Walking from Dugan Hall to the Health and Social Sciences Building, many of Ashley Brown’s fellow students looked in the faces of the 58 people who died in the Oct. 1 Las Vegas shooting rampage.
Some stopped and read about each person.
Along both sides of the sidewalk, photos and brief biographies of each victim were attached at eye level to sticks pushed into the earth. Each photo and bio was on a background of orange fabric. The fabric was frayed at the edges. Good, says Brown. Mission accomplished. She wanted you to know them, to remember them, to see the eyes and faces of the variety of humans suddenly gone in a random, massive hail of gunfire that also wounded more than 500.
What she didn’t expect was people thanking her.
The installation’s run, which had been scheduled through Nov. 30, was ended early by fierce autumn rain and winds that uprooted stakes and soaked the fabric that held the photo and bio material. On Nov. 17, it was suddenly gone with the wind.
“I heard that when the wind was knocking things around the other day, people were trying to keep things together,” she said.
“It was a very powerful piece,” said Foley. “Incredibly thoughtful. This is a pretty intensive course. Ashley thought through every component and was very cognizant of how other people might look at it, which was a key in this case.
“She is clearly really interested in things that concern people right now, and she got a lot of feedback while she was installing it.”
Brown arrived in September with an associate’s degree in artistic media and design from Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester.
When Foley introduced the assignment, Brown says, “The shooting had just happened. So it was very fresh in my mind, and I wanted to
do something about it.”
Her goal was to freeze time on Oct. 1 and make students walk through a maze of reminders.
“Fifty-eight is not just a number; it was individual people. They all had their own lives.”
She invaded a series of Wal-marts for orange fabric and enlisted her family to help. They formed an assembly line. One punched holes, another cut fabric, another ironed it.
“It took more than a week. It was more work than I realized,” Brown says.
Brown also lifted what Foley calls “the emotional weight of such a thing. Finding the images of these people, putting together the text to tell their stories. Installing them, one by one.”
When she installed the stakes holding each of the 58 tributes, “People stopped and looked. A couple of people thanked me for doing it, which was unexpected. A van driver stopped and asked about it, then helped me. The wind was already active then and flipped some pieces over while I was installing it. He flipped them back.”
Brown hopes her project served as a reminder of the human impact of gun violence.
“It’s amazing with this issue. Society is so desensitized to it; it just keeps happening. But we just go on with our lives. There’s already been another since then. I had to update my artistic statement for the project from 307 mass shootings this year to 308.”