Art student asks peers to write messages on her

In three hours, Kate Johnson was covered in markings.

Phrases such as "I hate the way you look at me but won't do anything about it," "You need to grow up" and "Being gay is overrated" were written all over her body. They were messages a person might not have the courage to say to someone's face.

"It's what you want to say to someone, but can't or never have," said Johnson, a senior art major.

From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday, she stood in a nude-colored bra and underwear near the second-floor bathrooms in the Art and Journalism Building, inviting students to write with Sharpies on her arms, legs and any available space besides her face.

This was part of her class project in Directions in Photography. Her main objectives was to show progression and solicit participation from students.

Three weeks ago, she started collecting messages submitted in a box at the bottom of the main staircase in the Atrium.

She printed the messages and stapled them on the wall near the bathrooms on the second floor. After being told she was defacing school property, she came up with an alternative idea.

"I'm bringing it out to the surface," she said. "If I can't put it up somewhere, the only place I personally have is my body."

Kevin Kenyon, vice president of Facilities Planning and Management, told Johnson to take down the messages once the incident was brought to his attention.

"I usually try to accommodate [students]," Kenyon said, "but I don't want students taking over every space in the buildings or the sidewalks."

Johnson said she offered to fill in the holes or repaint the wall as soon as she was done with the project, but Kenyon told her he was just wanted her to take the note cards off the wall.

Students who want to post anything on university property, besides the bulletin boards, should fill out a space requisition form, an interactive PDF that can be found on the Ball State website, Kenyon said.

For Johnson, the reprimand didn't phase her. She just came up with a new medium.

With plenty of Sharpies, she invited students to write phrases on her body. To help with her project, Johnson had her mother, her boyfriend and other friends help.

Her boyfriend, Andrew Yundt, said he was impressed with the response from students, who started forming a steady line around 11:45 a.m.

"I thought it was kind of extreme," he said. "I wouldn't even stand out there wearing half my clothes."

Johnson's mother, Betty, said she didn't know what to expect. She works at a women's boutique in West Lafayette but took the day off to support her daughter.

"I was kind of shocked at first," Betty Johnson said. "But I'm happily surprised [with the turnout]."

Students who participated said they were impressed with Johnson's confidence and the idea behind the project.

"I think it's really interesting that she's putting herself out there," freshman Taylor Jessup said. "She's letting people express themselves through her."

Betty Johnson documented the event on videotape. Kate Johnson said an important element of the project is showing progression.

In a few weeks, Kate Johnson will put posters up around campus, and she'll document participation over time by how much is written.

Kate Johnson said she was nervous at first about asking people to write on her body but realized that getting people to take part was more important than her initial anxiety.

"It doesn't exist unless people participate in it," she said.


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