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Two understated speakers sit to the right of the Stephen Robert '62 Campus Center welcome desk. The subtlety of the white mesh speakers against the white wall strongly disguises the magnitude of the project they contain — a new permanent sound piece by Brooklyn-based artist Nina Katchadourian '89. "Advice from a Former Student" contains over 800 bits of advice for Brown students, from Brown alumni.

Katchadourian said in a talk to mark the official opening Friday that she was often confused as a student at Brown and, similarly, remembers her students being "a million miles away" thinking of "any number of things" when she taught at Brown between 2001 and 2004. She said she wished that when she was a student someone were there to advise her.

The alumni range from the class of 1939 to 2010, giving any advice that they felt would be helpful. Katchadourian has interviewed somebody from the entire span of graduate classes.

This was no small feat. Katchadourian said there was "an enormous number of people that made doing this project possible." The editing process was enormous, and hours of tape had to be reduced to small clips of advice. Katchadourian said that making the work was "like doing a kind of sociological research."

Katchadourian was inspired to make "Advice from a Former Student" after randomly posting a status on Facebook that said, "Tell me the best piece of advice you know." Eighty responses flooded back in 24 hours, which she cites as the seeds of the piece.

Due to the openness with which Katchadourian framed her interview questions, the responses are extremely diverse. For example, one man warns, "don't be timid with your hairstyle," while someone else says, "get out there and be a failure!" The responses are a mix of "very serious and heartfelt," "very irreverent and funny" and "sometimes very controversial," Katchadourian said to the crowd. She also said there is "a lot of advice on love."

Sometimes this diversity in answers is not a positive thing. John Qua '13 stated, "I hear them every morning that I work at the help desk, and they are kind of silly. A few people talk about and give advice on drugs and sex at Brown in kind of a joking manner, and I don't think it's very appropriate for admissions, even though some of the stories are really interesting."

Still, "advice is an interesting thing. It is not always what you agree with that you remember. Sometimes what you disagree with can be the most helpful," Katchadourian said in her lecture.

The advice-giver's name and graduation year is not given to the listener. Not knowing the adviser's identity forces the listener not to focus on the speaker as a person, but to only to know the person through the advice. "I found it kind of creepy because there were just random people speaking to me," said Tina Zhao '13.

But an inherent problem with the work is that it goes unnoticed by many students who simply march on past it. "I didn't even realize that they were up there," said Karynn Ikeda '10.  

"The first time I heard them, I was like, ‘Who's talking?' So, I just wandered over and there were the voices," Zhao said. Qua said that "the presentation of it is weird. It is very nondescript — there should be a better description or something of what you are randomly hearing from the side of a wall."

Though there is certainly something strange about hearing unknown voices speaking, one can never know what effect advice from a stranger can have. Press an ear to the mesh speakers — and see what happens. 


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