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In Our Present Condition…, SA+P Dean’s Gallery, 2017.
In Our Present Condition…, SA+P Dean’s Gallery, 2017.

May 1, 2018July 15, 2018

SA+P Dean's Office Gallery
MIT Building 7-231

Recent work by MIT alumni in visual art.

Co-curated by ACT Consulting Curator Laura Knott and ACT Research Affiliate Nomeda Urbonas, In Our Present Condition… celebrates work by alumni whose diverse practices have received numerous awards and recognitions in international art circuits. The show is part of the many events and exhibits associated with the year-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS).

When Professor György Kepes founded the Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) in 1967, he provided a home at MIT for “artistic tasks that have authentic roots in our present condition.”

Fifty years later, the CAVS lineage continues in SA+P’s Program in Art, Culture and Technology, an academic and research center for the visual arts. In celebration of the founding of CAVS, the work exhibited in this exhibition illuminates a new and complex “present condition,” engaged with civic life and creating alternative models of contemporaneity.

Special thanks to ACT’s Seth Avecilla for his assistance, and to the MIT School of Architecture + Planning, Office of the Dean for supporting and hosting the exhibit.

Exhibit photographs featured here courtesy of Nomeda Urbonas.


Featured artists and works:

Wind Egg, Haseeb Ahmed (S.M. Visual Studies, 2010)

Poster in the format of a scientific presentation. Model of Adlershof Trudelturm vertical wind tunnel (1936), Berlin, Germany. 2016

Haseeb Ahmed’s Wind Egg, a performance and film created at the NATO von Karman Institute for Fluid Dynamics outside of Brussels, subverts the language and methods of scientific experiment and reportage. The project speculates on new narratives for scientific research—including this attempt to realize the ancient Greek theory that the wind could fertilize animals and people.

Under Discussion, Jennifer Allora (S.M. Visual Studies, 2003) and Guillermo Calzadilla

Single channel video with sound, 6 minutes 14 seconds. 2005

Under Discussion was shot on Vieques, Puerto Rico following a successful campaign of popular resistance to the U.S. Navy’s use of the island as a bombing range. As the decades of bombing practice ended, though, lingering discussions about plans for the island excluded the people most directly concerned with its future. Allora and Calzadilla’s “case study of a power struggle” took the language of conflict resolution literally, attempting with this work to mobilize and speed up discussion. In the video, the overturned table is piloted along the island’s historic fishing route by the son of a Vieques fisherman.

Design for El Centro Documental Flores Magón, Giacomo Castagnola (S.M. Art, Culture and Technology, 2013)

Documentary images of exhibition and space design, La Casa del Hijo del Ahuizote, Mexico City. 2013

The archive, print house, and Museum of the Flores Magón brothers brings together historical materials and a contemporary community in a site that documents and re-invigorates socialist and anarchist movements of pre-revolutionary Mexico. Constructed in a building that once housed the production of dissident newspaper El Hijo del Ahuizote, the space functions in concert with community members, providing meeting spaces, classes, and outreach beyond its walls into the local streets, where Archive staff organize after-school tutoring. Castagnola’s design supports all of these disparate activities, from a school on wheels to a multi-layered study center.

Maarad TrablousAlia Farid (S.M. Visual Studies, 2008)

Single channel video with sound, 14:25. 2016

Alia Farid’s Maarad Trablous (The Fairgrounds of Tripoli) is set in a 25,000 acre urban park designed by Brazilian modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer in 1963 as a site for international expositions. Construction of the park’s structures was interrupted in 1975 as the civil war in Lebanon began. The park remains unfinished and isolated from civic life in Tripoli, unlike Niemeyer’s Ibirapuera Park in São Paulo, where Farid’s film was originally shown. Following a single figure through Maarad Trablous, the film invites questions about how architectural concepts are adapted and translated across geographies, cultures, and political settings.

Record: 2012.09.28Sohin Hwang, (S.M. Art, Culture and Technology, 2011), Jaekyung Jung (S.M. Visual Studies, 2010)

Bound volume. 2013

Sohin Hwang’s Record documents every item for sale on eBay on September 28, 2012 that relates to U.S. involvement in the Korean War. The date was chosen at random. One of a projected series of twelve volumes addressing U.S. military engagements, the work examines the intersections of militarism, commerce and the monetary and social values attached to the act of collecting artifacts of war. Shown here as an open book, the work invites viewers to examine the density and depth of this historical record.

Video Slink: Bruce LeeMarisa Jahn (S.M. Visual Studies, 2007)

Video animation, 2 minutes; Cardboard altar. 2016, ongoing

Martial artist Bruce Lee, an internationally beloved figure since the 1970s, shaped the popular imaginary of a victorious underdog. Building on a 2013 pilot project in Uganda, Marisa Jahn’s Video Slink: Bruce Lee involves translating and burning—“slinking”—experimental films, created by diasporan artists, that play as previews to the main action film on bootleg DVDs. The double bootlegs are then sold on the street and distributed through Uganda’s extensive network of informal cinemas. Video Slink: Bruce Lee, with a projected audience in the millions, positions Lee as a shared language with which to communicate with underdogs all over the world in a conversation about power.

