August 31, 2010

Spencer Museum of Art - Lawrence, KS

Recently, my best friend and traveling buddy Anna came to visit me in Lawrence. She'd never been to my new home but she had certainly heard stories about it. We spent a few days going to restaurants, window shopping on Massachusetts Street, and catching up on our bad horror movies (this time it was Jason Goes to Hell and Hatchet, last time we got together it was Jennifer's Body).

But despite what our taste in films might suggest, Anna and I love to go to new museums whenever we get together. Some are bizarre (like our visit to the Gore Psychiatric Museum) and some are more traditional (like the Chicago Natural History Museum). So this trip we decided to take in some of the fine works at the Spencer Museum of Art on the University of Kansas campus.

The actual museum is only two floors of the building - the third and the fourth - while the rest are offices and classrooms. The museum is not just a pretty place to look at pictures but it also integrates art history theories and educational opportunities. For example, for many years there has been a debate about the placards placed next to works of art. How much information should the viewer be given? When you read the name and the artist next to a painting, it could change your opinion and how you view it. Say you're looking at a painting. Then you find out it is a Picasso. Do you look at the picture differently? Now you find out it is from his Blue period and what the Blue period means. Do you look at the picture differently, now?

The debate of how much information should be given on a placard is played out throughout the galleries of the Spencer. Galleries like the 17th and 18th Century Europe and the Renaissance had placards that gave the artist, period, location and more details about the subject or method used to create the art. Another gallery had works that had been damaged or partially restored with information and questions for the viewer, challenging them to question aspects of each piece.

My favorite was the 20/21 Gallery, the modern art gallery. These did not have any placards. The pieces stood by themselves. To find out the name of the piece and the artist, you had to check one of the binders placed at the entrances to the gallery. There were placards about some of the pieces, but they did not give information about the pieces. Rather, they posed questions to the viewers about the pieces. I liked the works of art I saw in the gallery, but I thought the lack of placards was annoying. When I see a sculpture or painting - especially as original and intriguing as some I saw in the 20/21 Gallery - I want to know who made it, what it is called and what it is made of. But, of course, I didn't know I wanted that before I went into the gallery. So in that case, I think the playout of the placard debate in the Spencer is really effective.

Total Trip Time: 12 minutes
Total Trip Distance: 6 miles
Soundtrack: "Bring It On Home" Horrorpops


August 26, 2010

Weaver’s Window – Lawrence, KS

It may not be a permanent roadside attraction, but if you picked up the Lawrence Journal World on Tuesday morning and read the headline, then you know the Weaver’s display window at 9th and Massachusetts is certainly a strange sight at the moment. At about 7:30am on Monday, a deer crashed through the Weaver’s window. That’s right. A deer.

According to the Lawrence Journal-World, a six point buck was making a mad dash down Downtown Lawrence’s main street, when it seems he was distracted by the women’s lingerie in Weaver’s window. Whether it was the brassieres or panties that caught his attention, we may never know but next thing you know he was crashing through the glass and taking out the sales display.

Apparently not content with this bit of destruction, the buck continued to run through Lawrence. He made it about nine more blocks to 8th and Alabama where he hung around a fenced back yard for about 20 minutes. That’s where authorities caught up with him. The deer was bleeding from the glass and seems to have broken one of his antlers, but despite his injuries he wasn’t going to go quietly. The deer escaped and took off north. The authorities decided not to pursue because it was apparent the deer posed no more threat to anyone and was not too badly hurt.

It is not uncommon to see wild animals in Kansas, even in the more populated areas. Coyotes make a regular appearance around my parents’ home in Leawood. Last year, I had to stop in the middle of the road to make way for a young coyote playing in the street. But this may be the strangest animal encounter I’ve heard of since I moved to Kansas.

Photo from the Lawrence Journal-World.


August 24, 2010

Free State Brewing Company – Lawrence, KS

The spirit of Free State Brewing Company and perhaps the spirit of Lawrence itself can be captured by the slogan the Free State pint glasses: “Because without beer, things do not seem to go as well.”

