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OSU art student’s audio piece aimed at starting conversation on N-word

Courtesy of Charisse Harris

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Art is made in a variety of ways, the media vary and so do the messages.

Charisse Harris, a first-year graduate student in art, spends much of her time in her studio in Hopkins Hall, a common activity for most art fellowship students.

One of Harris’ most recent pieces is an interactive sound project, “Tacet/Talk It,” on display at the Swing Space Gallery. At the gallery, Harris painted the phone number 1-866-434-3312 in green paint. She invites viewers to call the number and listen to a mash-up of Kanye West and Jay-Z’s single, “Ni**as in Paris” and John Cage’s “4’33.” After the mash-up plays, the listener has an opportunity to leave a comment about the song’s use of the N-word.

Harris chose Cage because he is such a notable figure in both art and music, she said. “Ni**as in Paris” was chosen for its recent popularity and how the song uses the N-word.

“Just language in general was a springboard for it,” Harris said.

The mash-up unites the contrasting ideas of past and silence with contemporary and sound. Part of the conversation is “the idea that you can’t hear (“4’33”),” Harris said.

Harris has received about 40 responses to “Tacet/Talk It,” many of them hang-ups, some laughter and a few insightful.

Her inspiration for pieces springs from just about anything, the worthwhile ideas go into her journal for safekeeping.

“I do try to stay creatively promiscuous, intellectually promiscuous,” she said.

Harris came to Ohio State in order to have more access to materials and equipment outside of the field of art.

“I wanted the university experience,” Harris said.

Harris’ projects use a variety of mediums: talc paints, DVDs and found objects, among other things.

“I start with the idea before the medium — the medium is secondary to the concepts,” she said.

Portraiture is one of Harris’ fortés. Her interests are drawn from the way humans relate to other humans.

“People are more drawn psychologically to people,” Harris said.

Her portraits range in size, with some large-scale paintings on the sides of buildings, and some placed in environments with found objects.

Harris is currently working on a portrait project involving prison inmates.

“She’s very open to talking to these people, she’s not scared,” said Amy Ritter, a first-year graduate in glass, and Harris’ friend and colleague. “She uses her artwork, those means, to enter someone else’s world.”

Even with plans to become an art professor, art is not the only thing she does. Spending time with friends and family is important to Harris, who often throws tea parties.

“I don’t just do art all day,” Harris said.

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