It was a lesson even the most foolhardy of students should probably have known: Rarely is it a good idea to plant fake bombs in the subway, even if it is for a class, even if it is in the name of Art.
Yet Robert Barrett and Jamie Davis, both 21 and juniors at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, sallied forth anyway, the police said, placing five suspicious packages in the subway two weeks ago for a class project. With that act, they joined the small list of student artists whose yen for public expression involving crafty packages and the New York subways has landed them in police custody.
The police said Barrett, who was arrested on Tuesday, told them that he wanted to highlight what he considered the ineffectiveness of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's "If you see something, say something" campaign, which urges people to report suspicious packages.
With the help of Davis, who was arrested on Thursday, he stuffed a cardboard tube and four bags with copies of the New York Post and comic strips, police said. Each package was also labeled with the program's slogan and phone number, (888) NYC-SAFE.
Davis and Barrett were each charged with five counts of placing false bombs in mass transit areas, a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison. The police said Barrett originated the idea and Davis offered tips on labeling the packages, then snapped photographs after they were put in place.
Davis, shivering and teary, was arraigned on Friday in Manhattan Criminal Court and released on her own recognizance. Her lawyer said Davis was furious with Barrett.
Reached by telephone on Friday evening, Davis said she was sorry for what had happened. "The intention of the piece was not to create fear or anything like that," she said.
Meanwhile, Barrett, who had been released on US$1,000 bail, spent the day at Pratt, a sudden celebrity. Hanging out on the Clinton Hill campus, he was surrounded by friends, and passers-by shouted their support. Barrett, who would not comment on his case, wavered between ebullience and gloom, breaking into an impromptu tap dance one moment, falling into a moody silence the next.
"He's worried, but he doesn't really show it," Max Ritt, Barrett's roommate, said. "It doesn't seem like he cares that much."
According to the police, all of the packages showed up in the subways early on the afternoon of Sept. 28.
Detectives from the arson squad determined that the packages were not a threat. Based on evidence in the bags that the police would not detail, the bags were traced to Barrett and Davis. Both are enrolled in a sculpture class taught by Marsha Pels, who assigns a site-specific installation every year.
Pratt's administrators are considering whether to take action against Barrett and Davis, such as putting them on probation or expelling them, a spokeswoman said.