Scripps’ Look Up: A kaleidoscopic study in human interaction

A group of people twirl colorful umbrellas on the ground and a few crouch, holding umbrellas.
5C staff and faculty members immerse themselves in the flash mob art event “Look Up” on Sept. 19. (Corina Silverstein • The Student Life)

The tickets for Look Up, an immersive art exhibit created by Elizabeth Turk SC ’83, requested that attendees show up promptly at 9:30 a.m. — likely mid-morning for some of the staff, faculty and older volunteers who showed up, but an early call time for college students looking to enjoy the leisure of the weekend. 

When I arrived at Scripps College’s Bowling Green, volunteers seemed to still be receiving training: They were instructed to split off into four pods, dictated by the color of umbrella and mask they’d be giving out, either orange, green, yellow or blue. Aside from that, nobody seemed to be clear on exactly what they were supposed to be doing for the next half hour before the event truly kicked off. 

The lack of direction in the event’s lead up was intentional, Turk’s summer intern Mica Barrett SC ’23 explained. 

“[Turk’s] foundation was like, ‘Okay, especially during COVID, how do people interact with each other and how does that change when their environment changes?’ Lockdown really made that something coming to the forefront for her and so she was like, ‘let’s see how people interact when they are given minimal instruction,’” Barrett said. “That was what she wanted to see, she wanted to study how people interact with each other, and if they were like an ant colony, or a beehive — something that we see as primal, but she wanted to bring that kind of same social structure study into an art piece.”

People filtered in, mostly in pairs or small groups, wandering around and chatting, and I walked over to the blue pod where I received a light blue mask with a floral design in the center, and an umbrella to match. 

I talked to a participant who admitted, sheepishly, that she was only there for the free umbrella. 

Off to the side the Green, there was a tent with one wall covered in Post-it notes. 

A small TV played a video of Turk explaining this “community haiku.” Restricted to small mantras by the size of a sticky note, students and attendees were asked to respond to the question: What do you tell yourself in the face of adversity? 

Just before 10 a.m., Turk got on the microphone and gave a bare bones explanation of how the event would proceed. Taiko drummers located up a small flight of stairs signaled the start of the event with a slow, propulsive beat. When the music started, people began walking, mostly tentatively and in long lines at first, as drones whizzed overhead. 

The volunteers, marked by their black hats, moved with a vigor that existed somewhere between contagious and uncomfortable. We were encouraged to open and close our umbrellas, and to twirl them; they told us it would look cool in the pictures afterward, although you wouldn’t know what those looked like unless you were familiar with Turk’s previous installment of Look Up, which took place at the Mt. San Antonio Retirement Community in Pomona. 

As the energy picked up, the crowd split into two distinct groups: those who marched dutifully and stuck mainly to the perimeter, and those who really started to move. By the edge of Bowling Green near the Malott Dining Commons, a group of curiously well-choreographed people circled up and began to walk towards and away from each other, creating a sort of pulsating effect. On the outskirts, people watched, smiled and chatted. In high traffic areas, like the stairway, the umbrellas proved to be a logistical challenge, causing a lot of run-ins and “sorry”s and “my bad”s. This was by design, according to Barrett, who told me the umbrellas served the dual purpose of creating kaleidoscopic designs and keeping people distanced from each other. 

Several people dressed in black march while playing the Taiko.
Taiko drummers performed amongst the flash mob performance for eight minutes. (Corina Silverstein • The Student Life)

By 10:15, the taiko drummers were playing once again, signaling the event’s close. Denelis Acosta, PO ’23, an edge-dweller on account of her dog, Javier, who was afraid of the umbrellas and drums, said it was the perfect way to start her weekend.

“It was nice. It was like you were in a big community thing, even if you didn’t know anyone here,” she said.

As people left, umbrellas in hand, I couldn’t help but search for some greater meaning as to why we all had decided to show up to the Bowling Green that morning. The event was so curt that it felt sort of arbitrary that we had all ended up there. But maybe that was the point. 

Some, like Acosta, went for a love of art. Some people went for a pretty umbrella, a pretty mask. Some, like Andrea Moore, a grant specialist at Scripps, went to feel more a part of the community. Some of us were there because we had to be.

In the end, there was no wrong way to be there. All that mattered was that you were there, being yourself, one umbrella in a brightly-colored sea of them.

“There’s this idea that somebody’s innate curiosity and innate attention to detail will make sure that they are consistently entertained in any space that they’re in or with any person that they talk to,” Barrett said. “And I think that is very much like the intellectual curiosity of the 5Cs…and that’s why I genuinely don’t think it in any way negates the final product or negates the experience, if [someone does] come for the free umbrella, because I told people: ‘if they come for the umbrella, they stay for the fun.” 

The Vimeo link to the event can be found here.

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