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May 25, 2010 > These jeans are made for walking

These jeans are made for walking

By Mary Dixon

Thirty-two pairs of jeans mysteriously marched onto the lawn outside California State University East Bay's (CSUEB) Pioneer Bookstore in February of this year, soon after staff and faculty layoffs began. Nothing but wooden stakes and re-purposed newspapers hold up this temporary public artwork installation, and its creator remained anonymous until now.

"I am surprised it's getting this much attention," Ali Sharifi, a current CSUEB student said about his walking jeans. "When I started it was just about budget cuts, and no classes."

Ali Sharifi, 25, is a senior and is working towards completing a double major in Criminal Justice and Art. He wants to go into law enforcement, sketching suspects and doing art installations on the side.

"It seemed kind of odd, just seeing a bunch of pants at first," said freshman Heinz Rosener, a business major. "I associated it with the protest, walking out."

Annie Her, a senior pursuing International Studies, said, "It was interesting, something random you wouldn't expect."

The jeans, recycled from Sharifi's closet and rescued from thrift stores, stayed up for three weeks during the first installation in February.

"People don't know I did it," said Sharifi. "I just sit there and enjoy what they do or say about it." This includes watching students striking a pose with the pants and taking pictures with his art.

"For people who may never step into a gallery space or museum, it's a way they can enjoy a sculpture," said Grace Munakata, Studio Arts professor of 23 years at CSUEB. "It doesn't have to be made out of marble in order to be beautiful or transformative. The whole point is to have people react and interact with the piece. Contemporary art is like that."

The jeans appeared again outside the Pioneer Bookstore on campus earlier this month, but in smaller numbers. According to Sharifi, about half of the pants disappeared out of the art building where he had been storing them.

"It's for the public," Sharifi said. "They can do what they want with it. That's what public installation is-once you put it in, you have no control over it." The pants are often facing different directions or even end up lying on the ground, but Sharifi doesn't seem to mind. He does not want the walking jeans completely destroyed, however. A mess could cause the school to enforce limitations on future art installations.

"I like public installations because of the freedom that you have, nobody saying which wall to hang it on, or which angle to put it at," said Sharifi. The aspiring criminal sketch artist first heard about public installations when he started attending CSUEB two years ago. He specifically mentioned Banksy, a British graffiti artist that also creates public installation art.

When asked what his family thought about his artwork, Sharifi said, "Everyone is a big supporter." Ali's younger brother, Osman, 18, helped put up the second installation of walking jeans.

"I found out the first time how much work it is," said Sharifi, about recruiting his younger brother. "I couldn't do it alone."

Sharifi has four more works of art on display, including a collection of marker and highlighter drawings, artfully arranged metal discs, an emergency exit emphasized with his columns, and one other public art piece, a translucent tape-made figure kneeling on the grass.

"I love having students like Ali," said Munakata. "He helps generate a sense of community among the students with his infectious enthusiasm." Munakata teaches painting and drawing classes at CSUEB, and she earned her Masters of Fine Arts degree at UC Davis.

Sharifi confirms that future public art installations will include a 19-foot tall spider and five copies of a sculpture from Stanford University's campus, assuming he gets the permission to copy Stanford's art piece.

"It's ambitious without any hubris attached," said Munakata. "His work does what great, temporary public art is supposed to do-it brings attention to familiar spaces, and for a time changes and interacts with the space around it."

On display outside the Pioneer Bookstore
Now through May 30
California Sate University East Bay
25800 Carlos Bee Boulevard, Hayward
(510) 885-3000

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