By Hannah Pivo
I recently spent three days inside a work of art. Yes, literally inside of it. The piece, an enormous labyrinth of fabric and plastic, is called Moisture Content, and itâ€™s one of four works that make up Lee Borosonâ€™s exhibitionÂ Plastic Fantastic, currently on view in Building 5, MASS MoCAâ€™s largest gallery space. For this exhibition, the artist used an array of manufactured materials â€” plastics, fabrics, glass, and goo â€” to create immersive environments that replicate natural phenomena, including a waterfall, an underground cavern, a lava field, and fog. Together, they offer a thought-provoking commentary on the relationship between humans and the environment, both natural and built.
Lee Boroson, Moisture Content, 2014, fabric, acrylic, mylar, Lexan, aluminum, webbing, cord, variable dimensions. Photo by Andreas Engel.
As the Visual Arts Intern at MASS MoCA, Iâ€™ve faced my fair share of odd assignments â€” most of them for this exhibition. Iâ€™ve placed strange online orders for items such as flanges and portable dust collectors and goo (who knew goo was available for bulk purchase?). Iâ€™ve shown up without an appointment at a large chemical manufacturing plant, hoping to track down the salesman who promised us bottles of flowable silicone sealant. Iâ€™ve packed materials in trash bags and labeled them â€śTHIS IS ART â€” PLEASE DONâ€™T TRASHâ€ť because they really did look just like trash. So, when I joined MASS MoCAâ€™s fantastic art fabrication crew for the last two weeks of Borosonâ€™s installation, I was ready for things to get a little strange. What resulted was a particularly close acquaintance with Moisture Content, the artistâ€™s stunning recreation of the experience of moving through fog.
A peek at what lays beyond the white curtainsâ€¦ Richard Criddle (left) and Mason Hurley (right) hard at work and looking splendid in khaki. Photo by Lauren Clark.
Moisture Content was built from the inside out. First, a series of giant concentric wooden rings were mounted to the ceiling. Inner layers of gauzy fabric came next, followed by the artworkâ€™s glimmering core â€” a cluster of spheres made of thin metal rods and origami-folded plastic circles. Now these globes dangle tantalizingly from the ceiling, but their assembly was a painstaking process. At the center of each one hides a clear plastic ball punctured by carefully drilled holes. Hundreds of plastic circles were cut and folded, then attached to metal rods using itsy-bitsy nuts and washers. The rods were then screwed, one by one, into the drill holes in the plastic spheres. At the end of the day, the tips of my fingers were numb from twisting and turning the rods into place. With these sparkling globes in position, the rest of the layers of fabric could be hung, and Moisture Content really began to take shape.
Posing in Building 5 with my favorite fellow shop girl, Lauren Clark. Photo by Lauren Clark.
The central fabric portion of Moisture Content is flanked on both sides by a galaxy of suspended orbs. Each sphere is made of dozens of plastic cones of various sizes, all held together with staples. The fabulous Lauren Clark and I hung hundreds of these spheres from nylon shoelaces dangling from the ceiling while jamming to The Pixies and Weezerâ€™s Blue Album. For direction, Lee told us to imagine water molecules moving randomly through space. â€śThink water, think fog, think Moisture Content,â€ť he said. Work halted when we ran out of shoelaces. I was sent on a mission to get more, and discovered that though you can buy mass quantities of goo on the Internet, you sadly cannot purchase shoelaces in bulk at the drop of a hat. So, I found a nylon cord at the hardware store thatâ€™s a near match. If you look closely, youâ€™ll notice that two different cords â€” one flat and one round â€” are used in Moisture Content.
Hanging out with some plastic spheres. Photo by Lauren Clark.
I thought the piece was nearly complete, but when I arrived the next morning, I noticed that something had changed. Lee had pinned together many of the outer layers of fabric, transforming the central column into a maze. Suddenly, it was all too easy to get lost in the â€śfog.â€ť Lee used safety pins to adjust the length of the curtains and join them together, and each of the pins needed to be replaced with a few stitches of nylon thread. I mentioned that I had experience hand-sewing ribbons onto pointe shoes from my years dancing ballet in high school, so without delay I was put to the task.
Sewing curtains inside Moisture Content. Photo by Harriet Lauritsen-Smith.
I spent the next three days sewing inside of Moisture Content. I had some helpers along the way, including the exhibitionâ€™s curator, Denise Markonish, whom I had the pleasure of teaching how to sew. I also had a lot of time alone. I imagined myself empress of an icy fortress (both Queen Elsa from FrozenÂ and Queen Frostine from Candy Land came to mind). Occasionally, people would wander through, struggling to find Lee or Denise hidden inside. Their confused efforts at navigation were an early indicator of the artistâ€™s success in constructing a foggy sense of disorientation.
Moisture Content (detail), 2014. Photo by Andreas Engel.
The final step to perfecting Moisture Content? A good old-fashioned steaming. Lingering creases covered the shiny, perforated pieces of fabric that hang near the center of the piece. These twist and turn as you move past, and they were in desperate need of de-wrinkling. I lugged a standing steamer (borrowed from the fine folks in MASS MoCAâ€™s performing arts department), a chair, and a rolling cart around the inner circle of the artwork, because both the steamer and I needed to be elevated to reach the highest parts of the fabric. And with that, Moisture Content was complete, ready for visitors to wander and ponder, just hopefully not for three days.
Enjoying the opening reception with Harriet Lauritsen-Smith (center) and Lauren Clark (right). Photo by Jane Burns.
Lee Boroson’sÂ Plastic FantasticÂ is now on view in MASS MoCA’s Building 5 gallery through September 7, 2015.