WYSIWYG: Art Questioning Art and/or Stuffed Animals Guts

Wendy Deschene, art professor at the Boca Campus, stood patiently with interested observers on Monday, Feb. 7, answering questions, commenting on reflections, and pointing out allegorical references of her art installation WYSISYG (What You See Is What You Get) in the atrium of the MacArthur campus’ Student Services building.

“It’s here to create a reaction,” Deschene commented.

And a reaction it does create. Mural-sized posters wallpaper the atrium with images that combine elegant, high art references to Barnett Newman and Susan Rothenburg with other more commercial or contemporary images like Michaelangelo the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (who also serves as a further reference to the great Renaissance master). There are also references to author Haruki Murikami and Andy Warhol. Yet, ninja turtles allusion aside, there is something else oddly captivating in this particular art exhibit.

“Animal explosion” reads one student comment.

Interspersed with the murals, haphazardly put-together stuffed animal parts tacked onto the wall crawl towards the ceiling, hang from the stairwell in grotesque mobiles, and overrun the shadowboxes on either side of the entranceway like mutant vines.

Cerberus Scooby-Doo, a partially intact Scooby-Doo with two other smaller Scooby-Doo heads pinned onto it with safety pines, hangs in close approximation of a gender-confused dinosaur, wearing a shiny pink dress that only partially covers the monkey face tacked onto the dinosaur’s nether regions. Shards of white stuffed animal stuffing cover the main pillar of the staircase where students can find working remnants of electronic talking devices of Cuddle Me Elmos and other talking toys.

Another student voiced her opinion, “You know that little kid from Toy Story? That’s what it reminds me of. It kind of scares me.”

A little boy, perhaps not quite unlike Sid from Toy Story, glancing mischievously behind him, grabbed two handfuls of white stuffed animal innards on display underneath the staircase. Carefully, but deliberately, he strode to the table where guests could find punch, cookies, and stuffed animal parts masquerading as pins. He then proceeded to place the white fluff upon the head of an unsuspecting boy who had been standing mesmerized in front of the provided eats.

Despite the seemingly chaotic nature of her artwork, and the unencumbered atmosphere in the atrium, the art experience offered more than mere mutilated stuffed animal corpses.

What Deschene has succeeded in doing is to create a dialogue about the direction art is taking and make viewers ponder the possibilities of what we can identify as art. Orthodox paintings are reinterpreted; art history is re-explored; universal concepts of cute and endearing are dissected; conventional architecture is altered. The complimentary exhibit calling card states, “The psychological interaction between [viewer] and [his or her] memory of the manipulated pink and fuzzy is now inter-sprinkled with contemporary concerns of art and [his or her] own painted ancestral references.” By asking viewers to reconsider those concepts in terms of a dramatic reconfiguration of the “cute” stuffed animals from their youth, she effectively demands they participate in the art by expressing the emotion or reaction evoked by the art.

Students had the opportunity to participate in both the creation and the appreciation of Deschene’s exhibit. Three students from the Boca campus helped Deschene put together the exhibit in one day by sewing pieces of the stuffed animals, which were either donated by all who helped or leftovers from a previous show in Texas, into whatever creation they could think of as inspired by Deschene’s previously created murals. Other students can still participate by expressing their comments on the reaction poster on the wall next to the Michaelangelo mural. Comments have ranged from the positive, “We need more installation art that people will stop to look at,” to simple frustration, “Public art should not be as inscrutable as this piece is,” to plain old tomfoolery, “This looks like fried eggs.”

It seems Deschene’s plan is working and it is her hope that her Frankenstein-esque creation “will continue to attack the architecture” and provide a forum where kids and adults can enter with however highly informed perspective they have and experience a reaction.

Wendy Deschene’s show will be on exhibit in the atrium of the Student Services building until Spring Break.