SEAS Professor Creates "Straw Man" Exhibit in Harvard Yard

When students pass through Harvard Yard on their morning commutes this week, they’ll see a new visitor sitting next to the John Harvard statue: a man in a suit, his legs crossed and his body composed of colorful plastic straws. In his hands, he holds a sign reading: “Create the Future You Want.”

This installation, titled “Straw Man,” is the brainchild of David A. Edwards, a professor of idea translation in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and his teaching fellow Alen Agaronov, a doctoral student in the School of Public Health.

Edwards said he found “Straw Man” moving because of his "ambiguity.”

Nonetheless, the installation has at least one clear purpose: to encourage viewers to reflect on how they pay attention to information, Edwards said.

Unnamed photo
SEAS Professor David A. Edwards.
“Particularly today, in the rush of information and decisions that we face each day and kind of the mindless flow of contemporary life, it is easy to become a straw man. And a challenge we have… is to pay attention to our moment and to actually exist in that moment,” he said.


“Straw Man” also doubles as an advertisement for Edwards’s course, “Engineering Sciences 20: How to Create Things & Have Them Matter.” Edwards and Agaronov first designed “Strawman” while they were planning for the semester in December.

“We began to imagine an installation on campus. Initially, I had an idea of an installation of plastic straws and then Alen had this idea of actually making ‘Straw Man,’” he said.

One of the themes of the course is the ocean and sustainability. Plastic straws represent an increasing percentage of the eight million tons of plastic that are dumped into oceans each year. The construction of “Straw Man,” Edwards said, relates to the course through the theme of ocean pollution.

“I’m intrigued by this notion of a straw man that kind of doesn’t go away. It’s made of plastic straws; as you know, they resist recycling in many instances, just a massive problem in the ocean. The creation of straw man, this plastic refuse, is really provocative for me,” he said.

Edwards said the theme of environmental sustainability is a lead-in to the larger issue of “things that last for a long time.” He added “Straw Man” has broader implications in the context of President Donald Trump’s environmental policy.

“I think that mindlessness in governance, mindlessness from the government of the United States to our own lives is something we all really need to battle against. And today, particularly, the consequences are just enormous,” he said.

“Straw Man” has already had a brush with authority. Edwards and Agaronov first set up the installation on Friday night only to discover hours later it had been removed by Yard Operations. Edwards said on Saturday they plan to set “Straw Man” up again on Monday.

—Staff writer Luke W. Xu can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @duke_of_luke_