On any given night, the Free State Brewing Company bar and restaurant is packed. On a Monday night I went to grab a pint with my friends and celebrate my friend Chris’s birthday, only to find the porch and bar already packed wall to wall with people. People flock to Free State for good food, amazing beer, and local pride.

Free State began as the first legal brewery in Kansas in over 100 years. Strict liquor and alcohol legislation had prevented breweries from operating in the Sunflower state for decades. But in 1987, the Kansas Legislature relaxed the laws and allowed the establishment of "brew-pubs" (which must also serve food) and microbreweries that produce less than five thousand gallons of beer a year. In 1989, Free State became the first licensed brewery in Kansas since 1881. (For an in depth history of breweries in Kansas, check out this article by Cindy Higgins.)

If it’s your first time at Free State, order the Ad Astra Ale because it is the original Free State beer. The name comes from the Kansas state motto, “Ad Astra per Aspera,” which means, "To the Stars through Difficulties". Free State describes this original ale: “We've blended Pale, Caramel, and Munich malts for a rich amber beer. The hops balance this malty sweetness, and we've chosen Northern brewer and Fuggles hops for their flavor.”

I’ll be honest that I’m not an Ad Astra Ale fan. But that is mostly because I drink wheat beers and pilsners, so it is just a little too dark for my light tastes. When I go to Free State, I order Wheat State Golden. It is the lightest beer at Free State, but is also very popular. For those unfamiliar with Kansas agriculture, we are a big wheat producing state. That makes wheat cheap and plentiful around here, so it’s only natural we’d try and find a way to get drunk with one of our greatest resources. That is why you’ll find some great wheat beers around here – especially Free State’s Wheat State Golden and Kansas City Boulevard’s Unfiltered Wheat.

If you want to take some Free State home with you, you can buy it by the keg or the growler (for those who don’t know, a growler is a glass jug that can carry about a half gallon of beer). But soon you may be able to find it in the grocery store. Free State has just started bottling and selling beer in Lawrence. For now, it’s a local treasure. But who knows, in the future people may be sipping Ad Astra Ale around the country.

Total Time Traveled: 10 minutes
Total Distance Traveled: 6 miles
Soundtrack: “Blood on the Tracks” Bob Dylan


August 19, 2010

Westboro Baptist Church Cult - Topeka, KS

For my tips on dealing with the Westboro Baptist Church Cult, click here.

When I arrived at my internship one day, I discovered a common roadside attraction in Kansas had actually come to me. I have been spending my summer interning for a government agency that helps protect elderly residents of the state. But apparently, the people at Westboro Baptist Church Cult are offended by this. Across the street I saw a group of about eight people holding signs with messages such as “God Hates Jews,” “God Hates America,” and of course their most infamous sign, “God Hates Fags.”

For those unfamiliar with the Westboro Baptist Church Cult, they are a hate group of religious extremists based in Topeka, Kansas. You may have seen them on the news from some of their protests around the country. They are mostly known for picketing soldiers funerals because they believe American soldiers deserve to die because the American government protects and harbors homosexuals. That’s right: they hate the American military because it is too nice to the gays. I don’t know how they rationalize Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, but I’m sure it’s similar to how they rationalized protesting Stevie Nicks. (For those who don’t know, Westboro Baptist Church Cult protested a Stevie Nicks concert in Kansas City because her music will cause you to commit adultery and eat babies. I kid you not.)

This post is about the Westboro Baptist Church Cult as a roadside attraction because at this point that is all they have become. The people of Kansas got used to their shock tactics a long time ago and have pretty much stopped caring. We just assume they are going to protest stupid things and see it as an opportunity to mock them rather than take them seriously.

In fact, counter-protests have started to become the norm. When Westboro Baptist Church Cult showed up to a drag show on the University of Kansas campus, a bunch of students started a counter-protest to raise money for Planned Parenthood, one of the cult’s most prolific enemies. Rather than directly respond to any of their hateful messages, the students made fun of them and managed to raise over $1,000 for Planned Parenthood.

