Sculpture offers collective experiences
The proposed sculpture for the Student Center by artist Mags Harries presents the MIT community with a unique opportunity to be rendered in a form of collective portraiture. Through the medium of hair collected from MIT individuals, Harries is extending the opportunity to donate a piece of oneself, which will then be woven into a single form and displayed publicly.
I feel the sculpture will function as a totem, a physical symbol which bears meaning in reference to the community, a consciously created historical document and cultural artifact which will make an enduring humanist statement. The proposed sculpture would signify identity and coalescence.
Given the construction of power at MIT, posited chiefly in the administrative bureaucracy, the opportunities for student input and expression, particularly in a permanent form, are indeed limited. The portraits that currently decorate the Student Center depict former MIT presidents and their wives; these works are formal, traditional, and "official" paintings.
This sculpture would also signify identity and would become a permanent part of MIT`s visual culture; however, the uniqueness and daring of the form would convey a particular impact. The proposed medium of human hair is meaningful, as hair historically represents power, freedom, identity, and intimacy. The heads <>
of prisoners and military recruits are shaved to deprive the individuals of their personal identity, their power, and the possibility of their hair as a vehicle of aesthetic statement, thus creating a disempowered and uniform identity.
Hair functions as a symbol of power in the biblical story of Samson and Delilah, where hair is equated with physical strength. Hair has been molded and sculpted into various forms that correspond to a cultural and historical aesthetic from the Hellenistic age to the present. Hair represents an intrinsic part of ourselves, styled for public display but only accessible through intimate contact. The use of hair as an artistic material also reveals an aspect of humor which is reflective of the student population, and which would work in contrast to the more conservative portraits.
The proposed Mags Harries sculpture would be a relational model for a collective statement of identity, power, and levity as described above. I feel that the work will ultimately maintain its relevance because the questions it poses will be of greater depth than our capacity to answer them. Therein lies the work's power. I hope the MIT community is cognizant of what Harries proposes to give and is willing to accept and participate in that statement.