Meet Kristin Hersh

If you’re looking for a trick or a treat this Halloween, come to MASS MoCA’s special night of mischievous performance complete with storytelling, surprise, and live music. NYC-based The Happy Ending Series will be transported to MASS MoCA on Saturday, October 30th for an especially ghoulish performance titled Ghosts and Curses. Two authors, local favorite Jim Shepard and Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist Paul Harding, will both tell a story and do something on stage that they’ve never done before. The readings will be prefaced and followed by what is sure to be a beautifully hard-hitting music performance that you won’t want to miss! Indie singer-songwriter and newbie author Kristin Hersh, will perform six songs in her signature style of intimate performing with candid lyrics, “beautiful even when they’re ugly” and “true even when they’re confusing”.

Hersh, who formed the alternative rock group Throwing Muses in the early 80s, has recorded more than twenty albums (with bands Throwing Muses, 50FootWave, and solo), and can now add a memoir to her list of credentials. Rat Girl, which was published by Penguin Books on August 31, is a diary-based account of the year 1985 that lends to an intimate understanding of her music and the journey of growing up faster than one could plan. This year in the singer’s life marked the first full-length album release by Throwing Muses, the diagnoses of bipolar disorder, and the realization that she was pregnant. The memoir traces her mania to a bike accident at the age of sixteen that left Hersh processing ambient background sound as music. In Kristin Hersh’s own words about the book, “I don’t know if the time I’m talking about is specific to 1985 or one’s 18th year, or a stage in your life when your story begins to tell itself, but it’s such an optimistic moment in one’s life when things begin.”

If you like what you’ve read here, join us at Saturday at 8 p.m. for this special Halloween Alt Cabaret. Afterwards there will be a book signing, where Kristin Hersh’s music and memoir Rat Girl will be available for purchase, as well as novels by Jim Shepard and Paul Harding’s Tinkers.

Posted October 27, 2010 by MASS MoCA
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Data Manipulation and Technology Artistically Applied

When you view contemporary art do you sometimes feel like there’s something that you’re missing? It’s probably all of the background information on the concept, the development of the idea, the process of installation, and access to the pay someone to do your assignment artist’s brain. Here at MASS MoCA, we’re dedicated to providing you with all the tools to get the most out of your viewing experience. If you’re coming to the opening of Federico Díaz’s Geometric Death Frequency 141 this Saturday, October 23, or plan on visiting the museum in the near future, here are some things you should know before you come face-to-face with the long-term installation located in the museum’s entrance courtyard.

In brief, the site-specific data sculpture is an extremely abstract and complex technological breakdown of the transformation of matter to energy and back to matter again. Díaz used the principle of reverse transcription, working off of a photograph of the MASS MoCA courtyard. The 2D image was broken down into digital bits and pixels that were then robotically and technologically reconstructed as 3D black spheres to create a densely sculpted black wave form that while static, seems to contain a reverberating internal energy that simulates fluid movement.


One of the phenomenons that Díaz considered in the early stages of this project was the evolution of the communication landscape and how society has come to rely on the transfer of information. In the not-so-far past information was transferred verbally, but in modernity communication rituals have shifted. Díaz applies these contemporary technological methods in his approach to gathering and presenting data to viewers.

“When you look at a photograph, it is flat. In the same way, when you start off with a sculpture, it is flat. Here we are reconstituting a 3D space from a 2D surface according to an algorithm: the intensity of light of a pixel defines the position and velocity of a point, a “voxel”, which is then represented by a small black sphere in the sculpture. The assembled spheres create a wave. At least that was the first idea, but I thought that was too simple, that there would be too much of the photograph still visible in it; so I decided to add in more turbulence, more fluid movement: our world is created from turbulence and is full of fluid movement. To do that, I applied to the photographic data a simulated model of fluid motion. Each light particle, as represented by sphere, was treated as if it were a water molecule, and then “shaken“. I added this fluid dynamic action one bit at a time, interpolated, frame by frame, second by second. It was in frame 141 of the simulation that the photograph disappeared in the wave, and that’s the moment I froze it.”

Also central to Díaz’s project is the idea of death and resurrection. The moment that has been documented via photograph is dead in time and space. By using recorded data to recreate that moment anew in the form of sculpture, Díaz gives it a second life. He rediscovers the original molecular energy that existed and allows it to subsist once again, almost paralleling the Law of Conservation of Energy, which states that “energy cannot be created or destroyed, but can change its form.”


According to Díaz, “every space sends out some geometric parameters”. In his sculpture, he extracts data (from the site) that is intangible without the use of computer technology and reinterprets it as a material object using CAD software for which he composed specialized codes and simulations. The procedure, described by the artist below, reconstructs the 2D information as a 3D form based on particle physics.

