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Modern Artists Come to MIT in Effort

to Create a Less Mechanical Dorm

Aileen Wu

On January 26th, a group of students and faculty members interviewed contemporary artist Dan Graham to discuss possibilities for works of art which will be displayed in the planned undergraduate dormitory on Vassar Street. Participants in this discussion included members of the Founders’ Group, an organization that has been responding to the design of the new dorm for the past year.

Graham believes that artists are necessary to help with the design of the new building in order to counterbalance the work of the architects, who “solve all these problems making things more mechanical.”

The artist was interested in making his project a living work of art with which students could interact. He took a tour of a few other MIT dormitories to get a feel for the campus. He remarked that he “liked the Alto,” referring to the design of Baker House, a creation of the esteemed architect Alvar Alto.

Graham’s plans for the new dorm were far from definite, leaving a lot of room for student and faculty input. He criticized MIT because it is “too mechanical” and hopes to create a more relaxed, leisurely atmosphere. He wanted his artwork to transform the dorm into “a pleasurable setting,” or perhaps even a “funhouse.”

He suggested having a cafÉ area, acknowledging the late hours MIT students put in and a “simple outdoor terrace.” In addition, he also suggested a yin-yang decoration with one side made up of a Zen garden and the other of water. During the discussion, he pointed out that he was used to incorporating the outdoors in his pieces.

Graham mentioned that the “lack of light and landscape in the interior” of the dorm might make it harder to work. However, he could integrate sunlight and other factors into his indoor pieces.

One of the students at the discussion bought, Catherine Foo ’02 complained, “students generally say that the art on campus is ugly,” which partly due to their lack of understanding of contemporary art and partly because of the lack of explanation that goes with the works.

A faculty member answered that “a series of exhibitions” would be held of the art in order to “elicit [the students’] opinions.” Nevertheless, the atmosphere of the new dorm will ultimately be determined by its future residents. When looking at dormitories such as East Campus, with its creative murals and decorations, it is apparent, as Jennifer Berk ’01 mentioned, that living areas are “imprinted with student personalities.”

Graham has previously worked with the Deia Foundation, an organization in New York City interested in displaying the works of aspiring artists. He aims to make his work “quasi-functional quasi-aesthetic.” He specializes in using public spaces to display his work. For instance, he used the roof of the Deia Foundation building to create a “Cubical Cylindrical” artwork. The outer layer was constructed of two-sided glass that would reflect the city skyline, while the inner layer was built to enclose a coffee bar and a performance area.

Another one of his works includes “Two Adjacent Pavilions,” which were set up in the Ford Foundation Building.

On February 15, from 2:30 to 4:30, another artist, Andrea Zittel, will come to MIT for a similar discussion. All who are interested are invited to attend. The artists will be asked to add one work to MIT’s permanent collection and a piece for the living space.