Students take over prof’s office

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Photo by Erica Cooper.

Few professors would give away the keys to their offices, especially to students who want to redecorate them. But Sam Messer, Associate Dean of the School of Art, is happy to do just that.

On Thursday, a student-created art installation went up in Messer’s office, also known as “Sam’s Space,” which is located on the first floor of the School of Art’s Green Hall at 1156 Chapel St. The office doubles as an exhibition space open to any student up to the challenge of redesigning the interior, Messer said.

And when it comes to design limits, Messer said students have total creative freedom — from stripping and covering the walls to rebuilding his furniture — just as long as he can work there. This, to Messer, simply means that his computer and chair stay.

Assistant Dean Sam Messer’s School of Art office is a rotating exhibition that is home to a host of artists’ forays into displaying their work. The only rule in Messer’s office: there must be workspace made up a computer and a desk.
Assistant Dean Sam Messer’s School of Art office is a rotating exhibition that is home to a host of artists’ forays into displaying their work. The only rule in Messer’s office: there must be workspace made up a computer and a desk.

Messer certainly does not mind an inconvenience or two if he likes the piece.For example, Tanya Goel ART ’10 decided to hang several large sculptures that hung from office’s ceiling when she put up an installation there two years ago. The sculptures ended up blocking the office’s motion-detecting light sensors, Messer said, meaning that his lights would sometimes turn off while he was sitting at his desk.

“I would have to lean out [of my chair] and start waving,” Messer said, explaining how he got the sensors to notice him again. “I kind of liked it.”

For Sally Thurer ART ’11, whose installation was just removed from Sam’s Space, creating an installation in the office presented an opportunity to work outside her usual medium without being self-critical. As a graphic design student, Thurer said the default project is to make a book or poster. Instead, she covered the walls of the office with wallpaper she had designed, pasted newspaper over the windows and installed a video camera and disco ball.

Thurer said that while Sam’s Space is a public venue, its primary function as Messer’s office took off some of the pressure typically associated with exhibiting work in a gallery space.

“You can look at it as purely a decoration exercise,” she said. “Most people take it further, but the people who see it are there to interact with Sam, so the art is on less of a pedestal.”

For some, Sam’s Space has also changed the experience of presenting work. For students still forming their identities as artists, Kenny Rivero ART ’12 said, the idea of displaying their work in a public forum can be daunting. But Messer’s low-key attitude toward his office turns showing work into an exercise in working outside the box, he said.

“Whatever I show doesn’t matter, because he doesn’t care,” Rivero said. “I could show lanyards and pencil shavings. It’s a good opportunity to let go, which is the idea of grad school.”

Rivero’s installation, which was a collaboration between him and his classmate Tameka Norris ART ’12, just went up in Sam’s Space. The two incorporated everyday objects such as baseball bats and mattresses into the room’s layout, choosing to leave Messer’s desk, a remnant from a previous installation, in place.

Messer said he also saw experimentation with new media as a valuable educational tool.

“I think it’s a real educational experience because there are no rules, but they have to deal with things they don’t have to deal with [in the studio],” he said. “It’s a functional, public space and a cramped space. Everyone has to make compromises, which has always made it really interesting.”

On top of its educational value, Messer said student installations in his office add life to an academic building that is otherwise made up of white walls and tiled floors.

“The other thing that Sam’s Space does is it livens up the hall,” he said. “It can start looking very institutional.”

The first student installation went up in Sam’s Space in 2008. Though there is no set timeline for the projects — the installations stay up until another artist is ready to take over the space — Messer said the next renovation is tentatively planned to begin of January.

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