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Editorial: Shrubbery as an Act of Rebellion

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Article by Joe Krzyston

For a brief, uncharacteristic moment, I’d like to give voice to a belief that I do not hold myself. I’d like to air publicly a couple of grievances concerning the new Rooney topiary, which some might say rises like a Phoenix out of the ashes of good taste.

I’d like to act as a mouthpiece for those holding the opinion, impolite though it may be, that the thing looks a little scary.

I’d like to acknowledge that a few of us might have found the dedication ceremony a little bizarre, with so much ado about a bird made of a tree from up north. Indeed, like much of the student body, the bird might be considered little more than an odd looking Yankee interloper.

I give voice to these opinions because they were mine until I spoke with Matt Larkin and Joanne Cassullo at the dedication ceremony.

My conversation with these two, however brief, made me realize how poorly informed the above critiques are. Matt Larkin is a topiary artist, and quite a good one. Mr. Larkin brings twenty years of experience with topiary sculpture to our college.

He told me that it would take about four years for the topiary to fill out, cover the supportive wire, and look altogether like a free-standing shrub. This means that the topiary will grow to maturity alongside this year’s incoming class. If you fail to understand the significance of this, you might be well advised to keep your artistic commentary to yourself.

Joanne Cassullo is a trustee of the college (and a great friend of the Brackety-Ack). She’s also a trustee of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. (I’ll reiterate, for the Philistines among us, that this is a massive honor and a testament to Ms. Cassullo’s knowledge and expertise.) Ms. Cassullo had the idea for the topiary, and contacted Mr. Larkin to make this a reality.

As a form of artistic expression, the topiary is something of a left-field choice. In this era of class/ privilege consciousness, the topiary is more reminiscent of Victorian England than whatever classless epoch is meant to follow ‘late-Capitalism’ (which in and of itself is a silly term, Capitalism being less an economic system than the behavioral manifestation of our worst evolutionary traits, and therefore probably as resilient (and as pleasant) as a cockroach).

The obvious choice might have been some postmodern abstraction of a bird that bore a vague, symbolic resemblance to our mascot, but Ms. Cassullo demonstrated a willingness to step outside the confines of the avant-garde that has hijacked so much of our high culture.

She gave us something traditional, more evocative of a pastoral past than a post-industrial future. Also commendable, she gave us something that we couldn’t immediately appreciate. In an era of immediate gratification, a piece of art that takes four years post-installation to mature is almost an act of rebellion.

Though she gave no indication of such a sentiment, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the short-sighted critiques of the topiary sounded like music to Ms. Cassullo’s ears. I don’t mean to malign anybody’s interpretation of the topiary. I can’t tell you that a piece of art is making you feel the wrong way.

That’s the beauty of it.

But I will ask you to remember that though the work has been done, that statue isn’t finished yet. We’re now waiting on a tree, which I understand runs contrary to our tendency to bend nature to our will, but it’s the decadently slow situation.