By Abby Leyson ’22
The Martini has come back to our campus just in time to enjoy the light of spring blooming in Geneva, NY. Their most recent issue was published on March 28. The Martini is back to its usual hard-hitting attitude, especially with some of their latest issue topics. Poetry and prose express sex, love, heartbreak, disappointment, and the most disappointing of them all: the scissors.
A new look is destined for the school’s satirical literary magazine according to Editor in Chief, Madeline Mood ‘22. New members have joined, Instagram followers are rising, and pieces have been trickling in since their most recent issue.
The literary magazine’s first piece is from co-editor Emma Cusanelli ‘22. Cusanelli called the piece, “A REQUEST TO ALL BICENTENNIAL GRADUATES,” a plea to the graduating class “to stand up for culture, self-expression, and good taste.”
“The piece is more of a critique towards the Colleges as a whole,” said Cusanelli. “Sure, the scissors acted as my muse initially, but my contempt evolved into an explication of the school and frustration endured by students for the Colleges’ lack of care for its landscape’s aesthetic, lack of care for the arts, and a disconnect between the want of the students and the will of the school.”
Regardless, the scissors have become the center of attention yet again after years of neglect. Standing somewhat tall outside the Warren Hunting Smith Library, the scissors attempt to represent a cut to the divide between Hobart College and William Smith College. They reflect a deep history of controversy borne across generations at HWS.
The infamous story of the scissors represents the Colleges’ coordinate system, which was founded when William Smith joined Hobart College on December 13, 1906. Through this transition, Hobart and William Smith became united as one college and claimed that this campus would be a place of exploration and discovery to create a dual experience for its student body under one institution.
The scissors were first installed in the spring of 1989 by students in Professor of Art and Architecture A.E. Ted Aub’s “3-D Design” class. The sculpture was originally made of wood, but by the end of the Spring ‘89 semester, they were allegedly torn down by vandals that are still unnamed. In response to the scissors being taken down, Professor Aub’s students released a statement about the scandal.
“The scissors are not only interesting and exciting in a visual sense, but they also symbolize the distinct coordinate system here at the Colleges,” the statement wrote. “Just as two parts of the scissors work together, so do the separate colleges of Hobart and William Smith.”
The following fall semester, a metal replica of the scissors was made in replacement of the original wooden sculpture.
Today, student workers in Admissions exclaim while passing by the scissors that “[t]hese scissors represent the divide between Hobart College and William Smith College,” according to student tour guide Samari Brown ‘24.
On a tour, Brown would state this claim and proceed to gesture toward the William Smith Hill to say, “Everything there was William Smith.” Then, points her group’s attention to Coxe Hall to say, “And everything on the quad was Hobart College. These scissors were actually made by students!”
Brown, then, gathers her prospective tour group towards Warren Hunting Smith Library. A pass by the scissors with a fun historical fact, but nothing of substance is explained about one of the few visible pieces of art on this campus. Instead, a brief encounter is made and the scissors, per usual, are left alone. They are isolated in an awkward patch of dirt as a reminder of what the Colleges once were, not what they are now.
The Martini’s latest issue is a testimony against the scissors that sent the HWS student body into existential contemplation about a sculpture that simply stands in silence outside the library. Cusanelli’s piece is a response to the lack of care for artistry at HWS and a rebuttal to the generalizations made to potential students while on their tours.
So what is it about these scissors? Why have they caused such wrath on this campus now?
Cusanelli’s piece may have to take responsibility for the reignited controversy of the scissors and what they stand for.
In her piece, Cusanelli writes, “[c]ulture is dying and we’ve killed her with a scissor to the heart…In the eyes of that which wields the weapon, we can see something: an institution’s lack of imagination. A dead expression betraying a disinterest in progressive ideals and meaningful change…a procession of the traditional binary that is outdated…”
Cusanelli continues to point out a notorious aspect of the scissors: they did not finish the job of cutting the divide between Hobart and William Smith. Instead, they stand stuck in the process of cutting the divide, yet not getting close enough to complete their job.
The piece piqued students’ interests to the point that the conversation transferred over online discussions. The popular anonymous app Yik Yak has professed “yaks” about the scissors to express the current opposition towards the scissors since The Martini’s release.
One Yik Yak from an anonymous student reflected Cusanelli’s piece. Echoing the sentiment, the student asked, “Should I just go scissor the scissors now?”