“Using this software I created a code that converted pixels which describe the lighter parts of the photographs into “fast” spheres; they bounce higher and move faster when stimulated by energy. The darker elements of the photograph are slower, less reactive, and therefore remain lower in the sculpture. Through another computer simulation, these pixels-turned-3D spheres (“voxels” or “volumetric picture elements”) can be energized like a wave. The entire simulation is driven by a code. It is actually the code that makes it possible for a living form to be born again from something that was dead.”

Because of the precise nature of the project, Díaz employed the use of robots, which best understand pure data, to assemble the sculpture. Check out a video of the robots here.


The 420,000 black balls used in the 50-feet long by 20-feet high sculpture are sphere of ABS, or a light polymer (also used in the production of LEGO blocks). In his consideration of material, Díaz was not only interested in simulated fluid movement, but also wanted to allow a visible movement of light. Because motion is a fundamental concept in the piece, he incorporated the way the human eye processes velocity. When something is faster, visibility is lessened. Theoretically, “velocity drains color”, which led Díaz to use the color black in his representation of the particles of light.

“Light is something that enables us to see. Light is made of particles. In the sculpture, light particles were replaced by black spheres. So they represent the fluid movement of light, like a wave, as much as they represent the motion of fluids. There is a parallel between light and water; the turbulent movement of light is similar to the movement of the particles of water. They are basically molecules that move in the same way as light does.”

This long-term installation opens to the public Saturday, October 23. Of his installation, artist Federico Díaz comments, “Creating a unique object, which transformed the museum into a new form of algorithmic architecture was a fascinating journey full of unforgettable emotions.”

Posted October 22, 2010 by MASS MoCA
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All Utopias Fell Opening This Saturday

Walk behind MASS MoCA’s lobby, past a previously unused part of campus that exists somewhere amid derelict industrial artifact and developed exhibition space, through the remnant of Sprague Electric’s power plant, up numerous sets of stairs, and across a suspended steel overpass. What you’ll find is that somewhere along the way you’ve forgotten where you are in space and time and crossed the threshold into another world: the world of Donald Carusi as brought to you by artist Michael Oatman.

The world that you can expect to enter is one of complexity and thoughtfully organized disarray. It’s as if you’ve stepped into the middle of a movie set, where an elaborate narrative is implied. Mis-en-scene takes on a whole new meaning in the intricate architectural choices, ambitious level of detail, and purposeful editing of interior elements. Layer upon layer of seemingly disconnected objects meld into one another to create an environment that is at once familiar, mysteriously foreign, and sure to appeal to the naturally inquisitive periphery of the human mind.

Oatman labels his technique as an installation artist “maximum collage” and “unvironment”, but finds that neither term truly encompasses the breadth of the artistic channels that he utilizes in his multifaceted projects. All Utopias Fell, his latest installation open to the public on October 23rd, is comprised of three interconnected parts. Codex Solis is a series of solar panels and mirrors atop Building 5 that follows the textual composition of a quote by an unnamed author. The Shining is a spaceship that has mysteriously crash landed outside of the museum after 30 years of space travel, absent of its previous occupant. Enter through the silver vessel and into The Library of the Sun, Donald Carusi’s hermitage and former dwelling space where objects that exist as a residue of their intrinsic history are recontextualized to transport viewers into the missing inhabitant’s peculiar and enigmatic life.

The most discerning viewers may spend hours perusing over the space, yielding to the desire to piece together the skeletal remains of Donald Carusi’s solitary existence. A number of objects will undoubtedly lead viewers to the conclusion that Carusi was an investigator and experimenter of sorts. A copious amount of sun photographs, diagrams, and images are plastered to the interior of the space ship, referencing Carusi’s interest in the sun as both a scientific phenomenon and cultural symbol. A technical control panel reminiscent of something you might imagine in an early rocket ship is a reminder of the previous whereabouts of the craft. Other items such as jarred food, a record collection, spare building parts, hanging yarn God’s eyes, and a personal library of engineering, astronomy, nuclear power, and fiction books seem more colloquial, but are no less imbedded with symbolism and clues. These items combine to provide an intensified viewing experience that exists at first as a grain of something that we can relate to and then as a place where we become lost and engage with the art.

