For 19 years, Gregg Schlanger sauntered across the Austin Peay State University campus wearing a blazer, an untucked shirt and a ball cap pushed back on his head. He’d stop the students, faculty and staff members who crossed his path to make a joke or tease them affectionately.
He was unassuming and relaxed, but for those who knew him, he was a deeply serious artist whose work brought light to important social issues, such as the availability of drinking water in Third World nations. Earlier this summer, Schlanger ended his long tenure at APSU as professor and interim chair of the art department in order to head up the art program at Central Washington University.
His legacy, however, remains on campus with one of his signature public art installations – B.W.R. (basic water requirements), 50 Liters.
“The piece now belongs to the University’s art collection,” Kell Black, interim chair of the APSU art department, said. “Gregg was here for 19 years and he did a lot for the community, so it’s also a community legacy. The nature of his work always engaged the community and politics.”
A few years ago in Potsdam, Germany, Schlanger conceived and created the piece, which consists of numerous glass bottles filled with water to varying degrees. Each bottle stands for the amount of water used per person per day in a given country. For many developing countries, hardly any water is present.
The average person needs about 50 liters of water a day for domestic uses such as drinking, hygiene, sanitation services and food preparation. About 20 percent of the world’s population only uses around five liters a day.
“It is my intention to bring awareness about this global crisis through this piece,” Schlanger said in 2010. “As a global community, we should guarantee that every person has access and the right to at least 50 liters of clean water every day.”
The piece is now on display in APSU’s Honors Commons, which serves as the home for the University’s Honors Program and the President’s Emerging Leaders Program.
“We are happy to provide a home for this provocative piece of Gregg Schlanger’s,” Dr. Linda Barnes, director of the APSU Honors Program, said. “The piece is an important reminder to all of us that true art communicates a message, often a message that makes us uncomfortable. At the heart of becoming an educated person is learning to be aware of the world we live in, and to take responsibility for what goes on in it. Gregg’s work encourages those of us who work and learn in the Honors Commons to do this every day.”
Christopher Burawa, director of the APSU Center of Excellence for the Creative Arts, echoed this sentiment about Schlanger’s work.
“Gregg’s sculptures always challenge our sense of art and beauty by presenting us with works that reveal what we choose to ignore as we go about our daily existence,” he said. “The work in the Honors Commons springs from his awareness and strong desire to open people’s eyes to what is going on and why we need to be more responsible for our actions. We don’t encounter many people in our lives who have such clear vision as Gregg’s. And his motivation for making his art is compassion, plain and simple.”
Black said the piece is another example of Schlanger’s work as a community activist in Clarksville. During his time at APSU, he worked to improve this area, even running for county commission. He narrowly lost that election.
“One of the strongest things he did was run for public office,” Black said. “It’s one thing to make art about issues. This was him saying, ‘let’s get off the sidelines and let’s grab the bull by the horns. As a colleague and friend, that was the most inspiring thing I ever saw him do.”
For more information on Schlanger’s B.W.R. piece, contact the APSU art department at 221-7333.