ephemeral natures

Curated by Brinda Sarathy (Professor of Environmental Analysis) and Ruti Talmor (Associate Professor of Media Studies)
Artists: Ben Cowan (PZ’18), Augustine Kofie, Tarrah Krajnak (Associate Professor of Art), Lindsay McCord (PZ’16), Taylor Novick Finder (PZ’17), Jessica Rath, Kaile Sauro (PZ’17)

The Memorial Infirmary, an 8000-square foot, 20-bed quarantine facility, was built in 1931 to house students of the Claremont Colleges during the pre-antibiotic era.  In the mid-1970s, the facility was closed due to more restrictive seismic codes for hospitals.  On Friday, May 2, 1975, the Infirmary was firebombed, possibly as part of a string of student arson protests against cuts to Chicano and Black Studies.  Much of the fire smoldered out due to a lack of oxygen.  To prevent remaining flames from spreading, firefighters doused the walls with water.  The building was declared unusable and sealed by the City of Claremont, but a demolition permit was denied on account of the infirmary’s historic character.   

Re-entering the space for the first time in 2015 was an eerie, multi-sensory experience: the buzz of bees in combs built between window panes and plywood, the acrid smell of vermin occupation, the crunch of fecal pellets underfoot, rats scuttling from new intruders, tangles of cobwebs both thick and wispy. Punctuating the darkness, ghostly shafts of light revealed perfect conjunctures of smoke-like-rain, paint-like-bark, and preserved artifacts of copper, steel, porcelain, and glass.  “All history was a palimpsest” (George Orwell, 1984), one layer of time partially erased, overwritten, and bleeding into another.   

ephemeral natures brings the multiple pasts of the Memorial Infirmary into the present Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability.  The works depict nearly a century of human, animal, and natural interventions in this space, as experienced by students, faculty, and artists who visited the site during its renovation.  Together, they render the Conservancy as a transforming and transformative place. 

This exhibition was funded by the Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability and Pitzer College’s Strategic Initiatives Fund.