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Behind the Scenes: Katharina Grosse Installation

Director Joe Thompson offers the dirt on the progress of the Katharina Grosse installation.

When Katharina Grosse asked for 600 or 700 cubic yards of soil, shaped into mounds, for her upcoming work, One Floor Up More Highly, that seemed a straightforward enough request.  But then – once we engineered solutions for floor loading, and sourced the right mixture of loam and clay – the question arose, how the heck do we get the dirt into the building?  While we pride ourselves on our DIY, bootstrapping approach, anybody who’s moved a yard or two of dirt knows that this was no job for wheelbarrows.  So we swallowed our pride, cancelled the order for Advil, and called in local earthmoving experts Jim Galusha and Brian Turton, who helped devise an ingenious system which used a front end loader, three interlinked conveyor belts, and, inevitably, some strong backs and many shovels.  It worked: the earth…  moved …  under our feet, and our excellent fabrications crew is still smiling, having dodged enlistment in the wheelbarrow brigade.

Now all we have left is a little cleaning up to do, as Katharina prepares to undertake a massive painting in which she claims the entire building’s walls, windows, floors — and the dirt mountains — as her ground.

The show opens Dec 21, which, by the way, may be the worst day ever chosen for a museum opening: it’s a Tuesday (we’re normally closed on Tuesdays, just to make it worse) and this is smack dab in the middle of holiday frenzy. But there are three good things about it: Katharina’s work is going to be spectacularly beautiful and strangely eerie, like a Casper David Friedrich landscape; it’s winter solstice, the days grow longer from this day forth; and we’ll be serving hot toddies, so the 27 of you who come will have a terrific time.  Oh, and you can shop for holiday gifts at our store Hardware too.  Join us!

Posted December 9, 2010 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Exhibitions, Katharina Grosse
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Oh, Canada

We’ve missed seeing curator Denise Markonish around North Adams over the past year. The reason for her frequent absences? The exhibition she’s curating for summer 2012 of Canadian contemporary art has kept her crisscrossing our neighbor to the north for extended periods of time. Her as-yet-to-be-titled exhibition promises to be a comprehensive survey of the vibrant contemporary art scene in Canada. Check this link to a panel she recently participated in about Canadian art.

Posted November 29, 2010 by MASS MoCA
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Landscape Installation in the Works: Part III

If you’ve read the previous two blog entries regarding Jane Philbrick’s large-scale landscape project, you’re probably fairly well versed in the concept and process of transforming the 1.5 acre outdoor space on MASS MoCA’s campus into an industrial garden. The third and final blog installation reveals how The Expanded Field will welcome museum-goers and North Adams community when it opens next fall. Here’s a glimpse of the artist’s vision for the public’s use of this “industrial garden”. To answer our question of how this space will be used, Jane explained that, for her, a visit to a museum “succeeds” when the encounter with an artwork becomes a portal to possibility rather than an artifact for information. As a cultural “compression zone,” a museum should be a venue for inviting dialogue that can’t be or isn’t happening otherwise. Jane sees MASS MoCA as a place of pilgrimage, a dynamic oasis from the grazing and herding behavior of global tourism. She cites the examples of architects Luis Barragán (Mexico) and Charles Correa (India), who believed garden spaces were essential to the museum experience, serving as both a preparatory place for thought and a sanctuary for reflection and contemplation.

When asked whether visitors would be encouraged to move in certain ways through the architectural, spatial, and temporal choices of the site, Jane offered her vision of the space as a performance of possibilities. The Expanded Field becomes a venue for social gathering while still allowing the opportunity to be on one’s own, the solitary company of one among many. The option of different pathways provides focused engagement and freedom to the viewer, offering a journey-like experience, whose final destination is discovery.

Visitors to The Expanded Field will sit among The Rounds, made of dry stack wall and rammed earth, and wander the Asphalt Meadow, planted with native grasses and wildflowers. They can follow the fragmentary path of the Allée under the shade of river birches bordering the Hoosic. The viewer can swing on the “Sing Set” (a swing set that sings the harmonic scale), while viewing the optical illusion mural based on the Lorentz Transformation (which states that space and time are not absolute, but depend upon the observer’s relative motion). They can gather in the Body Pockets, seating carved into the sloping wall of the foundation ruin that are metaphoric of musical notes on sheet music, while sampling the “audio mobile” of the Sound Wall, featuring Jane’s original spoken text compositions in collaboration with Brad Wells and the Williams College vocal group Roomful of Teeth, mingling with the “found sound” of the site.

Jane Philbrick’s Expanded Field marks a convergence of the performing, visual, and media arts that makes the MASS MoCA experience one that is so fearlessly unconventional and steeped in possibility. With the weather turning, and the planting season coming to an end, stay tuned as Phase I draws to close and Phase II picks up speed.

