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Last week's column on graffiti seemed incomplete without a mention of the List Art Center stairwell. While peering at the paintings, inscriptions and 3D installations, I am mistaken for a tourist in need of directions. The truth is, I am looking for direction — but not geographically speaking. I'm in search of wisdom.

Anonymous Brunonians, past and present, have turned the climb up the five-story building into an intellectual journey. These students are not catering to the department or trying to get their art exhibited. Instead they convey what they feel but might not want to say publicly — or they're just having some fun messing around with spray paint.

For whatever reason, the top two floors have become designated repositories for our inner high schoolers, replete with emo poetry, sexual drawings and quasi-philosophical musings like "Does this count as art?"

There are also rainbow human figures plastered on the wall between the fourth and fifth floors beside the creepiest animal ever — a fox's head, detached from its body, yet still smiling wickedly down at visitors. The opposite corner is an impressive aviary where red and yellow feathers seem to flutter around a paper bookshelf.

Walk down to the fourth floor and, if your eyes do not get stuck in the maze on the wall, you'll find yourself on the "road to ruin" — an inscription placed between haphazard globs of clay and an enchanting landscape where an octopus sun graces a purple night sky.

The journey from the fourth to third floors features a fire-breathing dragon, an intricate bricolage and a trunk-to-tail line of red elephants.  You'll also pass an imitation of the Rhode Island School of Design logo that instead says "Brown" in the middle and "we are artsy too" around the periphery.  This could be interpreted as a juvenile rivalry, as the building's back door reads "RISD roolz!"

As you travel downward, the words get deeper in meaning. "To puzzle over the past and countless possible futures is to coax the present into early extinction," wrote a third floor visitor. On a lighter note, a rudimentary sea creature advises the viewer, "Embrace your inner fish."

Down from there, "grey area" is appropriately written in gray paint, above a pipe captioned "this is a pipe" — confirming that you cannot get a bunch of art students together without one of them referencing Magritte.

After passing a cartoon closet and a rainbow-showered wall with pictures of eyes staring back at you amid the bleeding colors, you are at the ground floor. The first image that greets you is a feebly painted-over visual obscenity. Consider yourself warned.

The basement stairwell, which fewer traverse, evokes an overwhelming feeling of claustrophobia. The red shades, including a fierce Rocky Horror-like mouth, scream into the hallway. Humorous messages like "I plan to live forever. So far, so good" and "Shhh! Bunny is sleeping!" next to a drawing of a rabbit, provide calming interludes.

But the basement door makes the most profound statement: "When will we realize that love is the only thing that matters or is real. Stop letting your ego run the show. We can be free!"

Then it hits me: My discomfort came from the egos oozing from the walls. The stairwell may accept all contributions, but there is a competition of sorts. It is a site of rebellion, a loud "screw you" to art school, hipsters, bureaucracy and other elusive targets of college students' frustration that cannot be directly addressed.

Once I got down to the bottom of it all — literally — I found the guidance I was looking for at loftier heights.




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