Portrait of an Artist: Jesse A. Green and Michael Wang

Jesse A. Green ’02 and Michael Wang ’03, both graduates of the Visual and Environmental Studies Department, have curated shows of their own works in the main gallery of the Carpenter Center for Visual Arts in conjunction with the 50th anniversary celebration of the building. Wang’s exhibit, entitled “Differentiation Series,” features painted-over microscope images of stem cells that he created with Gabriella Boulting of the Kevin Eggan Lab. “Paranoia Places Its Faith in Exposure,” Green’s exhibition, displays over 40 works of video, paintings, drawings and sculpture and photographs. The artists explained how their exhibits relate to the history of the building.

The Harvard Crimson: How did you conceive of and develop your ideas for this show?

Jesse Aron Green: I’m really invested in the ideologies of mid-century art and architecture, and I wanted to engage those ideas, which have a lot to do with vision, ways of seeing and the ability to see through spaces, and the way in which spaces encode bodily habit. When I was in [the Carpenter Center] I had immediately an idea for the central piece, a large video installation projected onto [a] window...that would be rendered invisible during the day because of the light streaming through and would come alive at night and be seen from outside. From that initial hit upon the idea of translucence I started to create a whole body of work related to it.

Michael Wang: I was looking at a book by Sigfried Gideon called “Space Time and Architecture.” He has a section devoted to the Carpenter Center and describes the promise of the building as a place where people would...have a kind of interdisciplinary encounter in which they would explore new visual ideas. I wanted to think about that interdisciplinary promise and what that means today. Around that same time…I met [Gabriella Boulting]. The premise for her work is that artificially induced stem cells can become any cell in the human body. I ended up creating a pigment mixing system that produces 411 different distinct colors, matching the 411 recognized cell types in the human body.

THC: In what ways do you think your experience with this show was influenced by the fact that at one time you were a student taking classes in the building?

MW: I think that my feeling about the building has changed because it does have more of a feeling to me now as almost a museum piece, whereas when you’re in it everyday it’s much more of a kind of functional space…you stop seeing the building as much. Coming back to the building 10 or so years later puts me in a better position to really think about it in properly historical terms.

JAG: A big theme of my show is lineage and influence, not so hidden within that are a lot of references to Harvard and Harvardiana. That was a very self-conscious attempt to engage with the importance of this institution and how it’s influenced me.

THC: How do you think your respective works relate to and complement each other?

MW: We were both thinking about the history of this building. He was interested in using the space as a reference and almost as a part of the content of his work. My works almost are autonomous; it’s the one, temporary wall, whereas his works occupy the space in a much more diffused way. His is more about the specific architecture of the building, and mine is more about the way it was maybe meant to be programmed.

JAG: In one way they’re totally different…but you can see some themes. His work is about paintings that are made from research into the potentiality of stem cells to become differentiated, but from a more conceptual abstract point of view. It’s about how images might be made in a kind of automatic way. There’s a system … and you might see something similar in some of my work. The white drawings are created according to a system: a laser cutter burns the paper and the letters get cut out. It creates this image but also has these things that I can’t predict: little burn marks, smoke marks.

THC: What do you hope people take away from the show?

JAG: It’s very hard within the realm of the visual to dictate something specific that you want the viewer to take away. At the same time, this exhibition is very much composed [of] the interaction of different kinds of formal procedures and objects. The idea of translucence…might allow a viewer to tie [these pieces] together and see them in conjunction with one another.

MW: [At the opening] there were these … two discrete interpretations of the work in the format of a gallery tour. At one end of the wall was [Boulting], and on the other was [Jennifer Quick] who’s pursuing a PhD in art history, each…presenting their interpretations of the works, based on their disciplinary expertise. I want people to see how we can make two systems coincide in a way that can seem inevitable, but showing how that’s constructed and in the end a little bit arbitrary. The images are kind of dumb in themselves; they can be used and appropriated in very different ways depending on the perspective of the person who’s encountering the works.

­—Staff writer Rebecca J. Mazur can be reached at rmazur@college.harvard.edu.

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