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Inside Moisture Content

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 it’s one of four works that make up Lee Boroson’s exhibition Plastic Fantastic, currently on-view in Building 5, MASS MoCA’s largest gallery space. For this exhibition, the artist used an array of manufactured materials — plastics, fabrics, glass, and goo — 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.

Blog-Moisture_Content1 Lee Boroson, Moisture Content, 2014, fabric, acrylic, mylar, Lexan, aluminum, webbing, cord, variable dimensions. Photo Andreas Engel.

As the Visual Arts Intern at MASS MoCA, I’ve faced my fair share of odd assignments — most of them for this exhibition. I’ve placed strange online orders for items like flanges and portable dust collectors and goo (who knew goo was available for bulk purchase?). I’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. I’ve packed materials in trash bags and labeled them “THIS IS ART — PLEASE DON’T TRASH,” because they really did look just like trash. So, when I joined MASS MoCA’s fantastic art fabrication crew for the last two weeks of Boroson’s installation, I was ready for things to get a little strange. What resulted was a particularly close acquaintance with Moisture Content, the artist’s stunning recreation of the experience of moving through fog.

Blog-Moisture_Content2A peek at what lays beyond the white curtains… Richard Criddle (left) and Mason Hurley (right) hard at work and looking splendid in khaki. Photo 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 artwork’s glimmering core — 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.

Blog-Moisture_Content3 Posing in Building 5 with my favorite fellow shop girl, Lauren Clark. Photo 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 shoelace dangling from the ceiling while jamming to The Pixies and Weezer’s Blue Album. For direction, Lee told us to imagine water molecules moving randomly through space. “Think water, think fog, think Moisture Content,” he said. Work halted when we ran out of shoelace. 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 shoelace in bulk at the drop of a hat. So, I found a nylon cord at the hardware store that’s a near match. If you look closely, you’ll notice that two different cords — one flat and one round — are used in Moisture Content.

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Hanging out with some plastic spheres. Photo Lauren Clark.

I thought the piece was nearly complete, but when I arrived the next morning, 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 “fog.” 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.

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Sewing curtains inside Moisture Content. Photo Harriet Lauritsen-Smith.

I spent the next three days sewing inside of Moisture Content. I had some helpers along the way, including the exhibition’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 Frozen, 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 artist’s success in constructing a foggy sense of disorientation.

Blog-Moisture_Content6 Moisture Content (detail), 2014. Photo 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 MoCA’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.

Blog-Moisture_Content7 Enjoying the opening reception with Harriet Lauritsen-Smith (center) and Lauren Clark (right). Photo Jane Burns.

Lee Boroson’s Plastic Fantastic is now on view in MASS MoCA’s Building 5 gallery through September 2015.

Posted October 22, 2014 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Exhibitions, Interns, Lee Boroson: Plastic Fantastic
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FreshGrass and R.O.P.E.S Team up for FreshGround

By Alliey Pevay

With FreshGrass around the corner, I am busy readying the campground for festival-goers. I have realized that FreshGround camping has become an important part of the North Adams community since its inception. As a resident of this city, it is exciting to see its culture intertwines with the culture of MASS MoCA and the bluegrass festival. A portion of camping pass proceeds is given to the R.O.P.E.S. program, which in turn provides organization and logistics to operate the campground, while a local sports team often provides concessions. In the past, campers from R.O.P.E.S. have helped lay out campsites in addition to helping FreshGround campers move in their gear.

R.O.P.E.S. is a camp run by local law enforcement and emergency personnel. The acronym stands for “Respecting Other People Encouraging Self-Esteem.” Campers divide into six teams, each led by an officer, and are challenged by low and high ropes courses to encourage teamwork and friendly competition, as well as overcome difficult obstacles physically and mentally.

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Each course has a different objective and a new lesson to be learned. One example of this would be the “Leap of Faith.” This obstacle is a high ropes course in which a camper is hooked to a harness and grounded (via a thick climbing rope) by his or her group leader. A call-and-response communication method is used: a camper starts with, “Team can I trust you?” and the team echoes back, “You can trust us.” “Spotters ready?” comes next, with the leader responding, “Spotters ready.” Finally: “Ready to climb?” and the leader responds, “Climb away.” The camper then begins ascending thirty-five feet up the pegs hammered into a tree until he or she reaches a one square foot platform. Once at the platform, the camper is challenged to leap in an attempt to touch or grab a ball hanging about three feet away before flying back down to the ground.

