Missing Miss Communication

I miss Miss Communication. She—if we can call “her” “she”—was the striking sculptural installation outside the Pomerantz Center that dominated the entrance area of the building for five months. Elegant and elusive, she stood 20 feet tall and was made up of over 3200 cans and 1600 lines of fishing wire that connected the cans across a 27 foot span.

Miss Communication was the creation of Pansum Cheng, an artist who has been a sculpture technologist in our Fine Arts department for nine years. He received a grant last year from the President’s Diversity Council to erect Miss Communication—a challenging process that took well over four months and the assistance of a rotating team of students and the active support of the college’s security, buildings and grounds, and environmental health and safety departments.

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Cans and string: it seemed so simple. But somehow, looking at the installation, I’m not sure it really was. I mean, I’ve certainly watched children using string and cans to chatter away, but apparently very few viewers did that. Maybe Miss Communication was too imposing or too complex: after all, with so many almost barely visible lines stretched across that 27 feet, it could be difficult to even see who you are talking to on the other side. So maybe Miss Communication was making another kind of statement, one that required more contemplation.

Mr. Cheng, who is a native of mainland China, arrived here at the age of nine. He says he experienced a kind of cultural disconnect—not an unusual occurrence for an immigrant—and had to learn to read between the lines. It’s not just language, he points out, but ethnicity, age, religion, gender, personal ambitions—all these things and more play a role in how we connect with and understand one another. This piece, he says, was borne out of his frustration, and even excitement, of living in such an intensive multicultural world. I understand that. One needn’t be an immigrant, or nine years old, to experience it. We all go through the world interpreting other peoples’ words, their body language, and their intentions. We don’t begin to know how often we misread and misunderstand one another….how often our communication is really miscommunication.

So yes, I miss Miss Communication. She had a lot to say to us—a lot worth thinking about and remembering in our everyday encounters with the world.

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