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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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