Westboro Baptist Church Cult has taken its show on the road, protesting the funerals of soldiers and stagings of “The Laramie Project.” Locals have responded like many of the students at KU, by holding up signs with slogans like “God Hates Signs,” “God Hates Fuzzy, Tiny Kittens,” and my personal favorite, “Yo, Westboro Baptist Church! I’m happy for you and I’m gonna let you finish but Adolf Hitler was the best anti-semite of all time!” (You can check out some of the best signs here.)

What started out as a way of outraging others with hate and ignorance has actually become an opportunity for local communities to come together in support of love, tolerance, and a sense of humor. I suppose that is why I felt compelled to include them in this blog. Because the truth is, if you drive in Kansas on a road trip then there is a good chance you’re going to see a Westboro Baptist Church Cult protest. But there’s also a good chance you’ll see a counter-protest of people uniting for love and understanding and me holding a sign that says, “God Hates Shellfish.”

Total Time Traveled: 1 hour
Total Distance Traveled: 54 miles
Soundtrack: “Blood on the Tracks” Bob Dylan

Endnote: Why I Call It Westboro Baptist Church Cult

This is not a political blog so I’m not going to get into the finer points of their anti-Semitic, homophobic propaganda. The only point I will make is that Westboro Baptist Church is not a “church,” it is a cult. To call it a church is an insult to all other religious institutions and houses of prayer. The cult is run by Fred Phelps and consists almost entirely of Phelps family members including his children and grandchildren. (Yes, they bring the little kids to protests.) Two of the Phelps children have escaped his cult and described suffering abuse from their father who created the church to elevate himself as a sort of demigod. In 1995, one of his sons claimed that Phelps was enslaving members of the cult and deluding them into believing he was the only righteous man on earth. That is why I will NOT refer to Westboro as a church.

Pictures From the Huffington Post


August 17, 2010

Road Trip Philosophy - The Freedom of Traveling Alone

I recently read an article in Enduring Wanderlust that said more women are traveling alone. According to the article:
Over the past two years, women have surpassed men in the statistics measuring the total number of travelers. A nearly even breakdown in 2007 has changed to a 60 to 40 percent advantage in favor of female tourists. A significant portion of that 60 percent has chosen to travel solo. Even married women are increasingly traveling alone or with girlfriends.
I find the study very intriguing. When I first started crisscrossing the country, I never traveled alone. I was usually in the back of a car, van, bus or plane along plenty of other people. I also didn’t really plan trips. I just sort of tagged along with whoever was going out of town. I let other people make the decisions of what we should see, where we should eat, and where we should sleep. I was just along for the ride.

That changed after my sophomore year of college. I traveled to Scotland to study 20th century British, Irish and Scottish literature for three months. I had been to Scotland before, but this time I was going to stay for a long time and I didn’t know a soul. It was an incredible and liberating feeling. I remember landing in Manchester before I caught my commuter flight to Scotland. I found a place to have a cup of coffee and a cigarette and I just savored being alone in a foreign country. For those few minutes, I was completely free of everything. No one knew me or who I was; I was not confined by the narrative of the past or the expectations of my future. I was gloriously and fully in the present. I was me.

I made friends in Scotland and even discovered my friend Julie from college was also going to be in my program, so I wasn’t as alone as I thought. But I still love to travel by myself. I love the freedom of making my own plans, deciding where I want to go and what I want to see and how long I want to be gone. I’m bound only by my own desires and my own choices. In a sense, traveling solo allows me to experience my world as an individual on my own terms – it allows me to write my own narrative of how I communicate with the universe.

I think more and more women are finding the freedom of traveling solo. Traveling provides women the opportunity to recreate themselves. In my daily life, I am a student, a worker, a writer, a reader, a daughter, a sister, a friend, and a million other definitive identities. But when I travel alone, I am nothing but a presence in a place I have never been before. There is nothing and no one to contradict anything I say, do, or feel.

When I travel alone, I am me as I choose to define me.


