An American student studying abroad in Germany captured the world’s attention yesterday by achieving the remarkable feat of getting himself stuck in a giant vagina sculpture and needing 22 firefighters to rescue him. But Fernando de la Jara, the artist behind the now-infamous work, took it all in stride. “When I first read the news,” he told Intelligencer from his home in Arequipa, Peru, “I also smiled. The manner in which he got stuck …”
De la Jara created “Chacán-Pi” knowing that Tübingen University in Germany had commissioned it specifically for the space in front of three of the institute’s science buildings, including microbiology, virology, and anatomy. “I wanted the work to have real-life character,” de la Jara said.
The sculpture’s name, Chacán, comes from a Quechuan word that symbolizes water running through a mountain. It’s also a term for making love. Pi represents infinity, as signified by the Greek symbol (as in 3.14) and infinity. It also looks like a door, and not incidentally, the female anatomy.
The artist originally designed the sculpture with a small pool of water at its base, but the university didn’t want to spend the money to maintain it. (Things, in other words, could have been a bit messier for that poor dude.) De la Jara was working to create a sculpture even a blind person could appreciate by using different textures and appealing to the tactile senses. “It’s not only visual,” he said. “It’s not only with the eyes.”
Basically, de la Jara intended for people to check out the sculpture up close. “The principal part of the work isn’t outside.”
So the American bro might not have been totally off-base, a small consolation for the sheer scale of his embarrassment. “It’s participatory art,” de la Jara said. “It should be entered.” It’s just that, since the sculpture was installed in 2001, no one’s actually gotten stuck. “I believe [he got caught] because he had a lack of coordination” de la Jara said. “Or maybe it was a lack of sensibility.”
“It might also be a little bit the fault of the work,” he added. De la Jara quipped that it was almost as if the sculpture had taken revenge on the kid. “Instead of jumping in, if he had gone in carefully, he wouldn’t have had a problem.”