I recently attended a lecture at MIT. This is usually not a compelling way to start a blog post, except that in this case the lecture was given by this year’s MIT McDermott Prize winner, contemporary artist Olafur Eliasson.
Charming and handsome in a bookish way, Eliasson opened the lecture by thanking and complimenting Margaret McDermott (wife of the late prize honoree, Eugene McDermott – MIT graduate and founder of Texas Instruments, and endower of the prize). From there, he quickly launched into some of his best known (and some less known) projects.
Eliasson, who is Danish, born to parents from Iceland, and now residing in Berlin, creates immersive and often collaborative works and environments, in which he manipulates natural elements such as light, temperature and water to create multi-sensory experiences and effect the way his audiences process the space around them. He is arguably best known stateside for his New York City Waterfalls, in which he installed four waterfalls in four locations in New York Harbor. If you are not familiar with his work, I urge you to peruse his excellent multi-media website.
Below are musings on my favorite Olafur (yes, we are on a first-name basis) quotes from the lecture:
“We must explore the potential of what creativity can actually do.”
Much of Olafur’s practice is about bridging the gap between thinking and doing. His current project Little Sun is about delivering beautiful, handheld, solar-powered lights to places around the world where electricity is unreliable or nonexistent.
To Eliasson, “creativity is the passage by which the [artist’s] choice becomes ethical and political.”
At PEM, we believe that everyone possesses creative expression, and hope that the people we serve are stimulated to draw on their own creativity via the experiences they have at PEM. Beauty, aesthetics, intellectual inquiry and technique are important. But we believe that, at its core, creative expression is about finding novel and elegant solutions to difficult problems.
“Art is a model for how we might talk and relate to each other. Art is successful when it verbalizes something you already know, but don’t quite know how to say.”
Have you ever felt, when looking at a work of art, that something lodged deep inside you is being freed? Something you may not have known was there? I am exceedingly fortunate to work in a place where each time I look at the Nick Cave Soundsuit in our American Decorative Arts Gallery, I am want to dance, and think about why anonymity can have such a profound impact on our behavior.
Where our Japanese “Hyakumanben juzu (rosary for one million repetitions)” make me examine the nature of community, and move something in me that is about faith and spirituality.
And where Frank Benson’s painting After the Storm makes me think about my boyfriend’s 12-year-old daughter, and my desire to at once expose and protect her from the harsh realities of the world around her.
“Museums are about facilitating our ability to disagree and to share at the same time – like the weather. They allow us to share some values and be singular at the same time [and in the same space]. Museums are about perspectives and looking at the world.”
About a year ago I brought one of my favorite five-year-olds to our Wool Festival. James is the precocious, quirky, and, in my completely objective opinion, adorable child of one of my dearest friends. He was blown away by the Michael Lin installation in our circular staircase “It’s like you’re a tiny little person inside a giant vase!” and of the Mr. Nobodys in our AEA gallery.
“Who are all these guys Auntie Vic?” I started to explain to him the nature of production of Asian Export Art and he was having none of it. He had created his own narrative for who they were and what the wallpaper was expressing. My instinct was to say “Listen to me kid! I’m trying to teach you an important lesson about the history of global trade.” Of course, luckily, I quickly came to my senses, realizing that his experience did not need to be identical to my own, and that his sense of wonder and imagination is as important a take away from the Michael Lin installation as its more academic aspects. What Mr. Nobody means to me can be different than what he means to James and that’s very OK, in fact, essential. Thank goodness children are around to teach us to act sensibly.
“The effort of understanding something is as important as actually understanding it. Museums are some of the only places that encourage this. Museums can teach us to think abstractly [and to recognize] that success is often in the temporal, not only in the solidification of the idea.”
And here we are, back to one of our original topics. The notion that museums connect thinking and doing is one of the core values of PEM. Sometimes the WHY is more important than the HOW. It can be difficult to remove oneself from the binary judgment world of “I like it” or “I don’t like it.” It often seems to me that knowing how to get to the core of an idea and then decide if it has merit is becoming a lost art, particularly as public education becomes exceedingly more geared towards standardized testing. At PEM, everything from our interactive tools to our docents, encourages questioning and rooting around for the bud of the idea. And still, I plainly and viscerally enjoy Amy Youngs’ Museum for Insects in the current exhibition in our Art and Nature Center, the beautiful Carved Ivory Tusk in the Asian Export Art Gallery, and Anish Kapoor’s Halo in the Atrium as much because of the feelings these works stir in me as the ideas inherent in them.