August 12, 2010

Johnny Kaw Statute – Manhattan, KS

You can keep Paul Bunyan, Kansas has Johnny Kaw. On the southeast corner of City Park facing Poyntz Avenue in Manhattan, a 30-foot Johnny Kaw looks out with scythe in hand to harvest wheat.

Kaw is a sort of Midwest compilation of American folk heroes into one great Kansas myth. While Bunyan was creating the Grand Canyon, Kaw was digging the Kansas River Valley. While Johnny Appleseed was wondering the countryside to plant trees, Kaw planted wheat and grew giant potatoes. He is also credited with inventing sunflowers, the state flower of Kansas.
Kaw did not have a sidekick blue ox like Bunyan, but he did have a pet wildcat and a pet jayhawk (the wildcat is the mascot for Kansas State University and the jayhawk is the mascot for Kansas University). Just like the rivalry between the schools, Kaw’s pets weren’t too keen on each other and their supposed fights were the cause of the Dust Bowl. Kaw had his own effect on the weather he was supposed to be able to control the weather by lopping the funnels off of tornadoes and wringing out clouds to bring rain to dry crops.

While the tall tales of Bunyan and Appleseed have developed over time, the legend of Kaw was invented in 1955 by George Filinger, a professor of horticulture at Kansas State University, to celebrate the centennial of Manhattan. The myth of Kaw was published in The Manhattan Mercury to celebrate the centennial and later collected into various books.

In 1966, Kaw was memorialized in a 30-foot, statue that cost $7,000 to build. He was designed by Elmer Tomasch, a member of the Kansas State University’s Art Department. Just as Kaw’s legend was created in Manhattan, the local residents created the statue by donating time, materials, and money in the hopes of cementing Kaw’s status as a Kansas folk hero.

I had never heard of Johnny Kaw before I moved to Kansas and still had not heard of him until I saw the statute on a recent trip to Manhattan. As the faded yellow and red Kaw looks out over Manhattan, children were running and screaming through the park playing on the jungle gyms and cooling off from the triple degree heat in the public pool. They didn’t seem to pay much attention to the giant folk hero towering over them as they played, but I suppose they are used to seeing the stoic yellow face with hollow eyes and a set, square jaw set against the clear blue sky.

For me, it was interesting to see though rather unremarkable. Since learning the legends of Johnny Kaw, I feel like the statue doesn’t do him justice. It is tall and it is prominent, but it lacks the whimsy of his adventures. It is monotone – a yellow and red painted statue that is only notable because it is big. When he was built, Kansans hoped the statute would solidify Kaw’s standing as a folk hero and the statute itself would become a roadside attraction. Well, he has become a roadside attraction but I don’t think as great a one as he could be. I wish there was something more to tell the wandering traveler who this legend is – who is the brawny man clutching a scythe so large it would clear a field in one swoop?

Even if the Kaw statute is not entirely awe-inspiring, I have fallen in love with the legend of Johnny Kaw. There is something quite brilliant about having a folk hero for your own state; something that conveys a sense of pride in the natural wonders of your home and the imaginative myths created to explain them. While Kaw may not have Bunyan’s fame, he certainly has a lot to smile about when he looks out from his home in Manhattan.

Total Time Traveled: 3 hours
Total Distance Traveled: 170 miles
Soundtrack: "Are You Man Enough?" Betty Blowtorch


August 10, 2010

KC Fringe Festival – Kansas City, MO

Back when I was in high school, I got my first taste of the Fringe Festival – the 2004 Edinburgh Fringe Festival to be precise. The Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland began in 1947. Eight groups not invited to perform in the Edinburgh Festival of the Arts decided to perform anyway. They created makeshift theaters on the fringe (Get it? On the “fringe”?) of the festival. Over the years, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival would grow until it surpassed even the Edinburgh Festival of the Arts. Today, the Fringe continues in Scotland and draws acts from around Europe and the world.

