On the afternoon of March 7, Sparty, MSU’s most iconic statue stood at the intersection of Red Cedar and Kalamazoo, just like any other day. Only on this day, the statue was being slathered in a golden coat of olive oil.
In a work of conceptual performance art by graduate student Jefferson Kielwagen, Sparty was anointed with olive oil in an artistic appropriation of the ancient practice.
Hailing from Brazil, Kielwagen is pursuing a master’s degree in fine arts from MSU. He said as he anointed the statue, commuters honked and pedestrians stared.
“I call myself a conceptual artist,” Kielwagen said. “Sculpture and performance, they usually go well together. By anointing an ordinary object, I make it extraordinary. I make it holy. It becomes my art piece.”
Katie Diller, campus minister at St. John Church and Student Center, noted the significance anointment can have in religious contexts, particularly Catholicism.
“Anointing really can mean two things,” Diller said. “One is signifying a person as a leader or king. The second thing is as a mechanism of healing. In the Christian tradition, we wouldn’t use our blessed or consecrated oils for an object or something related to sport.”
Kielwagen is quick to point out that MSU’s men’s basketball team went on to defeat the Wisconsin Badgers later that evening, snapping a three-game losing streak.
“I waited until the next day to see the outcome of the game before I published the video,” he said, referring to a YouTube video documenting the anointment. “If the Spartans won, I could claim that it was due to my blessing.”
Kielwagen began anointing objects last month, beginning with a street lamp outside of the Kresge Art Center.
“I learned that (anointment) was a very ancient practice, very widespread, in contexts that are not religious at all. There are also cosmetic, medical, sexual and religious (contexts),” Kielwagen said. “The meaning of this simple act changes dramatically from context to context.”
Kielwagen didn’t ask permission to perform his conceptual piece because he felt it wouldn’t have been given. Even so, he believes his acts are the opposite of vandalism, because of the protective qualities olive oil can have on bronze.
However, Karen Zelt, communication manager for Infrastructure Planning and Facilities, formerly known as the Physical Plant, said the department prefers students work with them when interacting with Sparty in the future in order to prevent undue harm to the statue.