I love “Torn Notebook,” the sculpture by Claes Oldenberg and Coosje van Bruggen on the UNL campus beside the Temple Building. Many writing marathon groups have stopped here over the years, but I had never before done much research
on this piece before now. This sculpture is one of many famous ones by this husband-and-wife team, including “Clothespin” in Philadelphia, “Shuttlecocks” at the Kansas City Art Museum, and “Flashlight” at the University of Las Vegas. You can see lots of their other, large-scale public sculptures on their webpage, here.
According to the artists’ statement, “The Torn Notebook, as executed, appears as if it had been tossed onto the lawn that runs along the border between the campus and the city. Barely touching the ground, the sculpture seems to rise like a huge bird spreading its wings. The ‘pages,’ formed out of rolled aluminum, look ‘torn’ roughly in half. Selections from our earlier notations are water-cut through the metal, creating a continuously changing interplay of light and shadow. Coosje’s script is on the top half of the ‘pages’ and Claes’ on the bottom, in reverse relation to each other, so that one set of script will always be read backward. Loose ‘page’ fragments are strewn over the lawn, as if blown by the wind.”
Apparently, the words written on the notebook and its pages are based on the notes that the artists took as they drove from Kansas City to Lincoln one day. One of the pages says “barbed wire L-bow” and forms the basis of my writing for this stop on the writing marathon:
The Sour Patch Kids watched in awe as I downed my shot of wheatgrass juice from the Juice Stop. It’s one of my Stupid English Teacher Tricks. My other is less impressive, and I don’t even know if I can still do it. I used to be able to recite the prologue to The Canterbury Tales in Middle English. Yes, just call me Super Nerd.
We’re here on Torn Notebook plaza, watching the 12th Street traffic, motorized and pedestrian. There is a great joy in folks’ strides today as they walk in the warm sun with their jackets over their arms. This fragment of Torn Notebook nearest me says, “barbed wire L-bow.” I know I’ve pondered its meaning before. Today it seems whimsical, though on some days past it has seemed menacing.
Now that I’ve seen the story behind this sculpture, of Claes and Coosje taking notes on the landscape as they drove across the prairie, I’ll always think about this piece as a symbol of research merged with art. They said, “Only when we were back in the studio in New York did we realize that a sculpture about the process of collecting observations could be the perfect subject for a university site.” I have to agree; it works very well in that space– a perfect place for writers and a natural stop for any writing marathon–though the four-story light-up flash light at LVU would have been cool, too.