In 2004, I was an actor in an American high school theater troupe brought to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to perform “The Day They Shot John Lennon.” It was amazing! I had been going to the theater my whole life and even seen performances on Broadway in New York City, but nothing could prepare me for the explosion of art, theater, music, and culture that is the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I would help promote the show by performing monologues on the street next to jugglers, magicians, living statutes, musicians, and any number of talented individuals beckoning the crowds to come and see their shows. Though I am a writer by nature and prefer to be behind the scenes rather than on the stage, I can genuinely say it was the most thrilling and fulfilling experience I have ever had in my brief time as an actor.
It was this uncensored artistic expression that inspired numerous “fringe” festivals around the world, including Kansas City. The KC Fringe Festival follows the guiding principles of the Edinburgh Fringe – to create an opportunity for all artists to express themselves in any way they choose and to make that art available and accessible to all members of the community. The KC Fringe Festival is about art for everyone.

The KC Fringe Festival 2010 had events throughout the city from July 23rd to August 1st, featuring 120 participants in 79 performing and film arts. With my busy schedule, I didn’t make it to Kansas City until the last couple days. But I was relieved to see that the KC Fringe Festival took the “affordable” part of the fringe philosophy seriously. A ticket to an event is only $5 - $10, which is split between artists and their venues. I was also happy to see an incredible variety of events. There were performance artists from theater, cabaret, comedy, music, dance, and even burlesque. There were fashion designers showing their creations; there were visual artists displaying their latest works.

It is impossible for me to describe everything available at the KC Fringe Festival because it is impossible for me to even see it all. I did particularly enjoy the Create Your Own Reality event at Arts Tech.

CYOR is a monthly arts and crafts networking group I heard about from May Evans, who you might know as the brilliant and talented blogger of May’s Machete. I’m an artistic person but law school hasn’t left me a lot of time for my more creative proclivities beyond knitting. So I was excited to have an evening where I could experience the KC Fringe Festival and let out a little bit of my pent up creative energies. We spent a few hours making “freak flags” with the boxes upon boxes of art supplies brought by the dedicated women of CYOR and Arts Mafia. Everything from paints to fabric to markers was there – the only limitations were what you could create in that time.

I let loose my meager artistic talents and created my own freak flag to fly with pride. It may not be the greatest work of art, but it is a piece worthy of the fringe – it is accessible, affordable, and a whole lot of fun!

Total Time Traveled: 2 hours
Total Distance Traveled: 100 miles
Soundtrack: “The Dresden Dolls” and “Yes, Virginia” Dresden Dolls


August 6, 2010

“Totemoticon” Sculpture – Lawrence, KS

When I was walking down Massachusetts Street with a friend of mine the other evening, I saw a smiley face. That was surprising to see on the corner of 8th and Massachusetts, but there it was. A pillar of faces made from punctuation marks and one of them was smiling at me. It was “Totemoticon” by Yuri Zupancic.

“Totemoticon” by Lawrence resident Zupancic is part of the 22nd Outdoor Downtown Sculpture Exhibition by the Lawrence Cultural Arts Commission. The Outdoor Downtown Sculpture Exhibition is an annual juried exhibition of sculpture founded by Jim Patti in 1987. This year, eight sculptures can be seen around Lawrence, including this work by Zupancic and other Lawrence residents Jan Gaumnitz, Matthew Farley and Jordan Briceland.

I think the title and the concept are both wonderfully clever. The play on words provides insightful commentary while also being lighthearted as a pun. The juxtaposition of sacred, ancient imagery – the totem – with the inane, technological expressions of our modern age forces us as viewers to examine how we express ourselves now. As emoticons become iconic imagery and text-speak abbreviations become poetic self-expression, I think the idea behind the peace is a powerful commentary on what is “expression” now compared to what expression once was.

The artist himself explains:” The pairing of ‘Totem’ & ‘Emoticon’ demonstrates that symbols of communication and sacredness can persist in new forms. The specific emoticons (faces rendered in punctuation marks) used are ones from Japan, where their pictographic written language has given them a head start in viewing written language as representational art. I hope that everyday someone will learn a new emoticon from the ‘totemoticon’ and use it to express themselves via text message, email, etc. Thus, subtly expanding new media vocabularies and ways of thinking about language and communication.”

