The Reception of Lorna's Head -


Projecting meaning into an empty receptacle


Jordan Singer


Carleton University





When the strike began I knew that I would have to become actively involved.

Over the last 5 years I have been on strike three times. The first time as a

social worker, the second as a teacher and now as both a T.A. and a G.A. at

York University. I joined what became know as the CUPE Art Collective or what

I liked to call The Guerrilla Art Collective.


Over the course of the strike we were involved in many endeavors from making

signs, to performing plays, all of which were aimed at increasing public and

CUPE member awareness regarding some of the deeper issues and political

machinations behind our struggle for Tuition Indexation and a fair first

contract for the oft maligned unit three Graduate and Research Assistants.. I

will leave the in depth analysis to others and I will focus here on the

personal testimony I have to offer as a member of this artistic collective.


One particular piece of art that transcended both the duration of the strike

and its foreseeable function during the strike was the infamous paper-mache

head of Lorna Marsden. This was no ordinary head to be sure. It was

unflattering in a manner that could only be achieved by a large scale

caricature. The head was contentious: for some as it was perceived of as a

potential 'object' which could contribute to psychological and

social-political reductionism, effectively reducing the complexity of the

issues behind the strike to a simplistic exercise of demonization, while for

others more specifically, the significance of the head did not focus

attention on the Board of Governors where it belonged. Lorna, many of us were

aware, was not the soul purveyor of the strike maelstrom, although she did

have the power to end it. Also, initially I too was concerned that the

projection of hostility toward an identifiable human art object might be a

simplistic and regressive use of aggressive impulses. I wondered whether the

the head would contribute to a dissipation of the limited physical and

psychological energy available from our members and other supporters both

inside and outside the York community. Should not this essential vital energy

be directed toward the academic and political issues of the strike and not

focused on a base and petty, scape-goating exercise? After some thought about

the use of similar art objects in other democratic movements I suspected the

head would become a silent witness, a doppelganger, and even an objective

personification of the 'Board of Governors' behind Lorna Marsden. The head

was a symbol that signified these aspects and carried the significations of

much more.


As I mentioned, I do not want to become too analytic in this short piece. I

am attempting instead to convey an interactive testimonial. This piece was

something I needed to write. The instance within an incident that has sparked

the necessity for me to write this piece was a particular moment in space and

time that has become for me the fulcrum of all of my memories of the strike.

Within this one encounter there lies for me a connection to all of the

rallies, speeches, performances, analysis, meetings and victory celebrations.

The moment occurred when the head and Ms. Marsden were both confined to the

same space as the members of the university senate, CUPE executive, and

student senators as well as members of the Guerrilla Art Collective and

supportive CUPE workers. . I, unbeknownst to myself would be the harbinger of

this surreal circumstance. The head would become a representative of far more

than anyone could have surmised.


It was four weeks into the strike and an important senate meeting was

scheduled. Great care had been taken to transport the head to the meeting.

Several of the members of the Art Collective were caught in traffic and would

be late. The meeting was about to begin. I waited several minutes. Then,

swallowing my latent and theretofore silent wish for anonymity, I decided the

head must be a presence for those in the room. I walked in several minutes

late and was attempting to quietly wedge the one and a half by one meter head

in the back corner of the room between a chair and the wall. My attempt to be

quiet was betrayed by the ominous presence of the head. Senators turned their

heads to view the head and recognize it in all of its significance. It was

our representative. It was all the members of the strike who could not

attend. It was all of the students and merchants who were suffering under the

globalized glare of this disembodied opportunist. Some laughed, others who

sat literally and figuratively-political on the right hand side of the room (

Lorna's side of the room) sat seemingly dumbfounded. The CUPE members were

clearly proud of the presence of the head and rejoiced at the doppelganger's

entrance. The head had essentially silenced Lorna's ability to appear as a

genuine person and for her speech to be heard as anything but disembodied.


I finally propped the head into a stable position and turned around. At this

precise moment Lorna rose to speak. She could not possibly have made any

sense so close to the presence of her doppelganger, her nemesis, the cranium

reflecting a silent verisimilitude of her TRUE agenda. Her eyes met mine

after they had glanced at the head. The eyes were cold, distant, dismissive

as though she recognized something but was unsure what it was. I wonder if

this recognition was something catalyzed by the head. I suspect it was the

processing of my image to catalogue and add to her ever-expanding list of

PEONS to wreak vengeance upon.