ACT’s faculty, alumni, and students increase MIT’s art profile, showing in prominent venues around the world

Elizabeth Zhang | MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology


Joan Jonas to represent the United States at the 56th Venice International Art Biennale

ACT Professor Emerita Joan Jonas was chosen to represent the U.S. at the 56th Venice Art Biennale. The biennale is one of the most prestigious exhibition and cultural institutions in the world, showing groundbreaking artworks, installations, and performances to hundreds of thousands of visitors every two years. The 56th biennale is directed by Okwui Enwezor, a curator, art critic, and writer, and the Director of the Haus der Kunst, Munich.

Jonas’s installation in the U.S. Pavilion is curated by ACT Founding Director and former Associate Professor Ute Meta Bauer and commissioned by the MIT List Visual Arts Center Director Paul C. Ha. Jonas, an innovator in video and performance art who taught at MIT for 15 years, will create interrelated, site-responsive installations for the five galleries in the US pavilion.  The exhibition will focus on “landscape and natural phenomena” and the “ocean as a poetic, totemic, and natural entity.” The Center’s director, Ha, remarks about Jonas’s work:

“Joan’s voice and vision continue to be powerful forces in contemporary art, and I am proud that we will present her newest work in Venice, one of the most important venues to present art.  As I know from my encounters with her work, the experience will forever alter how visitors perceive visual art and understand how Jonas vitally constructs hers with a dynamic mix of sight and sound: sculpture, video, drawing, spoken and written text, and music.”

Jonas’s highly anticipated exhibit will be the third such project presented at the Biennale by the MIT List Visual Center. To learn more about Jonas’s presence at the Venice Biennale, click here.


Acquiring Modernity and Local Warming currently on view at the 14th Venice International Architecture Biennale

Alumni Alia Farid, SMVisS ’08, and Leigh Christie, SMACT ’14, contributed to the discussion on the history and future of architecture at the 2014 Venice International Architecture Biennale, the architectural counterpart of the Biennale’s contemporary art exhibition, on view until November 23.

Farid curated the Kuwait Pavilion, assembling the architectural and visual pieces of the pavilion under the title Acquiring Modernity: 1914-2014 in the spirit of the overarching theme of the festival, Fundamentals, put forth by internationally renowned architect and curator of the biennale, Rem Koolhaas. Fundamentals concerns itself with the past, present, and future of architecture in the context of national identities, global societies, and architectural elements.

Koolhaas asked National Pavilions to focus on how “diverse material cultures and political environments [facilitated] . . . a radical splintering of modernities” despite the inescapable “homogenizing process of globalization.” In response, Farid selected pieces uniquely addressing Kuwait’s tumultuous relationship with its past to investigate the “repercussions of commissioning architectural works” for the sole purpose of impressing a sense of progress towards modernity.  This exhibition is part of a long-term project aimed to restore “rigorous cultural involvement” in Kuwait by reclaiming the symbols of modernity to “generate meaning and restore a sense of ownership and feelings of responsibility.”

The current findings displayed at the Biennale are just part of a longer running project aimed at restoring “rigorous cultural involvement” in Kuwait by reclaiming these symbols to “generate meaning and restore a sense of ownership and feelings of responsibility.” Click here to read more about the Kuwait Pavilion.

The Architecture Biennale also features contributions made by Christie to the MIT SENSEable City Lab’s Local Warming research project. The installation addresses energy consumption inefficiencies by “dynamically control[ling] highly localized heating” and “put[ting] the heat where the people are.” Christie was one of three main project leads and handled the artistic concept and direction of the budding technological system. In his own words, Local Warming is “an example of how energy-technology development can seem threatening and can also be interpreted as the exact opposite: a system that provides us with direct control over our own energy.” Click here to continue reading about Local Warming.


ACT and global art events

Current and past faculty have represented other countries at previous Venice Biennales: Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas: Villa Lithuania in the Lithuanian Pavilion (2007); Krzysztof Wodiczko: Guests in the Polish Pavilion (2009); and Antoni Muntadas: On Translation in the Spanish Pavilion (2013). In 2011, Azra Akšamija presented Monument in Waiting as part of Penelope’s Weaving, a collateral event of the 54th Venice Art Biennale.

These recent projects showcased at prestigious exhibitions are a tribute to ACT’s long established reputation for artistic excellence. In 2012, Documenta 13 showcased the work of Joan Jonas, lecturer Florian Hecker, and alumni Michael Rakowitz, SMVisS ’98, and Jennifer Allora, SMVisS ’03. A version of Reanimation, the piece presented by Jonas at Documenta 13, will be performed this upcoming November at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Throughout her career, she has exhibited six times at Documenta. Click to learn more about ACT’s participation in the 2012 exhibition. Another notable achievement by ACT faculty was Reneé Green’s Media Bichos installation at MoMA. In addition, ACT’s Azra Akšamija and architect Bernardo Bader received the 2013 Aga Khan Award for Architecture for the prayer space inside the Islamic Cemetery in Altach, Vorarlberg, Austria. To see more ACT projects and news, click here.

The installations and performances mentioned above are but a quick glance of the recent and past projects by ACT faculty, students, and alumni recognized by prestigious international venues. Their experimental and transdisciplinary works explore a wide variety of social, cultural, and political issues, crossing boundaries between cultures and disciplines and expanding MIT’s cultural and artistic presence.