By Rachel Vinciguera
We’ve all seen the silo in the middle of HamWill.
It seems like everyone’s got an opinion about it.
“It’s in the way.”
“That thing gave me splinters!”
“Did you know you can climb inside…?”
Like anyone else, I’ve got my opinions too.
The Silo as Art.
First and foremost, the silo is meant to be a part of a larger art project that you may have noticed pieces of around campus.
We all seem to complain about the silo, but how many of us have taken a chance to read the sign that hangs only a few feet away?
I’ll fill you in.
Abram W. Kaplan, an environmental studies professor from Denison, created this art piece as a reaction to the American food system and how he has come to understand it.
Kaplan was partially inspired by a field trip during which he took his students to a farm and spoke with the farmer about where our food comes from. He came to see food in a different way, and the silo seeks to help us see our food differently, too.
The sign reads, “through art, through communication with one another, through experiential activities, we may arrive at new ways of knowing.”
And that, right there, is the beauty of the silo.
You can say it is in the way.
You can say it has caused some injuries.
And, yes, you can ignore the fact that it is a piece of art by climbing inside.
But you can’t say it hasn’t caused discussion; that it hasn’t created experiences.
The Silo as an Annoyance
The placement of the silo in, debatably, the busiest spot on campus has caused a great deal of discussion among students.
It sits in the center of the atrium, smack dab in the middle of our central gathering spot.
And let me tell you a little secret: I love that it interrupts our daily routine.
I love that people are bothered by it.
That’s my favorite kind of art.
The kind that stops you in your tracks.
The kind that makes you wrinkle your nose and furl your brow like you just got a whiff of skunk.
The kind that pisses you off.
That means it’s doing something! That means you’re thinking!
And doesn’t it also serve Kaplan’s purpose? We eat food every day, it may not be good, it may be Chartwells, but we all eat every single day.
Food itself is a pretty constant and permanent presence in our lives, isn’t it?
Just like the silo.
And I think the placement is perfect.
The Silo as a Relevant Issue
For all of you New York Times readers out there, you will probably remember that a couple of weeks ago an article was published: “Silos Loom as Death Traps on American Farms” by John Broeder.
Broeder wrote about the more than 80 silo-related deaths that have occurred over the past five years: almost entirely young men.
And almost entirely preventable.
He discussed the process of sending boys (as young as 14) to loosen the grain from the inside walls of the silo with a steel rod, and how very often that grain would fall from the sides suddenly and suffocate them underneath.
The safety codes in place for many farms, because they tend to be small family-owned organizations, are not the same as in other workplaces.
Under the assumption that parents will treat their own children better than random employees, many farms are not required by the government to undergo the same safety inspections as other organizations, and this leads to the injury and very often death of these young male employees.
Tommy Osier was 18, when, as he was loosening the grain, it piled down on top of him and suffocated him to death.
Wyatt Whitebread, only 14, was sent into a silo to do the same–not aware that he would suffer the same fate.
And these are just a couple of the many boys who have been killed the same way.
This is something that happens every single year to young boys working on farms around our country, and we never hear about it.
No, the silo is not meant to be a looming symbol of these devastating accidents, but that is what it has become in my mind.
To me, that is the silo’s most significant purpose.
For me, it serves as a reminder of these young lives lost.
And, more than that, it reminds me that there are things happening every day, all over the world, and right in front of me, that I don’t take the time to understand or even be informed about.
Every time I see the silo I am reminded of Tommy and Wyatt. And I am reminded of a problem that has yet to be fixed.
It may not have been Kaplan’s goal when he created the work and honestly, I don’t know how he would feel about my reaction.
But that’s the other great thing about art: everyone sees it differently, and its meaning can change over time as the world around us always changes, too.
It really is all about perception. And I think art is especially exciting when our perceptions can be changed by events going on around us.