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'Lobster boy' prepares to move to new site

Thursday, May 09, 2002

By Bill Schackner, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

He got praise and ridicule worldwide on the Internet. His unusual senior project, in which he dressed as a lobster and built a house beside a campus building, led Carnegie Mellon University to tighten its scrutiny of large outdoor art.

The student known as "Lobsterman" appeared without his costume -- and still without speaking -- as part of a symposium to demonstrate the value of undergraduate reserch at Carnegie Mellon University. William E. Kofmehl, Jr, addressed attendees at "Meeting of the Minds" about his son's project in a presentation entitled "Nexus (Silent Mouth)." William Kofmehl III, a senior art major, listened to his father in silence. (Bill Wade, Post-Gazette)

So, what's William Kofmehl III up to now?

It turns out the undergraduate dubbed "Lobster boy" is about to move.

Kofmehl, 21, a senior arts major and performance artist, said he's been told by the university he must dismantle by May 24 what remains of the three-story house he built from scrap wood next to Doherty Hall, a classroom building.

He and the school have not yet come to an agreement on a new campus location, though Kofmehl said yesterday he's hoping to continue his project in a smaller structure.

"I think it's of the utmost importance that I do get a site," he said.

Kofmehl's grant proposal said that by forming "a new persona," he would explore speech and communication behavior. He planned to use the house during the upcoming school year, but as publicity about the project grew and fire safety questions were raised, school officials stepped in.

Yesterday, following a presentation about the project in the University Center, Kofmehl said he is still planning a film about his work and understands why some students on campus were puzzled.

"I don't hold any resentment toward them," he said.

The project placed Carnegie Mellon in the delicate position of defending Kofmehl's artistic and academic freedom while protecting itself against liability.

A project description distributed yesterday introduced Kofmehl's working by saying: "Art may imitate life. Art may explore life. Art may challenge life. Life may imitate art. Life may explore art. Life may challenge art.

"Sometimes all the above. Rarely, all the above, all at once."

Yesterday's presentation included video clips of Kofmehl scampering about the house in his lobster outfit as well as television coverage of the project and an appearance by his father, William Kofmehl Jr., who defended his son against the criticism and said he's proud of him.

Kenneth Meyer, who runs a machine shop at the school and gave lectures at Kofmehl's house, read emails blasting and defending the project from as far away as New Zealand.

"That concludes the presentation today," Meyer said. "If you have any questions ... Good."

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