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As a young camper, I sat on that platform and was too scared to jump, as both my leader and teammates yelled up to me that I would be okay and could make the leap. Eventually someone suggested that I climb back down, and I did so with haste. After one year of R.O.P.E.S., campers may return as mentors who assist leaders in getting the kids through the obstacles. As a mentor, I still was afraid of the aforementioned course, but somehow the campers talked me into putting that harness and helmet back on and trying again. As I reached the platform and gazed down at my team, I was struck again with fear. This time, as my leader picked me up off my feet and scooted me closer to the edge, I heard one camper yell that I would be doing push-ups for the rest of the week if I did not jump. So I laughed and took the plunge and on my way down learned that trust really is key to any relationship.

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As a member of the R.O.P.E.S. program, not only did I learn about teamwork, trust, respect, and all the other usual camp “take-aways,” but having law enforcement officials trust me with campers up in a tree while they set up the next event taught me a great deal about responsibility and accountability as a mentor. This experience gave me the opportunity to take the work I did and use it to form connections through my teenage years and into adulthood. As an intern for FreshGrass I now work with Lieutenant Dave Sacco – who I know well as the head of R.O.P.E.S. – as we map out campsites for the FreshGround area.

R.O.P.E.S. is not only meaningful to me, but to many North Adams families. Having a positive, organic experience with law enforcement has the ability to open the eyes of local youth. The proceeds from each FreshGround camping pass help the program continue growing for years to come, and for that I am grateful.

If you want further information check out R.O.P.E.S.’ website, as well as MASS MoCA’s website for tickets to FreshGrass.

Posted September 10, 2014 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, FreshGrass, Interns, North Adams, Uncategorized
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Elysian Fields: Under the Pavilion

By Jacob Liverman

 	Fredericks and Brown Concert on the Drey Pavilion

If you have ever been to a MASS MoCA Dré Pavilion show, you already understand it’s magic. My first Pavilion show was Fredericks Brown on June 7. I have been a lifelong blues listener; the grit and soul of Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, and, of course, Taj Mahal, have always been standbys. The blues are honest. They celebrate and they complain, they scream and they croon. There is no hiding behind trendy sounds or fancy effects; they embrace the good and bad of their voices and of their lives. This, to me, is the essence of soul. And Fredericks Brown had it.

As good as they were, the concert would not have been as captivating anywhere else.

 	Dré Wapenaar: Pavilion

Deva Mahal, the front woman for Fredericks Brown, has vocals that cut through the late spring air under DrĂ© Wapenaar’s pavilion canopy. Wapenaar hung each canopy separate from and complementary to the one next to it. They are technicolored and arranged at different angles, forming a dynamic ceiling. The canopy reflects the lighting and music over the audience. Wapenaar reappropriates the symbol of the tent for the museum’s pavilion space. The tent, one of humanity’s earliest communal spaces, becomes a place of gathering at MASS MoCA. This space is at once familiar and exciting, transforming the acoustic courtyard into an intimate concert space. Even from the back of the venue I felt connected to Fredericks Brown, and from speaking with Deva after the show – she felt it too.

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At MASS MoCA, we always strive to shake up the atmosphere, whether that means inviting musicians into our galleries for the Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival, or hosting 6,000 people in Joe’s field for Beck. Elysian Fields, our next Dré Pavilion concert, on Saturday, August 16, at 8pm, offers a dramatic shift from Deva Mahal and Fredericks Brown.

Elysian Fields

Elysian Fields offers elegant and sometimes haunting dream pop, but in all the right ways. Guitarist Oren Bloedow’s tasteful restraint and harmony make Jennifer Charles’ ethereal voice only more piercing. Their music, like water, gently fills the environment and ripples with each jazzy chord.

