The Brothers Mannequin
In the first week of May 2019, two individuals were arrested, kidnapped, and dismembered before being dropped in a dumpster. They were loved. They were my children. They were my mannequins. And I dismembered them.
The story was simple until it wasn’t. For my final art project, I would install a sculpture somewhere on campus, and it would change five times over five days. That was the twist. I wanted to capitalize on the idea of a changing sculpture and tell a story over five days. Each and every change to the sculpture would move the story forward. The actors were to be mannequins. Griffin, the first-born, was to spend his life on a bench reading the newspaper, having a cup of coffee, and watching the world go by. On the sixth day, Kemp, his brother, would join him. Before the end, Griffin and Kemp—the Brothers Mannequin—would be together.
Before their lives played out on a bench, however, the Brothers Mannequin needed to exist. In the undercroft of the arts building, deep in the workshop, I began my work. My goal was to produce two life-sized mannequins. They needed to be light enough to carry, and they needed to hold a pose. The framework of their bodies—their hollow bones—were PVC pipes. I found designs for ball and socket joints online. Their joints—located at the shoulders, knees, and elbows—would be composed of PVC pipe couplings, nuts, bolts, washers, and golf balls. The process went like this. I drilled a hole in a golf ball wide enough to accommodate a bolt. The drill worked hard to penetrate the outer shell. Once through, however, it continued to chew its way through layers of rubber and plastic until finally breaking through. After tunneling through the ball, I fastened the bolt in place with a nut and washer.
I then brought out my heat gun. I warmed up a PVC coupling, turning it malleable, and then jammed the golf ball inside. The sides of the coupling warped around the ball, and I dunked it in a bucket of cold water. This froze the coupling, locking the ball in place. I took it out of the water and held in my hand a posable joint. I did this sixteen times, eight joints per mannequin.
In 1933, Claude Rains starred in The Invisible Man. Based on the novel by H.G. Wells, Rains existed in the movie almost entirely as a disembodied voice. Except for a brief cameo at the end, Rains was never seen. He was wrapped beneath layers of white bandages, looking out through dark spectacles. It was love at first fright. As a monster, the Invisible Man is unsettling and unknowable. If my mannequins were to succeed as a project, they needed to scare people. Not too much, but enough to make someone walk a little faster when passing them. The image of Rains’ Invisible Man was perfect. I couldn’t imagine my mannequins looking any other way.
I found shirts, pants, shoes, socks, belts, neckties, and trench coats all at my local Goodwill. I wrapped styrofoam heads in gauze bandages. In order to replicate that void-like stare, I found two pairs of round welding goggles. I soon had my first mannequin, whom I named after the real identity of the Invisible Man—Griffin.
On Wednesday, I sat Griffin down on a bench along Middle Path. He sat across from a lamppost. His hands rested in his lap. I left him to return to my dorm, excited for the next five days. I ran through the coming week in my head—Griffin would get a newspaper, drink coffee, and be reunited with his brother-to-be-built. Before bed, I returned to the bench to wish Griffin good night.
He was gone.
In less than an hour, my mannequin vanished. My mannequin—my project—was who knows where with who knows who. I snooped around the bench, hoping to find a clue. Griffin’s joints held his limbs together, but they were far from perfect. He might have lost an arm or a leg. But I found nothing. I looked down Middle Path, and saw the campus security kart. Two officers were taking down an art project. They had not been notified of the art classes installing their work on campus. I spoke to one of the officers, and learned that Griffin had been taken back to the precinct. I found Griffin sitting in the lobby of the campus security office. I spoke to the clerk on duty, and signed him out. I felt like a father picking up his son from a DUI. I carried Griffin back to his bench, reattached a few of his limbs, and left him with coffee and an umbrella. The forecast predicted rain.
On Thursday, I found Griffin still on the bench. He survived the night, but he was different. Griffin now sported a plastic mustache. There was also a nacho cheese Dorito chip taped to his face. Instead of a coffee cup, he held a beer can. Under Ohio law, any minor caught with alcohol can be fined a thousand dollars and sentenced to six months in the slammer. Since Griffin was only a few days old, I tossed the beer can and gave him a fresh coffee cup.
On Friday, Griffin held a red frisbee and had a cigar stuck between his fingers. This made sense. This was the last weekend before finals. Just about everyone would be out and about partying in blissful ignorance of their impending doom, i.e final exams. Would Griffin survive the night?
He was gone the next morning. His cigar was now on the ground. The red frisbee was far from the bench, next to some ominous graffiti. I spoke to campus security, but they had not seen nor heard anything. I made a missing person poster, and taped it to the bench. I left a bouquet of flowers on the seat, tied together with a strip of gauze bandage. I wore black and spent the rest of my life in mourning.
Around the time of Griffin’s disappearance, I finished my other mannequin. Kemp sat on the same bench that his brother left without a trace. In his hand, I placed the bouquet of flowers. Around his PVC-pipe spine, I wrapped a bike lock and chained it to the bench. Better safe than sorry.
I soon got a tip about Griffin. A friend heard from another friend—who heard from their friend—that Griffin was kidnapped by a frat boy. I got in contact with the fraternity’s leadership, and got a quick response. Griffin was found. He was in one of their dorms. I was told that the fraternity brother was sorry, and would return Griffin to the bench that night. He did. I found Griffin—what was left of him—on the bench the next day. His neck was ripped off, and his limbs were mangled. His necktie, strangely, was a completely different necktie than the one I gave him. The pattern had little golfers ready to swing. It was tied in a perfect knot, too.
Thanks to the magic of industrial gorilla duct tape, I patched Griffin up and plopped him beside Kemp. Their arms were over each other's shoulders—brothers, reunited. I printed out all the photos that I had collected over the past few days, and taped them to the bench. A week of loss had ended with a family brought together.
Then I dismembered them. On the last day of the installation, my friend and I carried Griffin and Kemp down Middle Path. We looked as if we were bringing home wounded soldiers from the war. On a large stretch of grass, I took them apart—piece by piece—and tossed them in a dumpster. A few friends took some of the clothes. I kept one of the joints. There were no witnesses.