“I’ll meet you at the Yoko,” one SLC student calls to another across the Pub. The other knows exactly where to go: to the multi-tiered structure of wooden platforms, two sets of slim steel stairs, and a boulder that sits on Westlands lawn between the Pub and the Performing Arts Center.
Practically all SLC students also know this structure by the appellation “Yoko Ono,” or “Yoko” for short, but what many may not know is the sculpture’s original name, “Rock Pine Station.”
The piece is an art installation—the only piece left from a 1985 art exhibition on campus called "Builtworks/Installations," curated by then visual arts faculty member and artist, Marcia Hafif. The exhibition showcased five artists whose works were to involve some aspect of construction, one of these artists being George Trakas, a self-described environmental sculptor and the artist of “Rock Pine Station.”
Trakas, like the other four artists, had been an established artist in the New York area for at least a decade when Hafif invited him to participate in the exhibition. His previous works had mostly been site-specific installations as well, and such projects, for him, generally involve meticulous study of an area from the outset. In preparation for his SLC installation, Trakas reportedly spent time walking through the entirety of the campus.
According to the exhibition catalogue, Trakas specifically studied the trees on the east end of campus, the “place where the sun falls on a grass mound to the west of Bates,” and the area of land between the fence and the sidewalk on Kimball Avenue before finally finding the boulder on Westlands lawn where he would eventually build his sculpture. He reportedly intended for his piece to bring “paths, stone, pine, and passersby together.”
Though the sculpture is certainly an art piece, there was never an accompanying museum-esque “Please do not touch the artwork” sign. Rather, according to the exhibition catalogue, Trakas created the piece with the intent in mind to “engage the viewer physically and psychologically.”
In his interview with Hafif for the exhibition catalogue, Trakas said, “If you see stairs, the first thing that you’re going to think is I can walk up those stairs. If the stairs are really narrow and they’re a little beyond the base of a tree, you realize that you would be able to use the tree as a support. There’s a whole process of identity there.”
Though Trakas was referencing another one of his installations, he used a similar psychology to design Rock Pine Station to induce a temptation for interaction from the viewer. As students to this day eat, work, and talk while sitting atop the structure, it seems Trakas' psychological aim for his piece indeed holds.
As for the name of the sculpture, “the Yoko Ono,” this wouldn’t be its first nickname designated to “Rock Pine Station.” SLC students apparently have a habit of renaming the sculpture, as within a year after the exhibition it was nicknamed “Restless Desolation” according to the winter 1986 edition of Sarah Lawrence College Magazine. In the 1990s it was nicknamed, “the Structure” according to a 1997 letter from the Student Senate.
It is not clear when the sculpture was nicknamed “the Yoko Ono,” nor is it clear why. SLC admissions staff member Pauline Stanfiel, MA ‘17, said there are quite a few rumors as to the origin of this nickname. Though Yoko Ono did study at the college, she attended in 1953, long before the sculpture’s construction, which demystifies the rumor that she played some part in its assembly during her attendance.
Stanfiel said, “The rumor that I heard was that she did a photoshoot on it, as in she stood on it and someone took pictures.” Though these rumors for the sculpture’s fairly recent nickname are merely speculative, we do have legitimate, though somewhat forgotten, information on the origins of the structure and creator itself.
Regardless of students’ knowledge of the sculpture’s given name, “Rock Pine Station,” or its artist, George Trakas, SLC admissions counselor Elizabeth Benedict said she thinks students still appreciate the piece and what it stands for at the college: “I think it’s a really cool embodiment of how Sarah Lawrence values the arts.”
Victoria Mycue ‘20