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Over the past 20 years and 9 albums, Elysian Fields has remained faithful to making the music it loves – regardless of passing trends. Through this, the band has earned tremendous respect among its fans. If its music sounds like a Jeff Buckley resurrection, it is because Elysian Fields includes all the members of Buckley’s band. Although Fields’ music is similar to the late Buckley, their cocktail lounge sway/noir rock is uniquely their own. Fields manages to negotiate Buckley’s dynamism with vocal performance similar to Lana Del Ray.

Their song Red Riding Hood demonstrates a command over narrative and diversity, retelling the Charles Perrault fairy tale in its original, sinister form. The retelling of the classic children’s story mixes in a dash of Tim Burton and exposes all of the underlying tensions in the story.

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Fountains on Fire is a song that you can’t help but sway with. Charles’ voice is hypnotic and sultry without falling into absence. Jennifer Charles’ soaring vocal riffs are complemented by Oren Bloedow’s scorching guitar solo, before they both melt back into softness. They show off their skill in carefully modulating their sound, going from a gentle nightscape into passion and back without a hiccup.

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There’s nothing better to wash down a MASS MoCA summer concert night than Elysian Fields’ sexy, ethereal sound. Upon her visit to the museum last year, Jennifer Charles walked through the galleries and returned to the box office, begging to come back. She feels at home in our refurbished, shabby-chic factory. Elysian Fields’ sounds are golden and dark sapphire, colors reflected in both the Teresita Fernández and Darren Waterston shows, and its dreamscapes echo Izhar Patkin’s veiled rooms; they transport and hypnotize. These galleries will be open until 7pm on Saturday night, just enough time for the sun to set and for you to grab a drink and dinner under the Pavilion before the show.

Elysian Fields intimate August 16th performance is not to be missed.

Posted August 13, 2014 by MASS MoCA
Filed under Alternative Cabaret, BLOG, Interns, Music
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A magical night at the museum

Date Night at the Museum

By Rebecca McBrien
MASS MoCA, Blogger Extraordinare

There is something magical about the museum at night. Maybe it is the excitement that there is a chance Night at the Museum is real. For many, myself included, dusk simply brings an ethereal feeling to MoCA. Whatever it may be, something especially  magical happened here on Valentine’s Day.

Our Tall Gallery was transformed with lights and flowers into a little, romantic café, with the sounds of Jason Middlebrook’s 30-feet-tall Styrofoam waterfall bubbling in the background adding ambiance. A tasty meal was offered to guests and their dates, ranging from roast prime rib, to vegetable and mozzarella-stuffed Portobello mushrooms.

“We have crafts like the Tom Phillip’s Humument sets up, a photo booth, and these little red boxes in all the galleries are so people can leave Valentines for the artists,” explained Andrew Palamara, Kidspace Education Coordinator, as he set up Guillaume Leblon Valentine’s Day box.

Little red envelops where handed out to each couple as they arrived. Kidspace intern and Williams College student Zorelly Cepeda described them as conversation starters, to help each couple explore the museum and learn something new about each other.

After dinner, couples enjoyed European-style chocolate desserts and a variety of steamy beverages while serenaded by lovely, local acoustic guitarist Justin Hillman.

For most of the night, I wandered the length of our Hunter Hallway, camera in hand, waiting for couples to strike a pose with props from our prompt box. It was fun to see so many different faces. and hear little bits of different love stories.

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Here is my favorite comment of the night:

“I love that she makes me laugh,” he said,smiling down at her.

With a laugh she replied, “I love that you find me funny!”

Even with all its interesting history and folklore, Valentine’s Day most importantly stands for one of humanities greatest gifts: love. Amidst all the commercialism and activities, love can still be shown in simple ways—like making your partner laugh.

Posted March 7, 2014 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Interns
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Burning Spear lights up the box office

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By Rebecca McBrien

MASS MoCA Intern, Blogging Specialist

I worked at Disney, so I’m used to lines. Still, I was blown away by the crowd at the Burning Spear concert at MASS MoCA.

When I came to MoCA to help with the show a couple Saturday’s ago, I was asked to help out at the front of house, fitting wrist bands on guests as they came in. “Sure no problem,” I thought. “How many people are we expecting?”

The cavalier response I received from the box office was just over 1,000 people.

And so the preparations began. Do we have enough wrist bands? We ran out? Ugh.

Are the tickets alphabetized? Great.

