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To Stand in Awe.

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Photo courtesy of Megan and Murray McMillan.

“He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.”- Albert Einstein

Over the last two weeks, Providence, Rhode Island-based artists Megan and Murray McMillan have been in residence at MASS MoCA creating elements for a new work that explores the complexity of the idea of wonder. Once finished, the new work will be installed as part of a 2015 MASS MoCA group exhibition, exploring what it feels like to stand in awe of something, and how one goes about attaching meaning to that experience.

Since 2002, the McMillans have been crafting elaborate sculptural sets and then directing performers in the activation of – and interaction with – the sets. The performances are filmed; the footage is then edited and installed, along with elements of the original sets, to create an immersive video and sculptural experience.

About a year ago, MASS MoCA curator Denise Markonish invited the McMillans to come to the museum, explore the campus, and make a proposal for a new piece to be created and installed on site. At the time, Markonish, along with artist Sean Foley (who exhibited at MASS MoCA in 2010), were preparing the group exhibition exploring wonder and awe. The McMillans’ work has often centered on these ideas, making it an ideal match for the exhibition.

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During their visit and tour, the McMillans immediately identified the former Boiler House as a site of interest for their video. They were taken with it not only for its complicated and beautiful former industrial structure, but also for the conceptual idea of shifts in sustainable energy – from coal, which once heated the factory, to greener methods such as solar power and wind turbines — it represents.

Many months after their initial visit, the McMillans and their studio assistants arrived at MASS MoCA with nine wooden boulders. With MASS MoCA’s dynamic Art Fabrication and Installation department, led by Preparator and Supervisor Derek Parker, the boulders were craned into the more than 2-story high coal bin, through the Boiler House roof, and attached to cranks that allowed the boulders to be lifted through the space by a series of performers. The MASS MoCA team also built a tea house that nestled into the space at the top of the coal bin.

A 50-foot camera track installed on the side of the coal bin and out of the roof of the building captured a single vertical shot of a central boulder carrying performer Thea Ulrich. The vertical movement of the camera allows a narrative to unfold, similar to that of Japanese landscape scrolls. As the boulder travels upwards, portraying a travelers journey, Ulrich exits to the Japanese tea house, and then to a platform, overlooking all of MASS MoCA and the rolling mountain landscape that surrounds the museum.

With their residency completed, the McMillans have returned to Providence to edit the footage and develop the final installation for their 2015 exhibition.

The McMillans’ work is just one of the hundreds of new performing and visual artworks created on the MASS MoCA campus through the fabrication and performance residency programs. Friend, follow, and subscribe to receive updates on MASS MoCA projects and all the other fun MASS MoCA happenings.

Posted September 10, 2013 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Uncategorized
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