The problem I have with the piece is that the name and concept are cleverer than the actual sculpture. It looks like three white wash boards with different emoticons painted on the sides. Because that is all it is. I think the name is great, the concept is great, but the actual execution of the sculpture just seems amateurish to me. When it comes to sculptures that attempt to place the inane aspects of our daily lives into an artistic context, I like the work of Claes Oldenburg. Oldenburg is known for creating very large replicas of everyday objects (for example, the Shuttlecocks I visited earlier in this blog). These pop art productions would display everyday objects in large and interesting ways so the mundane became fascinating to look at.

When I look at “Totemoticon,” I feel like it is missing that spirit Oldenburg had to push beyond what the actual object was and into something more thought provoking and intellectually challenging. I feel like “Totemoticon” is a pop art first draft, it needs something a little more to elevate it to a more aesthetically complex and visually striking work.

Total Distance Traveled: 3 miles
Total Time Traveled: 10 minutes
Soundtrack: 93.7FM The Bull


August 4, 2010

Road Trip Philosophy – A Brief Aside in Admiration of Lady Florence Baker

When I was in elementary school, I had a small children’s anthology of famous women in American history. It was one of my favorite books and quickly surpassed my interest in the more common titles for a girl my age, like the Baby Sitter’s Club. I must have read the short biographies a dozen times, especially the stories of Susan B. Anthony and Harriet Tubman.

Recently, I finished reading “Living Among Cannibals and Other Women’s Adventures” by Michelle Slung. I picked up the book when I was browsing a bargain bin at a store and remembered that childhood anthology of female heroes. Here were the collected stories of women who had traveled the world in all its forms – land, sky, sea, and space. I have spent the last couple weeks reading it slowly to savor every adventure and story of triumph. These women are testimonies to any virtue humanity could claim to possess.

It is impossible for me to share all of these stories with you and even more impossible for me to share all the stories of women adventurers not included in the book. There are simply too many. But there is one I felt I should share: her name is Lady Florence Baker.

Samuel Baker was an English explorer. In the late 1850’s, he was in a Vidin slave market where he fell in love with a white slave girl. There are conflicting stories of whether he purchased her outright or bribed her attendants to help her escape, but he left the market that day with Florence who would become his lover and travel companion. The couple eventually married in 1865. (While their relationship may be the stuff of a romance novel, there is one icky detail that should be mentioned – the age difference. At the time of the slave market, Florence was 14 and had just reached puberty while Samuel was a widower in his late thirties).

Florence had been born in Transylvania in 1845 and orphaned during the Hungarian Revolution. Before she had been taken to the slave market, she had been raised in a harem in the Ottoman Empire. Once free from slavery, Florence was not a weak-willed side-kick to Samuel but a spirited and fiercely intelligent partner. She possessed talents and skills that would be essential to their travels, including the ability to speak English, German, Hungarian, Romanian and Arabic. She rode camels, mules and horses and carried pistols when necessary.

With Samuel, Florence traveled Central Africa in search of the source of the Nile. They did so successfully, but not without danger. They were forced to contend with illness, mutiny, and dangerous tribal wars. In one such perilous encounter, the couple was confronted by an African king who agreed to help Samuel on his journey if he left Florence behind. Samuel drew a gun and was prepared to duel with the king to protect his lover. But Florence stood her own ground. She gave a short but powerful speech in Arabic, which her husband did not understand. After the speech, the king backed down. He turned out to be the brother of the king, posing as royalty, and he had only hoped to trade a woman of his kingdom as a new wife for Samuel in exchange for his current traveling companion. He assured the pair he would never mention such a trade again.

The couple successfully found the source of the Nile, but only Samuel would reap all the rewards. Queen Victoria knighted Samuel but refused to allow Florence into the court, citing how she had been “acquired” by her husband and that they had traveled together as a couple before being legally married. But by virtue of her husband’s knighthood, she still became Lady Florence Baker despite the Queen’s disapproval.

