How does a university hold onto its past? This was an interesting question that wouldn’t leave my mind this past week as I explored The Herrick Memorial Library here on Alfred University’s Campus. While first exploring the space, I stumbled upon an upper room that one could describe as “off the beaten path”; it was simply called the conference room. The only words to describe such a room are historic, archival, and traditional. Lined with wooden inlay walls and intricate crown molding wrapping the space, it was certainly a different sight.
The room wasn’t very large, especially in comparison to the library’s sprawling size, but it seemed to house almost all the character of the whole building. In a modern space like Herrick it was surprising to see the traditional side of a building that was in fact built in place of a previous traditional college structure, the Gothic, which doesn’t have much information to glean other that its original presence here on campus dating back to its founding in 1836.
What I couldn’t get out of my head about this room was how out of place it seemed, and the question of why it seemed to be so. Logically it had a right to be there; it was the anchor of Herrick to the traditional past of the physical space it took up, but it seemed so forced, so crushed into a space too small to hold its heritage.
Does this space say something about the university at large? Alfred is in an interesting situation as a college. Established in 1836 it has a remarkable past, but today most students aren’t looking for history; they are looking for action towards the future. This has caused the university to make every effort to modernize and create the feeling of a contemporary environment, often pushing tradition to the wayside. I’m not saying the small size of this space is evidence of a university forsaking its roots, but I am uncovering the sad truth that tradition is no longer a point of interest to most.
This realization spoke to me so much I decided it was the only choice for my installation topic. Past Tradition contains the image of the marble fireplace found in Herrick library along with an attempt to capture some of the original wooden wall design above this fireplace. This is overlaid with the image of a large push broom, mop with bucket, and caution “Floor is Wet” sign. All of this is contained in a shallow relief of a door frame built of cardboard. The purpose of this imagery is the idea that heritage and tradition, represented by the objects gathered from the conference room, is pushed into the past. The imagery of a janitor’s closet nearer in the space further portrays the idea of tradition becoming something stored away where it can be forgotten, as a janitor’s closet is meant to go unnoticed by the masses.
Another key point of this piece is the use of pornography in the collage of the mantle and marble fireplace. These images were found in Herrick itself and their presence on the antique objects of the conference room help to further convey the idea of past morals and ideals being pushed aside for the more modern and accepted views of today.
Tradition is past, and past traditions are forgotten. Only to those who seek them out glean their impressions.