BIO: Jane Philbrick is an artist and educator. Recent exhibitions include “Everything Trembles” (Skissernas Museum, Archives of Public Art, Lund University), “The End” (The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh), “Pull” (Location One, New York), “Insight Out” (Wanås Foundation, Sweden). 2007-10, Jane was an artist Fellow at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge. 2008-09, she was the inaugural International Fellow at Location One. Jane is currently an artist research affiliate with the Singapore-MIT International Design Center and Visiting Professor and Director of Programme, C : Art, an MFA program at Valand School of Fine Arts, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Posted November 9, 2010 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Exhibitions
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Forbes Interviews the Two Men

Forbes just published a great article about Murray Nossel and Paul Browde’s business, Narrativ, and how they use storytelling to help people work better together.  See Murray and Paul at work next week when they perform Two Men Talking here on November 20.


Posted November 9, 2010 by MASS MoCA
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Former MASS MoCA Artist Creates New Animated Video

It seems that most of the art at MASS MoCA comes and goes almost as quickly as the leaves in the fall! We at the museum are excited to have the opportunity to constantly present new pieces to museum goers, but also love to keep up with the artists who have shown their work here. Do you (past visitors) remember artist Chris Doyle’s Apocalypse Management, which showed in the museum from April of 2009 through February of 2010 as a part of the exhibition These Days: Elegies for Modern Times? It was the digital animation installation that existed as an elegy to disaster. The piece portrayed contemporary disaster imagery in the form of a city lying in the path of an oncoming storm, as well as people coping in the aftermath. Although the piece had an overwhelmingly harrowing outlook for the future state of the world, it maintained a sense of hope as wounded, lost, and dying characters worked their way out of the destruction. The video, which was commissioned for MASS MoCA in 2009, was the first of a series of five that Doyle has based on 19th-century Hudson River School painter Thomas Cole’s The Course of Empire.

The second part of the series and Doyle’s first solo exhibition, a video of hand-drawn animation, is now on view at the Andrew Edlin Gallery in New York City. Doyle’s new installation, Waste_Generation, is a commentary on the cycle of consumption and transformation and is set in a world threatened by the technology that it has become so reliant upon. The animation is in a constant state of flux and metamorphosis as a “dump site for outmoded tools of production, such as computers and oil drills, dissolves into a paper mill whose smokestack generates paper money. The currency condenses into the pulsating plant life of a jungle, where falling trees shape themselves into a bleak factory silhouette that belches pastel clouds. Black crows fly out of them, only to divide and metastasize into the replicating patterns of Victorian wallpaper and oriental rugs. The rugs frame a suburban development of homes with Islamic domes, as seen in on TV in a flash that brings the cycle back to its beginning.”

Of the follow-up video to the one shown as MASS MoCA last spring, Chris Doyle says, “First, I wanted to explore the way ornament has been used throughout history, and across civilizations, as a cultural representation of nature,” Doyle says of the piece. “Secondly, while the generation of waste is basically destructive, it serves a tremendous creative urge that is ultimately, and gloriously, the essence of being human.” Learn more about the project here.

Posted November 4, 2010 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Exhibitions
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Landscape Installation in the Works: Part 2

In our previous entry, we gave you insight into some of the considerations and ideas that prefaced the development of the southern-most extent of MASS MoCA’s campus by artist Jane Philbrick and her team. Now we’ll let you in on what’s currently going on in the space: the excavating, the building, the planting, and the elbow grease that’s required for the initial phase of creation.

Reflecting on when an impulse becomes art and whether anything is ever finished, Jane considers art a leap of faith because it can’t be strategized. Art must be allowed to unfold and evolve. “The challenge of the artist,” Jane explains to students , “is to keep your focus while remaining open and alert to possibility. Art is emergent behavior. You can’t know what it is while it’s happening as it’s always ‘becoming.’” The recuperation of the idle parking lot and beautiful amphitheatre-esque wall sited behind the museum has been conceptually underway for quite some time. Jane’s working process goes from idea to reality in four stages: proposition, sketch, model, and physical creation. Each stage is subject to scrutiny and critique, with curiosity the litmus test for advance. As Louise Gydell, one of the three Swedish architecture students from Lund University working on site at MASS MoCA with Jane, states, “We kill a lot of ‘darlings.’” Small clay sculptures of the stone wall indented with body pockets, a miniature wire swing set, crumpled, graphite-covered pieces of paper representing the texture of asphalt, mathematically-driven sketches, and a hand-beaded muslin field map are only some of the pieces in the studio space that are used to express and explore the garden.

