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Student’s art project: the mice that roamed

Amy Koumis spread 428 ceramic mice across campus as part of her ceramics and multiples class art project. Photo: Chase Squires

In the name of art, the University of Denver campus has been overrun by mice.

DU junior Amy Koumis, an emergent digital practices major, spread 428 ceramic mice (and more than a few smiles) across campus as part of her ceramics and multiples class art project. Each piece, placed in random locations indoors and out, came with a little slip of paper tucked inside marked with a web address.

The lucky finders of her creations can go to the site to learn about her project, an experiment in public art and people’s reaction to it.

“People have this idea about art, that ‘it’s mine and I’m not going to let anyone have it,’” she says. “I’ve always liked giving things to people. I think art should be for everyone.”

The only “payment” Koumis asks for a mouse is a few words on her website explaining what the finders did with the prize. Do they take it? Leave it for someone else? Move it? Name it?

The idea came in part from a friend’s basement apartment just off campus. A mouse had moved in, and her friend adopted it. It wasn’t really his pet — it was wild — but he named it Reginald just the same.

“I thought it was interesting that people get attached to something that isn’t really theirs,” Koumis says. “I wondered if people felt that about art, too.”

She notes that other artists who work in multiples have created projects for museums but then have had to guard the individual pieces against visitors tempted to walk off with a piece. She wondered what would happen if there were no restrictions — if fans of the art were free to take it with them.

“There must be a reason people take things that don’t belong to them,” she writes on her website. “Maybe they wanted something to remember the show by. Maybe they thought it would make a good present for someone. Maybe it was small and shiny and they wanted it. In this sense, [my] project became as much about people as art. What makes us want something — say, a ceramic mouse — that serves no practical purpose at all?”

For the project, she made molds of the mice then filled them with a plaster mixture and fired them in a kiln. She could make 10 at a time, with each round taking six to eight hours. It took her a few weeks to make the whole batch, with some mice left white and others colored black, tan, brown or spotted. Then she spread them around campus.

Koumis, who hopes to go into publishing or design when she graduates in 2013, says she’s been delighted with the reaction on her site. There are plenty of fun comments, and she says she’s been amazed at how many people are excited about tracking down her creations.

“I didn’t expect it to become this psychology, social-profile project, it was just an art project,” Koumis says. “I’m thrilled with all the reactions I’m getting. The goal is to see what people think of this, and it ends up bringing people together and gets them talking about art.”




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