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Paul E. Anna: High Points

Paul E. Anna
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Last Saturday I read the paper.

Not that there is anything special about that. I read a newspaper just about every day. But never have I read a newspaper while sitting atop a hippopotamus. In fact, I don’t think I have ever even written the word hippopotamus before. Thank God for spell check.

Anyway, last Saturday I participated in a performance art project at the Aspen Art Museum called “Restless Empathy.” The exhibit features the work of eight artists who have created work that is on display in the museum itself, as well as in various locations around town.



You may have seen Lars Ø. Ramberg’s benches that have quotes from Hunter Thompson on Cooper Street, or Mark Wallinger’s photo of Aspen Mountain with the word “Amerika” on display in the Gondola Plaza at the base of the aforementioned Aspen Mountain. Or maybe you have stumbled upon Marc Bijl’s metal cubical with the painted slogan on all four sides by the banks of the Roaring Fork River. All of these are part of the exhibit curated by Aspen Art Museum Director Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson and Matthew Thompson, the associate curator.

The pieces are whimsical, thought-provoking, odd and expressive. They challenge for the attention of passersby and, once gained, provoke curiosity and, perhaps for some, contemplation. In short they do exactly what I think art is supposed to do. They give cause for pause.




Back to the hippo (easier to spell and easier to say than hippopotamus). On the first floor of the museum in the main display area there is a large clay – at least I think it is made of clay – hippo lying flat on its stomach. It would appear to be life-sized, though I don’t know exactly how big life-sized is for a hippo. Surrounding the hippo are the day’s newspapers. But even stranger than that, when I first came across the hippo there was a woman sitting on the mammal’s back reading The New York Times.

Since that was a little weird I thought I would engage her in conversation, you know, find out what she was doing. But when I asked why she was on the Hippo she ignored me, pretended I wasn’t even there and kept reading her rag. Rebuffed, I headed for the exit when I heard the loud report of a whistle. Taken aback I turned and saw that the woman had blown her whistle and returned to reading her paper. A little weirder, I thought.

Turns out she was part of the art. Artists Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla have created a performance piece that asks people to sit on a hippo, read the day’s news and blow a whistle once each time they read something that outrages them. OK.

The only question is why are the whistles not blowing all the time with today’s news?

Anybody can be a part of the art, and I thought I was as good a subject as anybody, so I volunteered to read the newspaper last Saturday. I bought some papers, went inside the museum, climbed atop the hippo, and for the next hour was outraged. I must have blown that blasted whistle a dozen times, each with more gusto than the time before. The hippo, the whistle and the power of the artists vision had its affect. It made me focus more intently on the news I was reading.

It made me a part of the art. Interesting.


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