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Student Exhibit Defines Time, Space

By Lillian Yu, Crimson Staff Writer

At Harvard, time and space are precious commodities. Nearly every student longs for one more minute on an exam, one more foot of space on the morning shuttle. “The Space Within; The Time Without,” the newest exhibition in the Penthouse Coffee Bar at the Student Organization Center at Hilles (SOCH), explores the interchangeability of space and time. Unlike the standard fare of sterile modern sculpture, the SOCH’s latest spatial installation necessitates interaction with the art in a thought-provoking way. The work itself extends not only into the physical space of its gallery but also into the personal space of the viewer.

“The Space Within; The Time Without” is the brainchild of Xinran Yuan ’10, who is also a Crimson photographer, and Trevor J. Martin ’10. The two artists first conceptualized the installation in VES 130r: Shapeshifting, a directed studio course. Yuan and Martin created the exhibition after SOCH Art Gallery Curator O. Akili Tommasino ’10 approached them about installing site-specific pieces for the SOCH. “Trevor and Xinran are very sharp conceptual artists,” wrote Tommasino in an email. “My role in curating the exhibition was less about selecting from a pre-existing body of works and more concerned with facilitating the artists’ engagement with the space to create an original installation,”

For Yuan, there exists an intimate relationship between physical space and the “space” that contains an individual’s memories, intuition, and emotions. “I think sensitivity to surrounding environment is crucial to making art as well as making impactful art,” she wrote in an e-mail. Yuan cites her well-established interest in architecture as a significant influence on the creation of the exhibition. “[It’s] the fact that a change in routine space, or a moment of disruption, can remind us the otherwise-overlooked surrounding environment,” Yuan said. “That’s why I did a space installation.”

Yuan used black yarn to create dark silhouettes of chairs, offset by a white canvas. The organic nature and familiarity of the yarn evokes an intimate nostalgia. Hugging Yuan’s work—literally, as the two elements are joined by black tape—is a clock and picture frames created by Martin. The clock’s face is marked by linear strokes radiating outwards from the center. The rectangular picture frame hangs freely in the middle of the room.

A piece of prose excerpted from a text about the events of September 11, 2001 creates the illusion of three-dimensionality with the prismatic shape the words take. At a cursory glance, the piece is striking primarily in its aesthetic appeal; however, the content’s nature lends it a haunting and jarring quality.

The latent energy of the exhibition arises from the details of Yuan and Martin’s installation. From the diction and graphic composition of the prismatic prose piece to the linear marks on the clock’s face, each element of the exhibition is fastidious but not overbearingly so. There is a fine line between being finicky and being cerebral, and the artists tread this divide very carefully. One more spool of yarn or one more stroke on the clock-face, and the additions would have been a bit too deliberate.

Though the installation is thoughtfully complex and utilizes its environment effectively, the separate components of the installation are not clearly demarcated. The lack of a traditionally defined area for the art divorces the work from its audience, who very easily could overlook parts of the installation. The ebony clock frame, for instance, hangs quietly on the wall; despite the small “time without” label beneath it, the clock melds with the space around it. As a result, the clock is ambivalently camouflaged as part of the café’s stock décor. However, the tension that such an arrangement creates between its own passivity and the installation’s demand for intellectual attention does not necessarily weaken the impact of the exhibition.

As a work concerned with space and intuitive sensitivity, the installation succeeds in seamlessly fusing its fictional space within the real physical space of the gallery. Such subtlety may very well be a sacrifice worth making to carry out the art’s intent.

“The Space Within; The Time Without,” on view through April 3, calls for observation, perception, and deliberation. To directly address the exhibition, which passively defies confrontation by retreating into the background, is to uncover a metaphysical wonderland.

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