Although on the campus of MASS MoCA, All Utopias Fell seems to preserve the absence of gravity in space. Michael Oatman also preserves and is inspired by what artist Marcel Duchamp believed was a central component to the art experience: viewer exchange and interaction. DuChamp says, “The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act”. So indulge your appetite for art that is as thought-provoking as it is aesthetically pleasing and join us for the opening reception of Michael Oatman’s All Utopias Fell this Saturday, October 23rd from 2-4 p.m.

written by Sarah Borup

Posted October 20, 2010 by MASS MoCA
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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
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A look at the script for The Truth: A Tragedy

I adore Cynthia Hopkins’ work. MASS MoCA has been lucky enough to present several of her pieces either as work-in-progresses or as completed works throughout the past 11 years. Personally, I learned about Hopkins in college and then was floored when I had the opportunity to see the final piece of her Accidental Trilogy, The Success of Failure (or, The Failure of Success) at MM as a work-in-progress last year. I have always enjoyed seeing works that break genres and for me Hopkins is at the forefront of genre breaking. Although her work is most often tagged as theater, once you have seen her perform you will walk away praising her stunning singing voice and musical arrangements, her use of new technologies such as video and projections, and her amazing ability to gracefully move about the stage in a dancer like fashion. I think the New York Press captures these sentiments the best, ““Cynthia Hopkins is the definition of postmodern artistry. Her work… transcends single genres and mediums and defies definition.”

Needless to say, I was delighted to see that Hopkins was returning to MASS MoCA this fall to present The Truth: A Tragedy, a tribute to her father, which she workshopped here last December. Although all of her wok is personal, this time Hopkins really bares all her feelings and emotions relating to her relationship with her father and her interactions with him during the last few years of his life. Our press photos (like the one above) capture Hopkins in her full costume of her father’s belongings, including a skirt made of his ties. The script is beautifully written and captures in eloquent passages the true dilemma children feel as they become charged with the care of their aging parents and the pain and confusion they feel as they begin to process what will inevitably happen next. In true Cynthia Hopkins style the script is peppered with a variety of characters and hauntingly beautiful songs (Listen to Undertow now).

I don’t want to spoil the show for you, but for anyone sitting on the fence about attending this event on Saturday, October 9, I thought a few passages from the script might give you an idea of exactly what to expect from The Truth: A Tragedy. Below are a few passages of text from the script:

“My father never throws anything away,

not even if it’s used or broken beyond repair, not even if

it’s not the kind of used item you’d want to re-use, such

as a used q-tip. Some of the items he retains, however –

torn and used clothing, chipped dishware, old glasses

frames without lenses – ARE re-usable, so upon first

glance there appears to be a practical aspect to my

father’s retention of all objects, born of a childhood spent

during the depression, followed by an adulthood raising

a family on the paltry wages of a grade school English


“There aren’t that many people that I love. I’m as fickle as

my father, and as annoyed; as childish, crude, witty, self-

defeating, morose; as helpless, as romantic, and as

funny. But no one is exactly like my father, and that is

why it’s a tragedy that he is dying.”

“So you recognize that, right? It’s from ‘Onions’. But

maybe you don’t know ‘Onions’. ‘Onions’ was a musical

comedy my father wrote when I was a little kid, about a

man on a ledge, trying to get up the courage to jump off

the ledge and commit suicide. And it’s a bit of a struggle,

because he doesn’t have the… well as his secretary

Matilda puts it: “Ah Harold, you don’t have the ONIONS

to jump!” onions being a euphemism for balls or testicles

or… nuts. But maybe you don’t know ‘Onions’. It was

given its premiere and only performance by my father’s

10, 11, and 12 year old students at the Pike School in


“I like the theater, because everyone has

to sit down, and shut up. Ritual, repetition, reflection. His

thoughts and speech seem slow, delayed. He says

“you’re the best.” He asked Tom to give him a hug. Are

these uncharacteristic displays of affection due to brain

damage? I thought I was having déjà vu, and then I

realized: it’s just a repeat of the same situation, with

people saying the same things, over and over again. I

remember eating at a Mexican restaurant with him

before he was even diagnosed with Parkinson’s

Disease, and halfway through the meal he looked up and

said “is this Mexican food?” And it’s that kind of

comment that holds a zen-like charm for everyone

except his children, for whom it’s either mildly disturbing

or annoying, depending on whether you attribute his

bewilderment to insanity, or some sort of comedy


Cynthia Hopkin’s will perform The Truth: A Tragedy on Saturday, October 9, at 8 PM in the Hunter Center. Guests will also be able to peruse a small collection of Hopkins’ father’s belongings before and after the show.

Hope to see you there!

Posted October 6, 2010 by Brittany Bishop
Filed under BLOG, The Truth: A Tragedy, Theater
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Dinner + Theater = $40

We’re pairing up with our friends at Taylor’s Fine Dining to offer you a very attractively price dinner & theater package. On October 9, You can enjoy great food at Taylor’s (including a glass of wine!) and a great show at MASS MoCA (Cynthia Hopkins’ The Truth: A Tragedyfor just $40!

Here are the details.  Prix fixe dinner at Taylor’s includes: Read the rest of this entry »

Posted September 30, 2010 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Dining, North Adams, The Truth: A Tragedy
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