History has not often given the spotlight to Lady Baker; she is more commonly treated as a romantic interest for the brave protagonist. Fortunately, history has been willing to reconsider its previous omissions. For example, the book “To the Heart of the Nile: Lady Florence Baker and the Exploration of Central Africa,” focuses more on the life of Florence than her male counterpart and her contributions to their expeditions.

To me, Lady Florence Baker was a woman who was so ready, willing, and able to plunge into Africa and face dangers that had killed many who came before her. And for all her efforts, she was only judged by Victorian society as unfit for the honors she deserved. Even though she was free from slavery, she was treated as a harem girl with a tainted past Even though she fought along side Samuel to discover the source of the Nile, she was treated as a story telling device rather than a real person who contributed to the history of the world. Even though she defended herself with valor, she was treated as unclean and immoral because she traveled with a man she wasn’t married to.

I only hope Lady Florence Baker knew that history would be as proud of her as her husband was and as willing to offer her the accolades she earned.


August 2, 2010

Tai Chi Figure - Lawrence, KS

One of the things I love about Lawrence and especially the University of Kansas is that art is absolutely everywhere. Along Massachusetts Street in downtown Lawrence, there are murals that give buildings a sort of vibrant, imaginative ambiance. Throughout the college campus, sculptures and fountains mark the entrances of buildings, always imparting some reverence for the study taught within the hallowed halls.

Outside of Green Hall, the law school building, is the “Tai Chi Figure” by Zhu Ming (also spelled Ju Ming.) According to the University, the bronze sculpture was cast and welded to portray a figure in the performance of tai chi, a martial art that emphasizes strength and balance.

It seems to me quite fitting that it be placed outside the law building because the law is the art of balance. No one ever really wins or loses in the courtroom, despite what television dramas would have you believe. In our adversarial system, it is about providing due process for everyone and justice for everyone we can. A criminal may be guilty as sin but he is still entitled to the best defense possible. A criminal defense attorney may know his client is guilty as sin but he will still do the best possible job. The people and the state count on the criminal prosecutors to do the best possible job as well, to ensure the criminal (who we still know is guilty as sin) is found guilty according to the law and sentenced appropriately. The system only works when everyone does their job as best they can and justice is achieved. It is the balance of conflicting forces in pursuit of the same goal – justice – that makes the American legal system work.

The “Tai Chi Figure” is part of a series by Zhu Ming, who was born in Taiwan in 1938. Though originally trained in woodcarving, he would apply that skill to a variety of mediums, such as bronze, steel, ceramics, and Styrofoam. In the mid-1970’s, he began sculpting works created around the theme of Tai Chi and showing taiji or shadowboxing figures that include the one in front of Green Hall.

The figure itself is stunning in how it portrays a kind of delicateness in the pose, while the actual figure is heavy and large. The sculpture is 8 feet 10 inches tall, 15 feet 11 inches wide and 7 feet deep. The heavy, blocked style of the body makes it appear solid and grounded. But as the arms extend the figure appears to opening itself up, becoming vulnerable. As one leg bends and the other stretches out, you see the careful balance necessary to hold such a pose, whether in a sculpture or a real person. You begin to see that as the figure holds its place it does so with more than the weight of metal. It does so also with a careful and elegant balance that seems almost spiritual.

Zhu Ming’s tai chi-themed works gained him international acclaim and can mostly be seen at the Ju Ming Museum in TaiPei City in Northern Taiwan. But for those who can’t make the trip to Asia, there is always the much shorter trip to Kansas.

Total Distance Traveled: 1 mile
Total Time Traveled: 5 minutes
Soundtrack: “Comfort of Strangers" Beth Orton

Endnote: I should say that not everyone has the same reverence for the “Tai Chi Figure.” On campus, it also has some more humorous nicknames that include “The Surfin’ Judge” and “Stone Faced Sumo.”