On the east side of campus, 17,240 white LED lights trill patterns up and down steel rods hanging over the entrance to the MIT Sloan School of Management’s renovated Building 52. This dynamic artwork, Light Matrix (MIT) by Leo Villareal, was commissioned for MIT’s Public Art Collection as a Percent-for-Art project and it is a centerpiece of the List Center for Visual Art’s illustrated Year in Review.
Light Matrix (MIT), along with Antony Gormley’s Chord, an installation featuring 33 stainless steel polyhedrons welded together and filling a Building 2 stairwell, bring the number of large-scale public art works on campus to nearly 70.
“We collect, commission, and exhibit,” says Paul Ha, director of the List Center, which has become an active partner in the contemporary art scene under his lead. In the past year, the List has presented seven special exhibitions in galleries and on campus.
Just this fall, the List Center has drawn media attention for several challenging exhibitions. In Written in Smoke and Fire, Edgar Arceneaux reappropriates blackface and examines the legacy of a quasi-sacral figure in national history. Ethan Hayes-Chute’s project offers a work bench serving as a backdrop for two short videos, and an installation of a partial cabin that houses sculptures and ready-made elements. And a review of artist Tala Madani’s painting show, First Light, is titled “Men Are Babies.”
Another exhibit, I Must First Apologize…, presents a body of work that looks at the history of online spam and scamming through film, sculpture, photography, and installation. Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige draw on their repository of spam e-mail collected since 1999.
In a video, they describe scam as a kind of narrative, “as a film in the head of the scammer. We wanted it to be a film that unfolds…stories that we are all part of, stories where you cannot say, ‘it can never happen to me.’ Because we never know. We all want to believe and be part of a relations with another.”
While many artworks are designed independent of their location, Light Matrix (MIT) has a visceral relationship to campus. “MIT has always been a mythological place to me and I’ve been here many times. It’s a great honor to work within this context,” says Villareal.
When he installed his piece, Villareal meticulously adjusted the light array on location using software he’s been working on for a decade. He custom designed light sequences and then gathered and combined them into elaborate compositions. “It’s almost like tuning a musical instrument. Light is so primal, it’s a very seductive material,” says Villareal. “Humans have a very deep response to it.”
Check the current List exhibitions and what’s coming up in 2017.