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Open Enrollment | A Final Report

Summer has finally come, as defined by my farmer’s tan. Graduate school has officially ended, as defined by my sudden rise in free time which allows me to get a farmer’s tan. And with that, I have to officially announce that this is my final post for Open Enrollment.

'Broken Red Mirror' by Daniel Rozin (2000,2003). Image courtesy the artist.

I can still remember how it felt when I first started writing for Art21 Blog. I turned to my advisor, Marina Zurkow, for advice on how to shape my blogger voice — should I be frank and tell the honest truth about what it feels like to drop the cost of a two-story house for an art school diploma? Will I self-censor my frustrations and give a third-party account of graduate school or will I get real close and personal? Should I hide the fact that I cursed like a sailor every day in my final semester of graduate school? I definitely chose to follow that last one, not because I enjoy biting my tongue whenever the academic world fudgesicles me over, but because I wanted to keep a certain little lady happy: Red Burns, the subject of my first real Open Enrollment post. And, to end this chapter, the subject of my final.

Red Burns founded NYU ITP in 1979 and she won’t be taking a break from teaching until next year, her first sabbatical in over thirty years. Her desk is overflowing with papers, weighed down by the innumerable awards and achievements she has collected over the years as paperweights. She is about three times my age, a head shorter than my five-four frame, keeps her curls meticulously the color of her namesake, and she also scares the living shinplaster out of me. In my debut Open Enrollment post, I wrote about my first meeting with her. I begged her to accept me into the program (I was waitlisted). She told me to go deflower myself. But the next day, I found out she let me in. I still credit her change of heart to the simple fact that we like the same books.

She remembered this the last time I saw her, while I was accompanying her at the Vimeo Awards and Festival. My number one duty was to keep Red Burns happy. I sat next her, front and center, as we listened to the brilliant shenanigans of Reggie Watts. Red Burns turned toward the woman on the other side of her. “Is he supposed to be funny?” she asked to nervous laughter. When the next speaker went on stage, she turned to me. “I liked the other guy better.”

Red needed a break. “Ever since I broke my hip, I can’t sit for very long,” she explained. So we took a walk around. There were several impressive and expensive cameras lined up that are considered equivalent in technological achievement as the Sony Portapak was back in Red Burns’s heyday. But she looked right past them. “I’m more interested in the food trucks.” She pointed to a line of them outside the building.

Red Burns wielding the Sony Portapak.

She then noticed my book and I explained I was re-reading Italo Calvino’s “Baron in The Trees” (this time in English so I can actually understand the darn thing). “That one is my favorite of his,” she said. And I can see why. Calvino’s novel is about Cosimo, a young noble who climbs up a tree and refuses to come down again when he was forced to eat a dinner of snails. His brother Biagio, the narrator, spends his life waiting for Cosimo to descend.

It is quite obvious who Red Burns admires, the stubborn and independent Cosimo. Quite frankly I think I’m more like Biagio, a practical chicken who stands witness to the world. I could be complacent to spend my life letting others soar past above me while I stare up, describing them until my eyesight fails.

But Red won’t have it — no, not one of her students. She flagged down one of the corporate head honchos running the show. “Introduce yourself,” she told me. And with a proud smile, I explained I was going to be one of NYU ITP’s 2012-2013 resident research fellows. Yes that’s right, I thought to myself. I’m actually going to be part of the ITP staff. And maybe some day they’ll let me teach. And maybe one day I’ll find my own university to annex and I’ll start my own crazy arts technology program. By the time I finished daydreaming, I realized Red Burns did it again. Like a true mentor, she lured me up to an idealized world and, dag nabbit, she won’t let me climb back down.

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