Image: Flickr/Amanda Slater

Thinking about the Koan

The Koan is a University of Warwick icon around campus, with the campus itself being described by alumni as the “Kingdom of the Koan” in a prior Boar article. A recent article published in the Boar wrongfully criticised the need for and meaning of the Koan. Although I am not a regular reader of the Boar, this article has failed to capture the true essence of the Koan and public opinion does not reflect that suggested within the article. Providing a rare moment of tranquillity on trips to and from the library for long, enduring study sessions, the Koan offers a sense of serenity that you are not alone in your academic struggle. Its position next to the Warwick Arts Centre is in a quieter part of the usually bustling campus and allows you to truly admire the beauty provided by such a simplistic yet complex piece of artwork.

Having a cult-like following highlights the importance of having such a symbol to represent everyone

The duality

Still and silent during the day but spinning and lit up at the night, the Koan has perfectly summed up university life since its implementation in 1971 by Liliane Lijn . Hard work during the day juxtaposed by the parting and nightlife after hours is what university is most known for. Although this was not the original intentions of the piece, artwork lives beyond the imagination of the creator and becomes a beacon for
those living among campus. Once a symbol of togetherness within Warwick, having a cult-like following highlights the importance of having such a symbol to represent everyone. As was said by a fellow flatmate, “Koan movin’, we get movin’” shows the central role that the Koan plays in motivating students campus wide. The current modern and fairly boring university logo doesn’t have this same effect and the Koan is
suitably placed to fill the void. The simple statue provides a further duality for such a vibrant and contemporary uni. This art piece is not redundant as suggested in the original article but still a relevant structure in this current era. In fact, the original Koan was surrounded by grass to have a modern structure emerging out of nature symbolising the higher education provided within universities. Something ‘new’ arising from what is already known. I would propose new renovations for the Koan to bring back these deeper meanings rather than allowing them to be lost, not to mention the environmental benefits that green land would provide for a mostly urbanised area.

An unanswered question?
The Koan is a clever pun on the Buddhist concept of a koan – an unanswerable question. This perfectly embodies the purpose of studying at university: to research and find answers to questions that were previously imagined to be unanswerable. As a biologist, the constant drive to find new information is what allows the subject to move forward and develop the way it has. The symbol of the Koan highlights the pursuit for further development that is embodied within Warwick as a whole. Criticisms of the Koan, such as the one by Jack Stevenson, represent a contentment of being within the box rather than thinking outside of it. This shallow-mindedness is one which suppresses development rather than enhancing it which directly opposes what higher education is all about. This is exactly why the Koan does in fact belong at Warwick.
Any thoughts about removing this history of the university severely undermine the integrity of such a long standing organisation as everything it stands for would be lost to nothing.

In a fight for the death against the FAB, the Koan would win

The FAB problem
The addition of the Faculty of Arts Building (FAB) to campus has been a travesty in all honesty. It is a grotesque obstruction of the natural environment which has irrevocably harmed the view of those living in Whitefields especially, as well as for other accommodations nearby. This modern abomination has obscured the visual beauty of the Koan. Has anyone ever been able to navigate the FAB effectively? Thus my point has been proven – there is no need for it to be there, instead replaced with something far more practical and aesthetically pleasing. Without this obtrusive obstruction, there would be more admiration for the Koan as it would be able to once again become the icon it deserves to be. Its impressiveness has been lost purely due to obstruction rather than becoming outdated as was suggested by Jack Stevenson. Removal of the FAB would not only be a period of bliss for students but allow for the Koan to no longer be overlooked but
rather be admired with the contemporary significance that it deserves. The Koan is more important than the FAB, and in a fight for the death the Koan would win.

Jack Stevenson challenged us to respond to his article, assuming that nobody would. This response itself invalidates his argument that the Koan has become irrelevant. It is still a huge cultural phenomenon within the University of Warwick and concluding that it has succumbed to irrelevance would be a significant loss to such a historical university. The excitement has not been lost on new freshers who have often been
spotted celebrating its turning on in the evening. This article proves that the previous article actually completely misunderstands the current community at this prestigious university.

Comments (3)

  • Jack Stevenson

    Thanks for responding Alex! I really enjoyed reading this, I am glad there is at least one other person who feels as strongly about the Koan as I do! However, ‘Shallow-Mindedness’? I’m not having that! Also – “Any thoughts about removing this history of the university severely undermine the integrity of such a long standing organisation as everything it stands for would be lost to nothing” – The Koan has been removed before you know, and we survived! For a university that was only founded in 1965, I dare say this is a slight overstatement. Nonetheless, thanks for your response, I think it is good to get people talking about these things. Perhaps we can find a nice remote grass field on campus somewhere and plop it down there, as a compromise. 🙂

  • Truly an amazing and insightful article into the significance of an otherwise undermined piece of contemporary art known as the Koan.

  • Phenomenal work! And correct the Koan is a masterpiece! Thank you!

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