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Finding Magic in the Mundane

By Cara B. Eisenpress, Crimson Staff Writer

Nothing is what it seems at the Carpenter Center’s student show, “Double Hung II.”

The little hospital room, painted vomit-green? Not a hospital room. The weights, pulleys, and ramps on the far wall? Not physics toys. And the three paintings opposite the lobby’s entrance? They weren’t painted.

In the second of two exhibits featuring art chosen from the work done in fall semester Visual and Environmental Studies (VES) studio classes, the range of talent and interest is immense, as is the variety of media––from “ready-made” to animation––but there is an inclination to evoke and twist the mundane.

Chloe L. Stinetorf ’06, the artist of “Constellation 1, 2, and 3,” the pieces at the entrance, was thrilled to work with the variety of media her class allowed. For “Visual and Environmental Studies 123r, Post Brush,” Stinetorf silk-screened diagrams, drawings, and NASA images of constellations onto canvas, then moved to collage, adding layers of paper, cloth cut-outs, and plastic flowers to convey a depth she finds lacking in ordinary silk-screening.

Despite the title, her muse was closer to home than the stars, coming from sketches of coliseums that Stinetorf connects to the interior of the Malkin Athletic Center (MAC), where she spends a lot of time.

Lewis Z. Liu ’08 also seems to have found inspiration within Harvard’s walls. He made “On the Basics of Newtonian Forces” in a VES directed research class. For the installation, Liu hung small, square canvases on the wall with larger rectangular and triangular ones, connected—through laws of physics—with ropes and some pulley systems.

He even includes a pile of handouts in front of his piece that could be the next problem set for “Reality Physics.” Perplexed visitors are asked to match his paintings with titles such as “c) Freely falling object,” or “f) Object(s) in equilibrium via normal force and tension of the string.”

Far opposite, a huge white curtain catches the afternoon light coming in through the windows. It’s not made of cloth, but of white plastic, onetime Glad garbage bags, prodded, divided into two layers, and sewn together.

Emma J. Bloomfield ’08 created “Seed” for Paul Stopforth’s introductory drawing class, despite the lack of pencil and paper involved.

The assignment for the class’s final project entailed using an object found in a Cambridge location designated by a dart hurled at a map of the city. Bloomfield followed her dart to Lee Street, between Harvard and Central Squares, only to find that her high school musical director was outside his house, tending to his lawn. She took a grass feed bag back as her object, but she also reconnected with her old acquaintance.

As for “Seed”: finding that Stopforth encouraged her exploration with the bags, Bloomfield kept playing with them. “I spent most of the time sitting in the corner, just working on these bags,” she says. “The texture’s just my finger, poking through them.”

Like Stinetorf, she worked intuitively. “I didn’t have a conceptual underpinning,” she says. “It was about working with the material, its fragility. I wanted a sculpture that would capture it.” And so she took her twenty textured Glad bags and sewed them into a curtain.

Hannah B. Merriman, a student at Harvard Divinity School, admires the curtain as she walks out of the lobby. “It’s amazing,” she says, “how you can make art from anything.”

Merriman made art for this show, from, among other things, a bed, a stuffed fox bought on eBay, and dirt, though she normally just paints.

Her work is part of a group installation at the Linden Street Studios the class “VES 130r, Criticality, the Body, and ‘Other Things’” put up of which only four of the pieces are here. The theme for the project was a hospital, and each student used ready-made objects to create a contribution.

Here, Merriman’s bed is across from the project of Graduate School of Design student Jessica Y. Yin ’01, a wheelchair whose arms and legs she transformed into jagged landscape through computer programs that measured a body’s comfort level on the chair.

“[The project] was tricky because people worked at different paces, in different places,” Yin says. “A lot happened at the last minute, connections formed.”

This idea of the installation as a collage of its participants’ work extends to the exhibit as a whole.

A part of it is the disorientation Elena N. Chardakliyska ’07 characterizes in her photographs, where “you’re not sure where you’re looking, is it up or down, through water or air?”

Yet once taken in conjunction with the ordinary objects that composed them, the ephemeral gets grounded in a surprising, familiar materiality.

Staff writer Cara B. Eisenpress can be reached at eisenpr@fas.harvard.edu.

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