playful, beautiful. It sparkles," Carey said. "People think it's a science project. It's pretty interactive. It was a sticky job. I got honey all in my hair."

Sam Scharf beat up some brass tubes and hung them in a tree. Alasdair Burns deconstructed a tree trunk and wired the pieces together with rebar, which "took something dead and gave it meaning."

"The works," said Alt, "give passersby a new way to look at that site or to notice the site or to think about that site."

The sculptures will remain up until weather prohibits.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.