Mushroom Burial SuitJae Rhim Lee (S.M. Visual Studies, 2006)

2010, ongoing

A human body stores over 200 environmental toxins that are released back into the environment after death. Jae Rhim Lee’s Mushroom Burial Suit proposes a radical rethink of environmentally damaging industrial practices of handling human remains. By encouraging an acceptance of the physicality of death and highlighting the inseparability of the human body and the “natural world,” the Mushroom Burial Suit functions as an agent of change—physically, psychologically and environmentally. The suit is embedded with mushroom spores that decompose and clean toxins from the body and leave behind non-toxic compost.

Human Face for a Robot MindPia Lindman (S.M. Visual Studies, 1999)

Single channel video, silent, 4:46. 2006

In 2005–2006, Pia Lindman was the artist in residence at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). There, Lindman noticed a charged emotional dynamic between researchers and their robotic subjects. In drawings, performances, and videos, she examined both the gulf between humans and machines, and the emergent possibilities inherent in human/machine relationships. Lindman’s probing examinations of human gestures continued in subsequent work, resulting in a new focus on traditional and ancient means of healing.

Four sketches from Barragán Alphabet Vitra/Futura, Jill Magid (S.M. Visual Studies, 2000)

Sketches for Barragán Alphabet/ VitraFutura. Pencil and ink on mylar. 2013

Jill Magid’s extended multimedia project The Barragán Archives examines the legacy of Mexican architect and Pritzker Prize-winner Luis Barragán (1902–1988).  Along with the vast majority of his architecture, Barragán’s personal archive remains in Mexico while his professional archive—including the rights to the architect’s name and work—is closely controlled by Swiss furniture company Vitra. These sketches overlay the publicly-available font Futura with the Vitra-owned version of the font, and, as part of the larger project, point to questions about how psychology and legality intersect in determining who controls an artist’s legacy.

OPEN HOUSE and THE STOREFRONT THEATERMatthew Mazzotta (S.M. Visual Studies, 2009)

Documentary images and documentary single channel video with sound, 6:54. 2013, 2015

In OPEN HOUSE, Matthew Mazzotta and the people of York, Alabama transformed a blighted downtown property into a public art project. Built in the shape of a house, the structure unfolds into a 100-seat open-air theater. THE STOREFRONT THEATER, a public artwork created with the people of Lyons, Nebraska, turns Main Street into an outdoor movie theater. Mazzotta’s socially-engaged interventions begin with an “Outdoor Living Room,” a public space that allows people from varied disciplines and backgrounds to exchange ideas and energies, revealing how the spaces we travel through and live within might become sites for intimate, radical, and meaningful exchange.

Follower, Lauren McCarthy (S. B. Art and Design and S.B. Computer Science and Engineering, 2008)

Video, photographic and documentary prints, app. 2016, ongoing

Follower takes the language of social media at face value. But here, instead of providing followers online, the service provides a real life follower for a day and results in a single photo shot by the Follower. McCarthy’s work attempts to reconcile the willingness to engage with online followers, and to attract ever more of them, with a keen awareness of “ubiquitous camera placement, NSA monitoring, Google tracking, and any number of other [surveillance] practices.” By reversing the interface of app and user, Follower negotiates a new possibility to satisfy the intense desire to be seen and known.

A Camouflaged Question In The Air, Hiroharu Mori (S.M. Visual Studies, 2004)

Balloon. 2003/2017

A Camouflaged Question In the Air has appeared in various formats and installations, including a billboard and a single channel video. In a 2003 version, randomly selected people in public sites were given a choice to release or hold the balloon. Taking as its starting point the English phrase “up in the air,” the work refers to a fragile and ambiguous condition: a camouflaged question mark floats overhead, literally raising questions about meaning, purpose and the power of play to engage with serious and urgent issues.

The Invisible Enemy Should Not ExistMichael Rakowitz (S.M. Visual Studies, 1998)

Documentary image, 2007, ongoing

In The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist, Michael Rakowitz recreates artifacts stolen from, or destroyed at, museums in Iraq during and since the Iraq War. As his winning entry for the 2017 Trafalgar Square Fourth Plinth competition in London, Rakowitz recreates Lamassu, a winged bull that stood at the entrance to the Nergal Gate of Nineveh in Iraq since ca 700 BCE and was later destroyed by ISIS in 2015 at the Mosul Museum. The Lamassu will be made from empty date syrup cans from Iraq, referencing a thriving national industry decimated since the onset of the Iraq War.