​Object Idea Exchange at UAG

by Bailey Basham, Messenger Staff Writer
A bright orange mechanical pencil to represent the responsibility of students at the University; a plastic spoon to represent the community built around a shared table; a blue and white floral tea cup that was always filled with coffee for anyone who came to visit —these are just a few of the items collected by the Isle of Printing Automat at Communication Station: Object Idea Exchange.
Hosted in the University Art Gallery (UAG), the Object Idea Exchange is the third in a series of projects called Communication Stations, designed by Nashville-based artist and Isle of Printing owner Bryce McCloud. The goal of the stations is to start conversations and both receive and broadcast ideas.
To bring this goal to life, McCloud built an Automat, almost like a vending machine, that accepts an object from the participant, analyzes the meaning of the gift and then sends out a gift that another participant brought. Along with the gift, the participant writes an explanation of why the object is important to them or to Sewanee.
“The idea behind the Object Idea Exchange is that every object tells a story,” said Shelley MacLaren, director of the University Art Gallery. “Everyone is invited to bring an object that represents something about Sewanee, the community or something they want to share with the community. You put something in, and after a few seconds, the Automat gives you something in return that someone else has donated. It becomes a conversation mediated by the machine between the people about someone else’s idea about Sewanee.”
Accompanying the blue and white tea floral tea cup was a story of a participant’s grandmother Iola, who was known for always having a pot of coffee on for anyone who might stop by.
“She always used the tea cups for coffee, and she’d have a pot on all day,” the anonymous participant said. “She was always just a person who took care of people. She drove for Meals on Wheels her whole life, and she made crazy crafts for the church bazaar. She loved card games and cheating at them, and she had a wicked sense of fun and a real sense of how to take care of people. Community is really about those things. It’s about that pot of coffee and offering it to anyone and everyone.”
McCloud, who is of the belief that art can make a difference in civic life, said the point of the project is to create spaces for conversation.
“When I first started it with the Our Town project, I wanted to try out different avenues of communicating. We had people in Nashville get to know each other through portraiture. I was teaching a class at Penland right before the election in 2016 when I saw that people were having a really difficult time bridging this sort of ideological divide,” he said. “I kept thinking about how in the world we live in, we’re all the same as we have been forever, but there’s this feeling of otherness. I think art has the power to bridge that, and I’ve been trying different methods of cracking the code.”
And in any community, stepping outside of comfort can be valuable.
“I think in any community, we fall into patterns of who we’re comfortable talking to and who we gravitate toward. Projects like this one are a way to surprise us out of those patterns and to build new ones—it’s a way of reaching out to people we might not talk to otherwise for whatever reason that might be,” said MacLaren.

The installation will be in the University Art Gallery until Dec. 16. Objects can also be viewed at www.instagram.com/object_x_idea