Since August 16, Jane has been in-residence with a team of students and professionals, adapting the 1.5-acre industrial site into museum green space. So what does it take to make this transformation happen? Jane cites Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman’s response to director David Lean’s question, “How do you make your films?” Bergman replied, “I make my films with fifteen friends.” “That’s interesting,” replied Lean. “I make mine with 150 enemies.” “Here at MASS MoCA,” Jane assures us, “we’re à la Bergman – amongst friends.”

Meet Jane’s crew of fearless coworkers working on and off-site to contribute their individual expertise to the project.

  • Brian Turton, owner and president of New England Landscapes & Aquatics first met Jane in November 2009 and has worked closely with her on all phases of design development and now execution. Brian has assembled an amazing crew hard at work on site, including Billy Piantoni (foreman), Frank James (stone mason), Valerie Ross (vice president), Jill Rickert (landscape assistant), and numerous others who all seem to enjoy the freedom, unbridled creativity and thoughtfulness that is involved in this constantly evolving project. The group has worked from the ground up, from site clearing, trenching, and excavating to innovating the engineering and construction of the Body Pockets and patiently laying the New York bluestone for the dry stack walls of The Rounds with sensitive attention to pattern, contour, and the rhythmic arrangement of heights. The Expanded Field has introduced rammed earth to their repertoire, a centuries-old building technology with a small ecological footprint, much smaller, for example, than concrete. They’ve been shaping the Body Pockets by compacting soil over geogrids for base reinforcement on the slope, and are readying to loam the site in preparation for the planting of native trees and grasses. On October 23 the group will break for the winter, to return in the spring and begin Phase II.
  • Daniel Frey, professor, Mechanical Engineering, MIT, and director, Singapore-MIT International Design Center, began working with Jane last spring at MIT, where Jane had a three-year fellowship at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS). In her new appointment as artist affiliate at the Singapore-MIT IDC, Jane is continuing to work with Dan developing a swing set that sings the harmonic scale. “Sing Set” is due for installation in spring 2011.
  • • Evolutionary biologist Charles Marshall, Berkeley, previously consulted at Harvard with Jane on her 2009 exhibition at the Skissernas Museum, Archives of Public Art, in Lund, Sweden. The two joined forces once again to tackle the initial investigation of “re-conceiving the pastoral for the 21st century.”
  • Aksel Widoff, Emil Lillo, and Louise Gydell, three students from the Lund School of Architecture in Sweden, previously worked with Jane at the Skissernas Museum, helping to create The Rammed Earth Sculpture Garden, sited in the Museum’s Sculpture Garden. The three have been in the studio designing, drafting, and building models while working on-site in all aspects of development and construction, contributing their Skissernas expertise on rammed earth construction, from drafting form work to ramming with pneumatic rammers that pound the soil and clay mixture like jack hammers.
  • • MIT students Danielle Hicks (mechanical engineering), Tymor Hamamsy (physicist), and Samantha Cohen (architecture and civil engineering) worked with Jane on the conceptual phase under the auspices of the MIT UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program) Office last spring. Tymor added sweat equity this summer, along with Leah Brunetto (architecture and visual arts). Leah and Dani Hicks are continuing on the project at MIT, working with Dan Frey on the “Sing Set” and researching the waste management system.
  • Kristopher Spohn, a sculpture student from the Rhode Island School of Design, crossed paths with Jane when his RISD class unexpectedly appeared in her CAVS studio, prompting an impromptu MASS MoCA project presentation. Kristopher went on to contact Jane and intern with her over the summer.
  • Richard Criddle, the Director of Fabrication and Art Installment at MASS MoCA and his assistant, Jason Wilcox, jump-started the project with fast-response form work construction for the rammed earth and continue to provide generous assistance and expertise as needed.

The Expanded Field’s collaborative effort is almost overwhelming. It exists as a forum where people from a variety of backgrounds match skill, knowledge, and imagination in a generous environment of creative exploration. Tune in to the final blog entry to find out how, when finished, this project will become a part of the MASS MoCA museum experience.

Check back soon for part three of Sarah’s blog.

BIO: Jane Philbrick is an artist and educator. Recent exhibitions include “Everything Trembles” (Skissernas Museum, Archives of Public Art, Lund University), “The End” (The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh), “Pull” (Location One, New York), “Insight Out” (Wanås Foundation, Sweden). 2007-10, Jane was an artist Fellow at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge. 2008-09, she was the inaugural International Fellow at Location One. Jane is currently an artist research affiliate with the Singapore-MIT International Design Center and Visiting Professor and Director of Programme, C : Art, an MFA program at Valand School of Fine Arts, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Posted November 1, 2010 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Exhibitions
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