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Messages from Murray to the World

By Rebecca Feldhaus

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wkms/local-wkms-923072.mp3

Murray, KY – This week was a busy one for artist and Chair of Vanderbilt University's Art Department Mel Ziegler. Joined by faculty and staff from Murray State's art department, he took a large box truck and a small trailer around town, picking up materials for his exhibition titled, Messages from Murray.

In essence, Ziegler provides shipping materials from five area businesses, as well as large markers to community members and invites them to contribute a message. He includes text messages, notes, long form narratives, poetry and much more under the blanket term message.' Ziegler says he wanted to take a step back.

"I was thinking about the fact that we live in this electronic world in which we can put messages out instantly through Twitter and Facebook, and I was trying to almost slow down that process. What if it was more personal, what if it was hand-written."

In about a month, Ziegler will send all materials back to the companies and they will load and distribute them like any other shipment. He's reaching out not just to companies, but to schools, faculty and staff at the university and in the community. Assistant English Professor Carrie Jerrell will use this opportunity to educate her poetry students about the cooperation between different art forms. She says the project has greater implications for art as a whole.

"I really like this idea and I like some of the projects that Mel has done that are like this, because it helps people to understand that art isn't created in a vacuum, that it can be really collaborative with a community."

This isn't Ziegler's first work with messages and raw materials. Years ago, he worked on a project called House: Monument. He took 15-hundred pieces of lumber and hand-wrote one message per piece. Ziegler and his partner sold the lumber at half-price, and the resulting Los Angeles home is still standing. From Los Angeles to Murray? Amongst the rumble of a trailer filled with boxes, Ziegler explains his small-town choice.

"I was kind of impressed that such a small town had so many major manufacturers that were shipping things out all over the country and there was something in my mind about being in a small town, yet having this thing that got shipped out."

The goods will most likely go to numerous states as well as other countries. Participating company Briggs and Stratton donated an estimated 200 boxes to the project. Though they do take branding very seriously, Area Manager of Final Assembly Greg Wyatt says the overall benefit will be worth while.

"Sure, I think it shows a different side of Murray, Kentucky when we're able to display art. It's something that customers aren't going to be used to seeing on our products."

Ziegler says he wants the project to touch more than just MSU artists. Along with Professor Jerrell, other MSU English classes as well as arts classes at Murray High School and Middle School will participate with the program. Ziegler says his end of the bargain is mostly complete.

"I kinda feel like I'm setting up an event and now it's up to everyone else to participate and be a part of it, and hopefully that will happen, I don't know."

He's wagering between 700 and 800 containers on the community response. Once cardboard boxes, palates and two-by-fours are complete with messages, they'll continually be hung on the gallery walls for display. Ziegler says there's potential for every day or even every hour to be different. It's not a one-time-visit, type show. The show plays into Ziegler's overall personal statement.

"The way I work, I kind of look for conventional forms that are already in existence, so I'll look for things that are already in place and already happening. And as an artist I look at how I can infiltrate that system and make artwork out of it."

He hopes to collaborate with members of the military at his next large project at the Cheekwood Botanical Gardens in Nashville.

Messages from Murray runs through Sunday, October 10th.