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The Arts


A MICA Student Gathers Some Wartime Vox Populi from the Streets of Baltimore

By Lee Gardner | Posted 10/24/2001

"Ever since Sept. 11, I've been doing a lot of artwork," Trebor says. "Not to commercialize on it--just to get it out of my system."

But when the 20-year-old Maryland Institute College of Art student (better known to the school's registrar as Charles Armstrong) got a class assignment to design a series of posters "[showing] the state of the human condition in relationship to the events of 9/11," he decided to let random passers-by get it out of their systems instead. Trebor got together two super-low-tech photocopied designs--one featuring a small snippet of a newspaper column reading "Demonstrators chanted anti-American slogans at a rally yesterday in Karachi, Pakistan," the other a cribbed newspaper photograph of two Taliban officials, both dominated by lots of blank white space. On Oct. 14 and 15, he taped up about 35 of the posters at various locations around MICA, the Inner Harbor, and other pedestrian-heavy areas of town, and waited to see what people would do.

"I went off on a tangent," the self-described conceptual artist admits about his homework. "I thought I should let the people show the state of the human condition. I just gave [the posters] enough of a voice to get them started."

In truth, Trebor wasn't sure what would happen, if anything. "I was concerned that they'd just stay up blank--'Oh, some dumb art student's trying to do something'--or that they'd be taken down instantly," he says. Worse, he was afraid he'd "just get a bunch of drawings of rockets blowing off chunks of bin Laden's face." Most of the posters were torn down when he checked back, sometimes only hours later; he rescued a few from trash cans himself. But several posters remained up for a day or so and drew a wide variety of interesting reactions--sometimes even debates among various defacers. "I was hesitant to take them down," the artist says, "because it would be like cutting off a conversation." (For some of the results, see below.)

Above all, Trebor's surviving posters reveal how seriously some local residents take the current situation in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks and the United States' retaliatory strikes on Afghanistan--and how lightly. "In spite of what's happening, some people still feel like they're in a safe nest," he says, referring specifically to a poster on which someone drew a cartoon video-game character, "This kid can still joke about this stuff, right in the face of everything that's happened." Other posters, such as the one festooned with what could be either Arabic writing or a graffiti tag, raise more questions than they answer.

Trebor acknowledges the posters were something of a hasty experiment, but he found the response so interesting that he's contemplating trying something like it again. On the other hand, he allows, "it's so real, maybe it shouldn't be taken any further."

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