September 25, 2011

boiler room

photo by jhsinger

This past weekend we went to the opening of Stephen Vitiello's All Those Vanished Engines at Mass Moca. A site-specific sound installation, Vitiello opened the boiler room, an edifice located in the museum's park & adjacent to the main galleries building, exposing it to the elements by removing the roof & many of its windows so that weather could get in & slowly work at dissolving the remaining guts of the system.  The past several days saw more rain, which instead of dampening the spirit of the event actually enhanced it, sending drips of water cascading throughout the building, & leaving reflective pools of water where sloughed off minerals collected along the floor. Vitiello installed lighting & sound throughout, using the organ-like structures to their best effect as resonators & reflectors.

Using a text written by novelist Paul Park specifically for the installation, the sounds & narrative, according to Park, "recall the history of the building as both a producer of sounds as well as a structure haunted by its production. After all, sound was what had animated the entire structure, in memory, and in the actual past, and was still animating it, for example, right now."

Also opening was Jane Philbrick's exquisitely landscaped work, The Expanded Field, which embraced the industrial setting & architecture of the museum's history & integrated interactive elements. Swings suspended from a bridge which cuts along one edge of the museum's grounds, as well as stone & rammed earth structures that hinted at buildings & structures past & held the air of recently uncovered ruins, created a compelling & usable space where museum visitors can sit & gather.

Open to the public was Michael Oatman's The Shining, a 1970s-era airstream space ship that appears to have crash-landed on the museum's grounds. Part of a project entitled All Utopias Fell, Oatman's resurrection of the laboratory & dwelling of Donald Carusi, an enigmatic former employee of the the Sprague Electronics Company, the company that occupied the buildings previous to the museum, add to the mystery of the man's life. The customized craft was accessible from a stairwell & catwalk leading out from the boiler room, & held the air of a hermit's lifework laboratory: the Library of the Sun filled with inspirational & informational books, lines of canned food, rows of yarn gods' eyes that adorned what looked to be light-tubes or fuses, & choppy & grainy films that suggested ancient solar mythologies flickering on the 'cockpit' screen. The craft overlooks Codex Solis, a series of panels of solar energy collectors which provide 7% of Mass MoCA's consumed power, which cryptically beat out a coded rooftop message based on an unnamed quotation. 

The opening itself was spirited & atmospheric, taking place under a steely gray sky & on top of ground that was wet & squishy despite straw strewn about to accommodate patrons' well-shod feet. While enjoying delicious local craft brews from The People's Pint, we were delighted to see an elaborate example of a parachute skirt worn, made by artist J. Morgan Puett & worn by the stylish Jennifer Trainor Thompson, Director of Development at the museum, as though she'd floated down from Oatman's silver lozenge to join the crowd.

In what turned out to be the perfect ending to a perfect day, the ride home found us wending our way at spectacular sunset through the Berkshires to avoid storm damaged & closed roads. Following the instructions printed out succinctly on small white strips & handed to us by an enthusiastic & knowledgeable museum staffer, we wove through valleys along the Deerfield River via back roads that were often whittled down to one lane where the river had chewed away its banks, or run-off from the mountains had washed passage away; at one point we had to ford a stream that had bedded down underneath a railway bridge. Arrestingly beautiful but filled with graphic reminders of our region's recent battle with flooding, we were awed by the destructive power of an element that likewise contains so much in the way of inspiration & beauty.

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