In the past five years, Brown has spent $700 million dollars on construction projects through President Simmons' "Building Brown" initiative. During the same period, the administration has consistently preached about how it needs to tighten its budget because of "tough financial times" and adjust to "the current economy", usually in the interest of saving relatively tiny amounts of money by cutting wages and benefits to its service employees. This mirrors austerity measures and proposals throughout the US and Europe, in which pennies are pinched from social programs while pounds are still tossed happily at behemoths like defense.
I wanted to expose just how much Brown was spending on some of its most expensive projects to the Brown community. So for my project, I made price tags for six new or newly renovated buildings (Granoff, Metcalf, Faunce, the Joukowsky Institute, the Alpert Med School, and the new Aquatics and Fitness center) and put them on the buildings. These buildings are the six projects on the Building Brown site that have been completed.
I modeled these price tags after ones found in the Brown bookstore, with a good approximation to their font and a layout that is a composite of these three clothing, book, and board game price tags:
As in the book and board game tags, the price is featured prominently in the middle in inverted color. And as is standard for all products in America, I priced the buildings at a few cents lower than their round-number costs, obtaining absurd prices like $39,999,999.95. Both price tags also feature various reference numbers that fill up the space and presumably refer to some aspects of the products. In combining the three, I decided on a pattern of 30 reference digits (the 90000 was the same on every book, so I left it as such). Coincidentally, there are also 30 decimal digits in the ASCII string "Kevin Casto", so I decided to encode my name as a very obscure numeric signature on the posters. In particular, the bar code is a genuine UPC-E code for the number 071151161119, representing the "asto".
Less obscurely, the book price tag has a smaller, square UPC code to the right of the more common rectangular one; I decided to replace this with a QR code that gives a citation for the price listed, linking to different brown.edu pages that state the cost for each building. The pages linked to are the following (if you have a QR code-scanning app on your phone, try scanning one of the codes off your computer screen - it should work!):
To me, the project had a number of aims. The primary one, of course, is simply to inform people of the egregious amounts of money that Brown spends on its buildings. This type of public informing, with a kind of sousveillance or public-watchdog flavor, serves to challenge the traditional top-down pathways of information flow. Furthermore, the project also serves as a critique of the corporatization and commercialization of the university, with its sparkling facilities as products it is selling to its customer-students. Finally, the project highlights the kind of absurd, alienating, bureaucratic logic of price tags (and modernity in general), with obscure and seemingly meaningless numbers and symbols sprinkled throughout and the product names shortened into spurts of computer-speak. I definitely had fun crafting names like "ARTEMIS AW&MARTHA SHARP / JOUKOWSKY INSTITE FOR / ARCHOLOGY&ANCNT WRLD".