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Floating On A Whim by ARTalk

[by Katharine Chu '09, Guest Blogger] An art UROP carries a curious course 9-er all the way to Europe.

[by Katharine Chu ’09, Guest Blogger]

I was once told, “If you come into MIT wanting to do the same thing as when you leave without even wondering once if you should pursue something else, you probably didn’t get the most of your MIT education.”

After three years of eclectic classes and following my instincts, I feel like I haven’t even tapped into what the institute has to offer its students.  If there’s one thing I learned at MIT, if you even think you’re interested in something, you owe it to yourself to explore your options.

Nine months ago, I was in the middle of a creative consulting internship at 20th Century Fox when I was first introduced to the possibilities that pursuing art could give me.  Before my internship, I wouldn’t consider myself an artist and all the classes I had taken were very much geared towards science.  But after my work in LA, I realized that maybe it was time to try sometime new.

So when I saw a UROP posting with an artist at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies, who was interested in working on an floating sculpture by Marta Pan for an exhibition in Sweden, I realized what I had to do.  I called the artist, Jane Philbrick, from my small apartment in LA and set up a time for a meet and greet.

I met with Jane in her studio and immediately signed on for the project.  For the next 6 months, we worked tirelessly on the project interviewing Professors form EECS, Materials Engineering, Aero/Astro, Philosophy, Math, Architecture, Brain and Cognitive Science, and even my Harvard Professor in Evolutionary Biology (which I was able to cross-register and take).  We invited all of these professors to tea and connected the institute all in the name of contemporary art!

During these 6 months, I dropped in an application to the UROP office and applied for funding for an IROP [international UROP] along with a Kelly-Douglas Traveling Fellows Grant and to my surprise I was sponsored to go to Sweden assist in the installation. Professor Kerry Emanuel one of the professors that I had met with earlier in the year had told me, “Katharine, you should see classic Dutch maritime paintings.” Little did I know, I would actually see these paintings in real life at the Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands.

The Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands.

My first day of travel involved taking a plane and traveling to Iceland and we landed at the Reikiavic airport and had a connection flight to Copenhagen. Immediately we got on another plane to Amsterdam. The next morning we went to the Rembrandt House, where Jane and I were able to look at the his house, studio, and study. This gave us so much insight into the way he worked, the processes he underwent for his etchings, and the research he did for his paintings. We learned that not only did Rembrandt work on his pieces in his house, but he also entertained guests and showed other artists’ work in his house. After the visit, not only did I understand Rembrandt’s life, I also felt like I finally understood his artwork. Later that day, we visited the Rijksmuseum, where I looked at Dutch classical paintings and other classical works for inspiration to adapt to our sculpture. One painting that was was especially wonderful was Willem van de Velde’s pen paintings. I was absolutely amazed by the concept of a pen painting and was immediately attracted to the way water and air was protrayed. We could only assume that it was these same forces that inspired Marta Pan to create her floating sculpture.

Rembrandt House in the Netherlands.

Afterwards, we went to the Van Gogh museum and the de Apple and headed home. The next day, we set off to see the floating sculpture at the Kroller Muller museum in Otterlo. I was so excited to actually see the sculpture that we were recreating. We also met with the conservator who treated the sculpture, and talked to her about artist concepts and how she preserved the sculpture. As a material scientist, this topic was especially interesting to me because I was always curious how much material choice and material knowledge contributed to the act of conservation.

Floating sculpture by Marta Pan at Otterlo in the Netherlands.

The next day, we headed to Sweden, and prepared to present our work to the Skissernas museum staff. After a day long meeting, our ideas were approved and we started to work on finalizing our designs. Not only were our designs influenced by the budget, but actually visualizing the space of the museum allowed for us to really understand how the design needed to change to best engage the viewer. After several days of hard work, we met with several architects who would help Jane work on her rammed-earth sculpture. After an entire day of traveling and learning about rammed earth technologies and how we could best apply them to the another sculpture that would be in the exhibition, we watched several builders created rammed earth houses. We were able to see how these sustainable and eco-friendly houses were created one at a time across the Swedish countryside.

Working on rammed earth sculpture.

We then set of to Wanas, an art foundation complete with a dairy farm and a huge castle where some of the most innovative and exciting art in Europe is created. Jane had a sound piece and Wanas several years ago, and we were invited to stay in the west wing of the castle for our trip. Our night concluded with a self-conducted grand tour of the sculpture garden, which contained some of the most gorgeous sculptures I had ever seen. The next night, we headed back to Lund and flew back to MIT.

When I came to MIT I foresaw problem sets, sleepless nights, cute nerdy boys, and great friends, but I never saw myself as an artist. I came across something I was interested in, trusted my instincts, followed my passions and ended up somewhere I never expected. And I am quite thankful I did.

4 responses to “Floating On A Whim”

  1. siddhartha says:

    that is a good chapter you added to your career…
    actually it was an intresting post….

  2. Banerjee says:

    I love the pictures!! And the post. Of course.

    :-]