Did we do a final print for any last minute tickets? Okay, I’m on it.

Are we expecting a lot of walk ups? We are? Oh yeah.

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There is a lot of work that goes into prepping for a show. Our production crew works for days setting up our venue. Our performance arts staff creates a program, oversees the printing and organizes vendors. Our awesome volunteers help us with everything from manning the coat rack to helping you find your seat.

But for the first hour the doors are open, it is often chaos at the box office. Preparation is vital for speed and efficiency; we want to get you in to the show as fast as we can, for your enjoyment and in hopes we catch a song or two too.

Sometimes we they may need an extra cup of coffee, but the box office crew works like a well-oiled machine. Saturday we were at the top of our game. Over 1,200 people filed into the Hunter Center in under 45 minutes, worthy of a victory dance.

And dance we did!

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It was a crazy night. In my time here, I haven’t seen a crowd so excited to enjoy music. With all the excitement and lights, I realized, once again, what a neat place this is. There were rastafarians rocking out and parents with their kids dancing in the hallway. And there was an amazing sense of community, with people bumping into each other they hadn’t seen since ’92 in the awesome concert in Los Angles… or was it San Diego? With the haze of the night, the sweet smell of patchouli pervading the air, and people dancing to the music, I’d say the lines were worth it!

Posted February 27, 2014 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Interns
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So you want to…be a managing director.

Have resumes and cover letters become your (least) favorite new hobby? Times are tough out there for recent graduates and young professionals – competition is fierce and you can’t be an intern forever.  In our new blog series, So you want to…, our museum staff offers advice and inspiration for pursuing an arts career. Don’t worry– all those applications will eventually turn into an interview!

Susan E. Killam has served as MASS MoCA’s Managing Director for the Performing Arts and Film since November 2004. She coordinates over 65 events per year including three music festivals (Wilco’s Solid Sound, Bang on a Can, and FreshGrass Bluegrass Festival) and multiple performing arts spaces including the Hunter Center (a 10,000 square foot black box), Club B-10, and the outdoor Courtyard B. Before coming to MASS MoCA, she worked with the  entertainment law firm Garcia, Francis & Associates, the Philadelphia and Boston Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, the HIV/AIDS Law Consortium (where she was the founding director), and the Family Planning Council of Western Massachusetts. Sue holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Film & Broadcasting from Boston University and a Juris Doctor degree from Temple University in Philadelphia.  She is a member of the Bar in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Sue Killam and Laurie Anderson--one of Sue's favorite artists

(Photo of Sue and Laurie Anderson–one of Sue’s favorite artists)

What is the best career advice you ever received? 

Don’t be afraid to raise your hand.  I was first told this back in elementary school, but was told it again at my first real job.   It’s great advice.  It’s better to ask questions if you don’t know the answer or how to do something asked of you.  It’s better to spark dialogue by sharing reactions and thoughts. Raising your hand means you’re willing to chip in, help out, and when it matters, be counted.

How would you encourage recent graduates to make the most of internship experiences?

I collected internships when I was younger.  I couldn’t get enough hands on experience.  I always found that the key was to keep your eyes and ears open to what’s happening around you as you will often learn more by observing than simply completing tasks.  Never lose sight of the bigger picture.

What was a formative arts experience for you as a young person? 

Because I grew up in the Berkshires with parents who were involved in the arts, there wasn’t a cultural organization that I didn’t visit.  Summers were spent listening to the Boston Symphony while stargazing, ushering for the Williamstown Theatre Festival, trips through the Clark, and gallery guarding for the Williams College Museum of Art.

My favorite activity was going to summer concerts at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center; while some of my friends aspired for autographs or glimpses of the band, I could be found at the edge of the stage, fascinated as the crew packed up gear, took down sets, coiled cables, and brought the stage back for the next day. I wanted to be a part of that.

What is one of your current social media or web obsessions? 

Kickstarter makes donating money accessible, fun, and interesting. I love to see the range of ideas out there, watch the short pithy video pitches, and track the success (and failure) of campaigns.

Fill in the blank: The future of the arts depends on an engaged and intrepid audience.

Posted January 22, 2013 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Interns, Museum Education, Staff
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