Installation encourages viewers to engage anew with philosophy

“Seeing Shadows, Hearing Echoes,” an art, music and multi-media installation de­signed to engage the viewer in new ways of thinking about philosophy, will be held in the Vassar Barns from Wednesday, Oct. 5 to Fri­day, Oct. 7 at 7 to 9 p.m. each evening. “Seeing Shadows, Hearing Echoes” is the culmination of a summer of research by a student and faculty team, and is one of three multi-arts collectives funded by a grant from Creative Arts Across Disciplines.

The installation, while dedicated to dismantling the layperson’s rigid notions of philosophy, is root­ed in a classic philosophical text—Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Gordon Schmidt ’17, a student mem­ber of the project, remarked, “We decided to take a base text (really just a small passage from Plato’s Republic) and use it as a launching point to create our own original work that grapples with the ques­tions that this text poses.”

By reimagining classic theory into something more artistic, “Seeing Shadows, Hearing Shadows” allows viewers to reconsider what philosophy might mean to them. Faculty Mentor and Assistant Professor of Philosophy Christopher Raymond noted, “Philosophy is often understood as being quite unartistic, but some of the central figures, like Nietzsche as well, are writing in a more im­agistic way, rather than just giving premise, con­clusion, argument, so I’m curious to see what [the students] can do with that.”

Over the course of the summer, the students’ visions changed on what the installation would be. “The project started off with the goal of cre­ating an interactive multi-media experience to accompany/enhance specific philosophical prose,” student member Jonah Parker ’18 explained. “We wanted to create a space where people could in­teract with philosophy in non-traditional ways (in this case through music and visual art rather than just text).”

Although “Seeing Shadows, Hearing Echoes” was initially conceived as a conglomeration of sep­arate works inspired by the Allegory of the Cave, the students ultimately decided that an exhibit that actively walked the viewer through a specif­ic narrative would be best. Group member Henry Krusoe ’18 clarified, “Our feeling now, and I think it took us the whole summer to figure this out, was that…the only way this was going to work well was if we put it into a narrative installation where peo­ple are moving linearly from one thing to the next, rather than just wandering around.”

Adjunct Associate Professor of Music Susan Botti expressed appreciation for Krusoe, Parker and Schmidt’s creative process: “I discussed the students’ work in progress, gave them feedback for their experiments, suggested music for them to reference based on their ideas … I love the multi-dimensional way they were exploring sound and music and philosophy and all the creativity that grew from the intersections of their ideas.”

After months of work, the team looks forward to debuting the final form of “Seeing Shadows, Hearing Echoes” at the barn in the Vassar Ecolog­ical Preserve. Rather than expecting the audience to discover a singular truth about philosophy, the students instead hope that the installation will al­low each viewer to reach their own conclusions.

“If there is one thing I hope that this creative work does teach its audience, it is that philosophy does not just belong to those who write and con­struct and teach, nor does it just belong to Plato or Hegel; it belongs to everyone,” Schmidt noted. “We do not need ‘philosophers’ to philosophize. We just need to question and to act.”

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