SPEAKER 1: This is about as intimate as someone can get with artwork. There are basic cleanings that the students are undertaking, but it's real important work.
ANNETTA ALEXANDRIDIS: But today was such a great day. The students immediately got hooked today. I mean, just to see this dynamic, you know, that comes out of working with these objects is gratifying.
KASIA MARONEY: For the purposes of our exhibition, we're trying to clean as many of these as we can, which is not to say strip the paint or the destruction from them, but just to clean them up for viewing. As a matter of fact, some of this tells us a lot about the way this collection has been treated over the years.
VERITY PLATT: The originals of these statues are casts off were usually made of marble or bronze, and some of those objects have since been destroyed and lost to history. So the cast allows us to have as real a sense as we could get of what that original looks like.
ANNETTA ALEXANDRIDIS: Cast collections usually were teaching tools, the perfect textbook in 3D, and they were also tourist attractions.
VERITY PLATT: The cast represent a certain cultural heritage. But not everybody wants to identify with the kind of cultural baggage that they bring with them.
ANNETTA ALEXANDRIDIS: Casts were considered white heritage. People would just reject this part of their history because these museums had been imposed on them to teach them not only what good art is, but also what the beautiful body is [INAUDIBLE] or European body as opposed to the Native one.
VERITY PLATT: That very oppressiveness was something that generated these kinds of violent responses, especially from the '60s, '70s, '80s. And the [INAUDIBLE], which has "I'm art" written on it in graffiti is a good example of that. "I'm art," it's saying. I represent the canon, which is something now to be overthrown.
ANNETTA ALEXANDRIDIS: You hear stories of being rolled down the [INAUDIBLE] slope or being just destroyed. Some were painted over. And a major part ended up in this warehouse, where they are in storage right now, but look like trash, and nobody really knows what to do with them.
The deans asked me to take care of the cast collection. And I realized, these casts won't have a chance here if not everybody, in a way, identifies with them again. So I thought instead of just complaining about what happened to these poor casts, to bring students to get to work with the casts.
CARLOS KONG: I've been really lucky to have a hands-on experience with ancient sculpture that you otherwise don't normally get. Working with the casts has been a material and physical way of formulating my own ideas about authorship and originality in art.
KASIA MARONEY: The idea with this piece is not to get it back to its original condition, but to make it structurally stable so it remains an educational kind of piece about the history of what this collection has been through.
ANNETTA ALEXANDRIDIS: Not only were they removed, they were really, like, violently destroyed. Whether in Europe, in the United States, in Japan it did not only happen at Cornell, but in this exhibit, we want to understand it as a particular moment of Cornell's history.
VERITY PLATT: The destruction of a work of art is often spoken of as iconoclasm, the throwing down of images. And there is another way to see acts of destruction, which is that when an image is defaced or destroyed, that process generates a new image, a new kind of visual experience. So we can think of that as an iconoclash rather than an iconoclasm. It's something that isn't just destructive, it's also generative, and it's a story that's worth telling.
CARLOS KONG: It's definitely exhilarating to see them in the chilled water plant because they're objects that have such vitality throughout history and to see them juxtaposed against the modern background is really exciting.
VERITY PLATT: This disused industrial building is itself a kind of relic of a former stage in the history of Cornell just as the casts are themselves. And together they generate a new kind of experience, an iconoclash in a way.
SPEAKER 2: I think the exhibit is fantastic. It's so unlike anything else I've ever seen.
SPEAKER 3: I think if we were looking at this show in kind of a dry white space, we wouldn't feel compelled to maybe ask as many questions about how they got to the state that they're in now.
ANNETTA ALEXANDRIDIS: This is a new background, it's a new environment. It might make these casts speak in a different way and now they become something else. It's a moment of creativity for everybody who works with them.
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Cornell used to have one of the largest collections of plaster casts in North America. But casts fell out of favor, and the collection deteriorated. 'Firing the Canon,' a video about the College of Arts and Sciences' sesquicentennial exhibit, explores how Cornell's prized
collection was 'embraced, defaced and dethroned.'