“The Known Universe”

Northampton-based artist Samuel Rowlett and a dynamic crew of 15 local high school students collaborated on The Known Universe at “TEENSPACE” a project of Kidspace at MASS MoCA  in downtown North Adams as part of the annual DownStreet Art festival. Visit the space at 26 Holden Street to see the results.

Samuel Rowlet has written a guest blog for MASS MoCA, check out what he has been working on:

With sketchbooks filled after a month of meeting twice a week on the 3rd floor of MASS MoCA as part of my residency with the Teenspace crew, we finally saw the space for our installation this summer.  The site of the old Artery Lounge at 26 Holden Street was perfect!   With a patina of character and quirky architectural palimpsests it was just the raw space we needed to take the ethos of the sketchbook (the artist’s equivalent of a diary), blow it up large scale and make it environmental.  The process, based on my own studio practice of turning the unpolished immediacy of sketchbook drawings into wall drawings, certainly gave the project an uncertain future.  Especially having 16 sketchbooks to source from!  However, after seeing the sketches the Crew had made, I knew we had the makings of something great.

Perhaps the most pleasing part of the project (in addition to the rocking installation: a mash-up of social commentary, angst, honesty and satire, that somehow reminds me of a Nirvana music video) has been the camaraderie and sense of collaboration that has developed within the group throughout the installation process.  As we helped draw each other’s drawings, we got to know one another, to rely on one another, riffing off each other’s ideas, and (quite literally) drawing connections between our sketchbook worlds.  I had charged them with the task of mapping their own universes, however it has become less about individual paradigms and more about stewardship of the work as a whole and the conversation they have put into motion through the process of working together.  Which, primarily, is what I hope for them will be the real take-away from this experience.  One that they can repeat in the future in whatever their chosen field may be:  a sense of creative collaboration.  “The Known Universe” expands…

Posted June 30, 2011 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Exhibitions, Kidspace, North Adams, Work-in-progress
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Bon Iver Cover Art in Progress

Gregory Euclide who was in the Badlands exhibition here in 2008 just created work for Bon Iver’s new self titled album, which was released on June 21st. Gregory’s work is also featured on the first single off the album called Calgary (a funny naming coincidence given our upcoming Oh, Canada exhibition). Check out the video of Gregory making the piece.

Posted June 22, 2011 by MASS MoCA
Filed under Badlands, BLOG, Music, Work-in-progress
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Behind the scenes at Solid Sound

Here’s the low down on Glenn Kotche’s installation for  Solid Sound from our director Joe Thompson:


I caught MASS MoCA staffer Cody Johnson mounting the first of six speakers to be installed down the 100’ long elevated walkway leading from our lobby to the LeWitt building.  The speakers will be used to create a sound sculpture by Wilco’s magical percussionist Glenn Kotche, for the upcoming Solid Sound ’11 festival.

One of the greatest things about Wilco is the way the band’s aesthetic interests cast such a wide wake, parts of which wash up on MASS MoCA’s shores in felicitous ways.

Guitarist Nels Cline (who just released a fantastic new album with alto saxophonist Tim Berne, and drummer Jim Black) for instance, will be joined by Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore in what promises to be a mind-bending set.  Fans who attend the Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival here will fondly recall Thurston’s electrifying performance at our 2006 Marathon…which loops me back to Glenn Kotche, who also performs from time to time with Bang on a Can, perhaps not surprisingly, given Glenn’s experimental turn of mind, and his use of intricate, often visually stunning instrumentation. Those of you who attended Solid Sound ‘10 will remember Glenn’s elegant, playable, handiwork placed throughout the LeWitt Wall Drawing Retrospective, which Jeff Tweedy named inGLENNtions.

This year, using the LeWitt walkway as a sort of sonic preamble for the band’s newest (and still unreleased) work, Glenn will orchestrate audio snapshots sampled from the recording process from the band’s upcoming album.  The result of his “fly-on-the-wall” recordings was a rich collection of overdubs, full band tracking, fragments of meal conversations between band members, pinball games and playbacks.   For the LeWitt walkway installation, Glenn selected six of his favorite recording fragments for each of the six speaker locations.

And then, in Glenn’s own words, “I  used the drumbeat that opens the record as a guide for their arrangement – assigning one recording to each voice of the beat.  The rhythms of each voice determine when tracks are audible or muted.  The result is a collage of behind-the-scene mini-clips of our recording work over the past 11 months. Each speaker has a dedicated collage that loops, going in and out of phase with the other 5 speakers over the course of the festival.”

This is one of a half dozen or so Wilco-specific exhibitions that will be installed June 24-26. Look for it when you come to Solid Sound. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that tickets are still available.

Posted June 14, 2011 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Music, Wilco Solid Sound Festival, Work-in-progress
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Working on The Workers

MASS MoCA’s galleries are currently undergoing ANOTHER transformation. On May 29 a new exibition called, The Workers, will open at MASS MoCA: a previous industrial site.  The show will explore work and labor. How the laborer relates to work. And how work is presented in contemporary art.

