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Suspicious Package Blown Up by Bomb Squad During Art Festival Revealed to be Piece of Art

The artist responsible for the package, Russell Jaffe, was cooperative with the investigation.

A photo of the suspicious package. (via Iowa City Police)
A photo of the suspicious package. (via Iowa City Police)
Has explosion replaced imitation as the highest form of flattery?

The suspicious package that was detonated by an Iowa City Police controlled robot water cannon on Sunday (Iowa City Police Detonate Suspicious Package at Art Festival) has turned out to be a piece of art by local poet and artist Russell Jaffe.

Jaffes uses found objects, especially electronics, to make sculptures. One of his pieces was purchased at the art show, then left in an empty newspaper vending machine. Private security officers saw the piece, called authorities and that led to the destruction of the art by the bomb squad.

Here is a little bit more about Jaffe from an article accompanying a recent interview he gave to the Lit Show Podcast.

Jaffe is also the founder and editor of Strange Cage, the small press and long-running poetry series that returns to Iowa City on April 15. His poems appear all over the Internet and are forthcoming in [PANK] and H_NGM_N. He has exhibited found sculptures made from discarded video game systems. [Editor's Note: Emphasis mine] 

Release From the Iowa City Police on the Incident

Investigation into this incident determined that the suspicious package was an electronic art piece composed by Russell Jaffe, a local artist and poet. Jaffe was helpful with Investigators and able to recall that this specific electronic art piece was purchased at a venue in January 2013 by a local resident who has been identified by investigators. 

The resident placed the electronic art piece into an inoperable and abandoned newspaper vending machine. This machine was being used to pass items from person to person in a "take something, leave something" manner. The resident,who asked not to be identified, was cooperative with investigators and confirmed during an interview that the item was placed into the vending machine with no malicious intent. 

The item was first observed by private security personnel working at the Summer of the Arts Festival. Concerned about the item they notified the Iowa City Police Department who in turn contacted the Johnson County Metro Bomb Team.

The Johnson County Metro Bomb Team followed protocol in its examination, evaluation, and handling of the unknown electronic suspicious package.

Here's an explanation of the event from Jaffe's Facebook page:

ANNOUCEMENT Nø. 1: There was a bomb scare in Iowa City over the weekend, and I was indirectly responsible. You see, in January I did an art show of mixed media sculptures, HELL-Ø-SCAPES, comprised of painted-on and smashed-up electronics. The walls of local gallery PSz, were painted black and covered in scrawls of abstract pop-culture/boyesque/jaunty confessional poetry. I auctioned off all the artwork for cheap at the end of the closing reception. One woman, an exceedingly nice local kooky lady, bought a small portable TV for $2 and insisted that I write some of the wall poetry in her notebook. Within the 2 pages I gave her were poems like, “IT IS YØU MAKING A HUGE MISTAKE,” “YØLØ,” and “XØXØ, I REALLY MISS YØU/NØ ARCHITECTURE.” Flash forward 6 months and this Iowa City art-loving lady left my artwork and poems in the STRANGE TRACTOR newspaper stand on the corner of Washington and Dubuque during Arts Fest. Apparently people use that box as a kind of off-grid arts freeshare; you leave something and take whatever has been left in kind. Well, someone saw a gold-spraypaint-and-painted-blood-stained antenna poking out of the box and called the police, who called the bomb squad. O brothers, sisters, lovers, friends!; it was super fun to be driving home from my tour (I was out of town for all of this) and have my landlord call me to tell me the cops were looking for me. But not only were the cops super cool, they have gotten a huge kick out of this story. It’s a big hit at the station. One of them told me it’s “a [Expletive] awesome story, totally hilarious, I wish I was writing for the college paper so I could cover it” today on the phone. I am glad no one was killed, and having my art and poetry eviscerated by a bomb-destroying robot is the thing I realized I never knew I always wanted.

bo lewis June 12, 2013 at 10:16 PM
Instead of spending millions on a bomb truck, robots, silly ninja outfits for their seal team 6 pretenders-- just give me a couple hundred and I will go open the stupid package.
Walter Lippmann June 13, 2013 at 04:52 AM
I KNEW IT!!! Totally said that it was probably some person's art right after I first read about it.
Jon Trouten June 13, 2013 at 09:09 AM
It doesn't even look like it was a closed package. It looks like the sculpture and poem were placed in a coolwhip container with a letter of explanation.
Maria Houser Conzemius June 13, 2013 at 11:42 AM
Well, I'm glad I attended the poetry reading by Russell Jaffe, Adam Edelman, and other poets at the Englert in downtown Iowa City last Thursday night (6/6/13). If the police/fire turn their fire hoses on poets next, at least I will have enjoyed their poetry reading first.
shona.roeder June 13, 2013 at 01:40 PM
Bo Lewis, Are you saying the next time there is a suspicious looking package in a suspicious appearing spot in the middle of an event with thousands of people present, you're volunteering to go poke it with a stick?

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