Miami University is so often described as “the most beautiful campus there ever was,” so when Brian Vogt, a Miami junior saw the amount of litter all over campus, he was shocked.
No one else seemed to mind it, though, so he started picking up and throwing away some of the trash he saw on his way to class each day.
“It seemed like nobody really saw the trash that I was seeing, like most people were blind to it,” Vogt said. “I started counting my steps and in most areas, it was five steps. That was the most I got between pieces of trash.”
Eventually, Vogt felt that simply picking up trash on the way to class wasn’t enough to solve the issue; others needed to be aware of the large amounts of litter on campus.
He needed to start a dialogue. Vogt began collecting the trash he found, with a plan to make art out of it.
“Originally, I was going to do a collage-type piece … but then I realized that wasn’t effectively getting across what I wanted to get across,” Vogt said. “It wasn’t looking like a face, and that was a part of [my goal] from the start. I definitely wanted to play into the human characteristic aspect of it, and I wanted to make the trash a human.”
From there, he had to change his approach. He played with the shape and composition of the piece to reflect the physical and three-dimensional presence of the trash he had collected.
Vogt ended up with “The Student Body”: a looming, 6-foot-tall pseudo-humanistic sculpture that melds an immeasurable amount of differing shapes, textures and colors in a composition that Vogt compared to the “uncanny valley” effect.
The chaotic sculpture does not shy away from displaying the amount and variety of litter that Vogt collected on Miami’s campus.
“Found object art; in the art world that’s what we would call ‘The Student Body’ piece,” said Billy Simms, Western Center Coordinator, who worked with Vogt as an advisor through the Western Center’s Summer Scholars program.
Simms encouraged Vogt throughout the summer to bring the vision he had for “The Student Body” to life.
Vogt also got feedback from his peers in the Western Center, which he said helped him refine his vision and shift his approach to more effectively get his message across. The feedback helped him shift from a two-dimensional approach to a three-dimensional form, embracing the physical form of the trash and taking up space.
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The creation of “The Student Body” took almost two years. The first year was consumed by the process of collecting litter on campus. After he had collected enough trash, he started building the final sculpture using the critiques he’d received on his earlier prototypes.
“It was very much a fluid process, just because I was working with a whole bunch of different materials … I was having a conversation with the trash, in essence,” Vogt said. “There was a lot of give and take and there was a lot of adaptation.”
Vogt said the piece is meant to start a conversation about preserving the beauty of campus, focusing heavily on mortality, change and societal issues.
“I don’t even really like to think of myself as the artist for this piece,” Vogt said. “I like to think of all of us, as a culture and as a community, as the artist of this piece … Maybe you’re not the person who threw something on the ground, but just by being a part of this culture and letting this happen on campus, we’re all complicit.”
Vogt presented his sculpture and his inspirations for the piece to students, faculty, friends and family on Sept. 8. Eli Davies, a junior at Miami and a friend of Vogt’s, attended the unveiling of “The Student Body” in the Western Center.
“I think it does a good job highlighting how much litter [Miami] has … As he was talking about this, I was kind of thinking that it is the trashiest campus that ever there was,” Davies said.
Vogt also has other pieces on display in the Western Center, located in Peabody 22. His series “Nostalgic Memorial” will be displayed there for the rest of the semester, as will “The Student Body.”