As an attempt to resolve the dissatisfaction from the student body and my own disdain, I reached out on behalf of the Herald to professors in the Art and Architectural Studies department—the place where the scissors were born from an innocent idea that worked in the late ’80s but does not comply with the current student body’s perspectives.
Assistant Professor of Art and Architecture Angelique Szymanek was able to share her thoughts on the scissors and raised the point that as a community, we must remember what the scissors stand for as a work of art.
Professor Syzmanek shared that whenever she sees the scissors, she thinks they represent a “celebration of creativity”, referring to their origins of students creating art for the school to celebrate.
Upon hearing claims made in The Martini’s “A DESPERATE REQUEST”, Professor Syzmanek begged to differ in the name of saving art’s premises.
“It is not intended to not have a single unshakeable meaning,” said Professor Syzmanek. “We have to be open to any and all interpretations. All good art is creating a conversation that needs to happen. So, I think it is a really important work of art because it raises conversation. It is productive. What artist wouldn’t want that?”
By considering this account, the scissors are doing just what they were meant to do since their creation in 1989. They represent more than what tour guides claim while showcasing our campus. They represent a conversation that will always be relevant for students at HWS: what do the scissors mean to us now?
Art is always up for interpretation; it is subjective. The Martini’s take on the scissors is one perspective that does not define the HWS student body’s opinion on the piece. Instead, it serves the purpose to begin a conversation.
Despite the defense Professor Syzmanek provided for the scissors’ artistic integrity, she translated a similar attitude towards the scissors with an understanding of how they currently do not reflect our current community’s values and offered insight into how the HWS community can work together to re-envision the scissors.
“There are lots of ways to represent collaboration,” said Professor Syzmanek. “And maybe an object that can be so readily viewed as violent is not the best representation. Perhaps, we need more art around campus to represent and translate what the HWS community values.”
Professor Syzmanek posed a what-if for the HWS community to consider: What if we could reignite the scissors to be used for an interesting and progressive conversation?
“It would be interesting for faculty, staff, all members of the community to utilize [the scissors] as a sight for conversation and community,” said Professor Syzmanek. “Maybe we can help shift people to see them in that light more if they are engaged with it in a more nuanced way moving forward.”
The scissors stand silently in front of the library, awaiting a student, faculty, or staff member to take advantage of its simplicity so that it can continuously be reinvented in the eyes of the HWS community. The scissors invite engagement from its people, and it is due time for someone to take the scissors and make a statement.
Scissor them for performative art, string yarn in an array of colors across its openings to represent the diversity of HWS, place a temporary sculpture beside it. Say something, anything.
Make the scissors complaisant, controversial, a conversation. A work of art is meant to give rise to interesting conversations.
The conversation of disdain has been made known by The Martini, and the conversation of preserving the scissor’s truth and purpose is now accomplished here, so the next conversation is unbeknownst. Let’s make anew.
Perhaps the next conversation that the scissors incite helps the scissors’ reputation. Or perhaps it expands on the words of senior Cusanelli in the hopes of eliminating or transforming the scissors to be of greater substance. The next conversation, whatever it is, will happen eventually for art is eternally subjective and open to a conversation that allows dispute.
The scissors will continue to stand in resilience, so we should do the same as a student body. Stand with them in the hopes that progressive conversation continues to transpire from this piece.
The assignment was to design a controversy, with an over-scaled common object that was site specific, in the tradition of Claes Oldenburg. The scissors certainly has left it’s mark over the years. It never made it to its intended site as was designed by the first year William Smith student. It was conceived to go on the perceived dividing line between the two colleges, just east of Smith Hall, as if cutting the two colleges apart. We made the mistake of asking permission, and were denied so we took another site, north of the library, but then the meaning of the sculpture was diluted at best , if not lost altogether. It now stands in its third location. There is much more to the story… but the bottom line was it was a meant as a Declaration of Independence of William Smith to come out from under the shadow of Hobart.
I regret the lack of candor in the statement made by the students— it was never intended as a statenent of unity.
Nor was it intended to be a permanent sculpture. Clearly it has become an artifact of our history, and perhaps it’s time has come. But please let it be a campus wide discussion and well reasoned decision rather than the willful choice of a select few.
Prof. Ted Aub
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