Landscape Installation in the Works: Part I

Our fabulous Marketing intern Sarah worked with artist Jane Philbrick on a three part blog to give you a little more info on the project Jane is working on for 2011.

Part of MASS MoCA’s mission as an art center is to “expose our visitors to bold visual and performing art in all stages of production.”  Museum-goers often lack access to the early planning and building phase of the works of art that are on view in a museum.  We decided it was time to let you in on this process and, in series of blogs, we’ll tell you all about the development of the southern-most section of MASS MoCA’s campus by artist Jane Philbrick and her international, cross-discipline team of students and professionals.  This first entry will explore the beginnings of the project, The Expanded Field: how the ideas were conceived and where the inspiration comes from.

Jane Philbrick was in the midst of developing a new 14-channel sound piece for the Wanås Foundation, a sculpture park, medieval castle estate, and organic dairy farm in southwestern Sweden, when she first met MASS MoCA director Joe Thompson in 2006.  Joe invited Jane to bring the piece to MASS MoCA for long-term installation at a site on campus tagged for future development.  When curator Denise Markonish joined the Museum in 2007, ideas began to brew and the project grew to encompass 1.5 acres.  Here’s a peek into the artist’s conceptual approach, some questions we asked, and thoughts we exchanged.

Q: When working with a public space, artistic concerns are rooted in and draw from the context of place.  How does this work?

For Jane, a work of art is a dialogue, a conversation between artist and material, artist and viewer, viewer and artwork.  She stresses the importance of building a rapport with the site in order to reveal and identify choices, and of the attention paid to engaging the pre-existing “canvas” of the Museum campus :   the industrial artifacts of abandoned buildings and foundation ruins, the concrete channel of the Hoosic River, the Doppler effect of the traffic on the Rt 2 overpass, the surrounding setting of the beautiful Berkshires. In the dialogue of art, Jane states, “it’s all about listening.”

Q: How do you approach creating green space for a museum?

A contemporary art museum makes a frame to current culture, within and around which we confront and engage the issues of our time.  While the early 20th century was defined by industrialization, by the machine, Jane identifies ecological crisis as the defining issue of the early 21st century.  The fundamental question underlying the The Expanded Field asks, “How do we re-conceive the pastoral in the crowded, increasingly spent 21st century?”  “How do we get beyond the binary concept of nature as ‘other’ to a more integrated reality of the 21st century?”  Jane is interested in ideas of reciprocity and of energetic possibility, connecting the “aliveness” of an industrial artifact with the “aliveness” of a native meadow:  one landscape as a hybrid ecosystem.  In a model illustrating the layout of trees on site, a visibly grid-like, geometric pattern is evident.  When viewing the model from an alternative perspective, though, the arrangement appears forest-like in the seemingly erratic placement of trees, a simultaneously organic array. It was also challenging to consider how to welcome people to a site that has been vacant and not previously open to the public.  The approach to the site has been developed to build curiosity, intriguing the eye with paths, plantings, and a procession of sitting areas, including The Rounds and the Body Pockets, geometric hollows carved into the slope of the foundation ruin on site.  Also in the works is a swing set that mimics the universally recognized musical pentatonic scale. Careful consideration is being given to waste management.  Jane explains, “We’re not going to perpetuate the fairy tale that garbage ‘goes away.’”  Following the “cradle to cradle protocol,” we’re researching how to manage the garbage, emulating nature, where “there is no waste.”

Q: How is the medium of the initial soundwork that began The Expanded Field incorporated into the pre-existing site canvas and newly sculpted space?

For the Wanås installation, Jane composed multi-layered text pieces that she integrated with passages of medieval polyphony – an apt musical expression for the 12th-century European venue.  For MASS MoCA, Jane will be collaborating with Brad Wells, artistic director of the vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth to conceive and create a new, native soundscape, described by Brad as an “audio mobile.” Sound is an important element in the working process.  The Expanded Field itself is about listening, creating a rhythmic sequence of pattern recognition/pattern formation that acts as a subconscious invitation to the viewer.

Jane Philbrick observes, “art counterpoises culture.”  The fast pace of modern society proceeds in opposition to the patient, unhurried process of art.  Hers is in particular an investment in time (with a planned opening next September). Art offers the opportunity to engage ideas, live the question, and experience possibility.  “Art is in between language.  It is another space that lets the artist work,” she says.  Tune in to the next blog entry to find out about the collaborative efforts involved in bringing these plans to fruition.

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


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 ofTechnology, 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 October 13, 2010 by Brittany Bishop
Filed under BLOG, Exhibitions
1 Comment »

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One Comment on “Landscape Installation in the Works: Part I”

  1. Roomful of Teeth | News | Teeth to provide music for Jane Philbrick’s “The Expanded Field”panded Field Says:

    […] MA, the installation will open in the fall of 2011.  More information about can be found here. Posted on August 7, 2009 at 8:11 am | News | Permalink | RSS Post a comment or leave a […]

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