CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article Erin Dickey is working for the Ackland. Dickey is working for Arts Everywhere. The story has been updated with the correct information. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.
What’s 9 feet tall, 27 feet wide and wildly popular in UNC’s meme culture? You guessed it: the infamous spider sculpture.
On Thursday, the Ackland Art Museum will host a discussion about how memes have become a way of engaging public art, specifically Louise Bourgeois’ "Crouching Spider."
The sculpture was installed Aug. 7, 2018 and quickly popped up on undergraduate meme pages from Facebook to Twitter to Instagram and even Tinder.
Ph.D. student Erin Dickey, who is completing her teaching element through Arts Everywhere, said the memes have ranged in “typology" — referencing some as empathetic towards the spider while others were comparisons drawn between the Silent Sam monument and still others drawing on questions of artistic funding.
“We’re seeing an interesting parallel relationship between the 'Crouching Spider,' which exists in its own web — if you will — of different contexts, whether it’s historical or political or cultural or emotional, and then memes also exist within and are shared across their own networks that express and acknowledge these different contexts,” Dickey said.
The discussion was organized by graduate students as well as Arts Everywhere and is aimed towards the undergraduate population. The first hour will take place at the Ackland, where the conversation will surround the history of the sculpture and the political frame of art exhibition reception in relation to organic campus engagement.
Then, the group will move to the field to participate in a close-looking activity led by Ph.D. candidate and object based teaching fellow Alex Ziegler.
“I think part of that discussion is really based in this interest in kind of not valorizing or criticizing meme making as a response, but rather to think about how that process has helped people on our campus see that sculpture,” Ziegler said.
Dickey said the conversation is not only the organized talk at the Ackland but also the general buzz that Bourgeosis’ sculpture has stirred, even if it has simply been in comments sections on social media sites.
“What’s interesting about memes is that they’re both manifesting people’s thoughts and emotions about art and engagement with art in more than just a purely formal way, but they also open up conversation about that too,” Dickey said.
Dickey said she has seen similar memes created based on "Eye Benches I" another Bourgeois sculpture just across Cameron Avenue, as well as with the RedBall project which took its own tour around UNC in September.
Crouching Spider is on loan from the Easton Foundation for one year. Sophomore Sally Sasz, an Arts Everywhere ambassador, said she was initially disturbed by the sculpture but eventually became intrigued in the deeper questions the public art posed.
“The whole point of it in that space is so that people will get up close and see all of its weird, hairy, contorted features and interact with it in that way and come to question, ‘Why something so big and scary would be put there?’” Sasz said.
The sculpture actually represents Bourgeois’ mother, who was a weaver. Sasz said she hopes that students will take another minute to reconsider the spider even beyond the memes and a first glance.
“I feel like a meme has big capacity to almost mischaracterize something and it’s really hard to break from that preconceived understanding,” Sasz said. “It’s like memes establish these notions that you then have to re-confront.”
The main thing Ziegler said she has learned from "Crouching Spider" and the memes surrounding the piece is that interacting with art has expanded far beyond the formal setting.
“I think for us, it’s just been really sort of wonderful and exciting to see people thinking so critically and creatively about public art,” Ziegler said.
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