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Elevator Art Aims to Stretch Dogs, Minds

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September 20, 2005 | by Wendy Leopold

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Depending on your point of view, a comical or creepy long-haired dachshund stretches and shrinks across three television monitors in an unusual site-specific art installation located in an elevator in Northwestern University’s student union through Oct. 14.

Inspired by limb-lengthening medical procedures and questioning society’s emphasis on and commercialization of the body, Debra and Dave Tolchinsky’s “Going Up?” can be experienced free of charge by catching the elevator on any of the five levels of Northwestern’s Norris University Center. The student center is at 1999 Campus Drive, Evanston.

A free and public artist reception from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 22, will take place in and around the elevator on the first floor. It will feature remarks about the art piece from the Tolchinskys, who teach in the University’s department of radio/TV/film, and other faculty.

The artists wanted the piece flexible enough to work at different levels -- from ambience that merely spices up an elevator ride and takes its riders by surprise to a contemplative, fun and maybe slightly disturbing encounter that encourages its rider/viewers to ponder different concepts.

Among them, says associate professor Dave Tolchinsky, “are things like the packaging and selling of body-image, current uses of medical technology, the repetitive cycle we sometimes find ourselves in, and ideas of narrative and progress.” He helped create the audio part of the piece.

“Going Up?” -- made possible by a grant from Northwestern’s Center for Interdisciplinary Research in the Arts -- first was shown at the Chicago Cultural Center to an audience that was “expecting” an art piece. “People there weren’t asked to figure out what they were viewing,” says radio/TV/film lecturer Debra Tolchinsky. “At Northwestern, where the piece is unexpected, people sometimes don’t know what to make of it.”

“Often they see the TV monitors and think they’re going to be sold something, which says a great deal about the 21st century,” she adds. “Whether you ride the elevator for 10 seconds and share just a bit of the dog’s journey or you stay in the elevator for the two full minutes of the piece to watch the dog and peruse the essays in the elevator about the piece, the experience changes.”

Reactions to the piece vary. “This is so cool.” “This is way creepy, huh?” “This makes you think twice about what size is ‘normal.’” Just about any reaction is okay with the creators of “Going Up?” creators. The only response that disappoints them is when people won’t engage or are just annoyed to see the piece in the elevator.

For more information, call (847) 491-2252 or go to www.debratolchinsky.com/goingup