The show will feature photos, videos, paintings, and sculptures from about 30 artists.  We will be tracking the progress of this show for you on the blog!

Luckily for our readers – we bumped into Joe Thompson, MASS MoCA’s director, and got to pick his brain about this upcoming exhibition.

Joe is particularly intrigued with the installation by Camel Collective.  The artists are installing a 30ft long chain-link fence that will hold messages to reference a previous struggle.

This is a representation of a very similar chain-link fence that previously controlled the access to Sprague Electric.  “Many locals will remember that the fence was an odd shade of lime green,” said Joe Thompson.

The fence was installed in 1971 during a strike at Sprague.  The strike was against the current wage negotiations as prices for electric capacitors went down along the Pacific Rim and oil prices began to rise.  The employees of Sprague would insert paper coffee cups into the holes of the chain-link fence to display messages.

This is a piece that “picks at an old wound” and “evokes a particular moment of the strike,” said Joe.

“When MASS MoCA removed the fence in ’98, you could feel almost a sigh of relief through the town as a stark symbol of a really bleak chapter was removed,” said Joe.

The Workers will include many thought provoking pieces that will definitely be worth a visit! Keep checking the blog for more updates about different pieces!

Posted May 12, 2011 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Exhibitions, Openings, The Workers, Work-in-progress
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What am I looking at?

Habit has been rather all-consuming for our staff as you can tell by our blogging.  Managing Director Sue Killam weighs in here on her impressions of David Levine’s installation.  Come anytime Thurs noon – 5, Friday 2-8, Saturday noon- 8 or Sunday noon – 5.

The audience experience at MASS MoCA is one of the many aspects of my role here. Being an audience member affords the opportunity to share a live exchange with the artist and each other.  And because of the art we present, our audience experience is always changing.  Sometimes we present a traditional experience, seated in rows, dark, quiet, watching and the other times we make you leave your shoes at the door and take away your chair.   But in my time at MASS MoCA never has the audience experience become such an integrated part of the message as it is with our current presentation of Habit, by David Levine.  This piece is a one of a kind experience you should catch.

Habit blurs the lines of where performance takes place and how we, the audience view it. It brings front and center how we engage and how we view.  As a viewer, you decide how much or how little you want to see; how close do you want to get, how long do you want to stare?  Decisions that are similar to how you view art in a gallery, or how long you look at an accident driving by.  The audience navigates the space around a house– not just a set—a real house with real plumbing, electricity, windows, walls, doors, a stocked refrigerator, music, video games — a house like any one of us might have lived in or visited.   There are actors and a script—real actors, lines and characters, but the stage direction constantly evolves as the actors live their lives right in front of us.  The script loops for 6-8 hours.  The actors never leave and live and act right before us blurring the lines so they are indiscernible.  In response, you, the viewer,  make choices: The choice to watch the full loop or only a few minutes. The choice to pull back the curtain and get real close or to spy through windows unseen. The choice to watch it live through windows and doors or televised on a large screen.

As a result of this control and choice, Habit forces us to notice our own act of viewing and level of voyeurism.  Raising questions of audience experience, what is reality and realism, where does performance begin and end?  I suspect, Habit will linger with you long after you’ve left and pop up the next time you find yourself peering into your neighbor’s lit house at night.

Posted February 24, 2011 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Habit, Theater, Work-in-progress
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Actors in their Habitat

Watching Habit by David Levine is unlike any play you have ever seen…guaranteed. Think you’ve seen it all?…We promise you haven’t. Every performance of Habit is, by nature, undoubtedly different than the next.

The play is set within a house that has been built in the middle of MASS MoCA’s, Hunter Center. The audience must walk up to the house and peer through the windows to view the action within the four walls.

The set has been built, the props have been purchased, and the actors have analyzed their characters with David, but the staging and the viewing of this performance is explicitly spontaneous.

When walking up to the house of Habit you will hear actors at any given point in the script. Will you enter during the pumpkin sex scene? Or will you arrive during the fight? Or Mitch’s serenade to Viv? There is no way to tell.

So you walk closer to the house…feeling a little nervous. Almost like you shouldn’t be there. But you’re curious. You want to know what they’re talking about. So you open the curtains and find three young characters (Doug, a cocaine dealer, Mitch, his naïve younger brother, and Viv, an addict who is “crashing” with the boys) in the midst of an existence that revolves around sex, drugs, rock n roll.

As your interest grows for the intoxicating story, you begin to move around the house to follow the character of your choice. A special interaction takes place within the audience as you begin to shift around each other. You must share window space with the person standing next to you, you can glance at each other during a questionable scene, and you may silently agree not to peer through the bathroom window when a character is “relieving themselves”.

The eerie and essential effect of voyeurism is executed by the absence of interaction between the actor and the audience. There is no “wrong” time to begin watching the show and no “right” time to leave. So now, we DARE you to see Habit THIS WEEKEND. It may ruffle your feathers a bit, but why not make life a little interesting?

Click here for more info about show times and ticket prices for Habit.

Thanks to Miss Danelle Cheney for the photos =]

Posted February 22, 2011 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Habit, Theater, Work-in-progress
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