Sunday, July 14, 2024

“Oyster Floats: Camera Obscuras for a Floating City” is near Sanders Theatre in Cambridge as part of the Harvard Arts First Festival. (Photo: Claire Ogden)

Among the best pieces at the Harvard Arts First Festival in its final hours and gone as of Monday: “Oyster Floats: Camera Obscuras for a Floating City,” a playful nod to the coastal and fishing histories of Massachusetts and to the ways human labor, landscape and history are intertwined. It’s made by architecture masters students Randy Crandon and Dylan Herrmann-Holt.

The five small metal sculptures resemble oyster shacks suspended or “floating” on poles. Passersby stopped in their tracks to peer inside the stunning-gold shacks holding black-and-white treasures: photographs of presumably New England fishing towns.

Creators Randy Crandon and Dylan Herrmann-Holt put Lewis Carroll poetry on the sides of the installation. (Photo: Claire Ogden)

On the sides are excerpts from the Lewis Carroll poem, “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” written in the lively tone of a children’s rhyme, but with sinister underpinnings. He follows a walrus and a carpenter as they trick a group of oysters into walking with them on the beach – ultimately eating every last one. Below the excerpts, one-word contributions from Crandon and Herrmann-Holt act as mysterious provocations. The word “revel” accompanies the following excerpt:

“‘It seems a shame,’ the Walrus said,
To play them such a trick,
After we’ve brought them out so far,
And made them trot so quick!’
The Carpenter said nothing but
‘The butter’s spread too thick!’”

Passersby look into the installation pieces to see images. (Photo: Claire Ogden)

In the context of the photographs, these excerpts invite speculation on greed, the abuse of power, unwavering appetites and conspicuous consumption in a campus space near a week of occupation by students and organizers protesting similar things.

The work is at the Memorial Hall South Lawn, 45 Quincy St., near Harvard Square, Cambridge; visitors arriving via public transit will have to bypass Harvard Yard on their way to the space, since it’s restricted by school police and open only with Harvard ID. Arts First is an annual event with a range of arts programming by Harvard students, faculty and affiliates. 

Share your own 150-word appreciation for a piece of visual art or art happening with photo to [email protected] with the subject line “Behold.”