Celebrating 50 Years of CAVS

By: - May 25, 2018

'Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies' at the MIT Museum - until 1/31/2019 and

'Gyorgy Kepes Photographs II, MIT Years 1946-1985,' MIT Museum, until July 15, 2018

 265 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and at the Compton Gallery, 77 Massachusetts Avenue

The MIT Museum will continue its exhibitions Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies  and Gyorgy Kepes: 1946-84 the MIT Years. On April 27 the director of the Museum, John Durant, brought the CAVS community together at a reception to mark the year long focus on the Center’s work by various departments on campus. We greeted many friends and former Research Fellows, who had come from nearby, afar and even overseas. We shared memories and caught up with our lives. We also documented the occasion as you can see in the above photo series. I must confess that I stopped photographing at some delightful point during the evening.

Along with Mark Mendel and his partner Cynthia Atwood, a sculptor, we attended a symposium during the day that the program Art, Culture and Technology (ACT) sponsored that weekend: A – Zoetics+. After the introduction by Gediminas Urbonas the following subjects were presented: What Does Ecosystemic Thinking Mean Today? – Knowledge Productions through Making and Living with Other Species – and The Radical Imagination: Toward Overcoming the Human. These and other progressive academic and research subjects were discussed in the course of two days, highlighting contemporary developments at MIT and elsewhere that still (and perhaps always) involve artistic thinking.

On the way to the MIT Museum we stopped at the second location, the Compton Gallery adjacent to the main corridor, where a number of exhibits are presented in large glass cases and a series of CAVS’ and Fellows’ videos are streamed, as described later in the article.

The party at the museum happened among art works on the main floor with large windows opening directly to Massachusetts Avenue. The neon poem Poetronics, by Mendel, can be read by anyone who is passing by. Piene’s large inflatable sculpture, Cereus, offers another invitation to curious pedestrians. Approximately 150 invited guests moved about or took up temporary residence, as did Senior Fellow, Lowry Burgess in a wheel chair, and several fellows joined his table.

Elizabeth Goldring-Piene would fly to Duesseldorf a few days later, where Piene’s 90th birthday was celebrated at the Schmela Haus. Alfred Schmela opened his gallery post WWII and had very early connections to Group ZERO in Duesseldorf. The gallery was transformed into a regional museum in 2009. Piene maintained throughout his life a studio in Duesseldorf and spent parts of every month in Duesseldorf for as long as he lived and worked in North America.

Former fellows, who flew in for the occasion were Dieter Jung, a holographer living in Berlin, and Bernd Kracke, the president of the University of Art and Design in Offenbach am Main. Luc Courchesne, Greg Garvey and Don Ritter drove or flew down from Canada. Bill Seaman is a professor of Art, Art History & Visual Studies at Duke University, Durham, N.C.  and Vin Grabill teaches as associate professor of Film/Video at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, just to mention a few who continue to teach as well as develop works and projects.

Todd Siler lives in Aspen, Colorado, and exhibits world-wide. Mike Moser works independently as a videographer in the Washington, D.C. area. Regional fellows, who all exhibit nationally or internationally are:  Joan Brigham, Mark Favermann, Beth Galston, Don Goldman, Chris Janney, C.M. Judge,  Laura Knott, Ellen Kozak, John Powell, Keiko Prince, Seth Riskin, Ellen Sebring and Alejandro Sina among others.  More details about participating artists in this exhibition will follow later in the article. We also exchanged some thoughts with daughter, Julia Kepes, who is not afraid to speak her mind.

The MIT Museum’s exhibitions and party became indeed the latest highlight of an illustrious CAVS history. My expanded and revised article, CAVS/MIT @ 50, which was published by BFA in March, follows here:

CAVS is the front-runner for several centers, museums and academic entities with similar mandates in North America and Europe. They are modeled on the CAVS concept of collaborations between the arts, sciences and technology. The Center - as it was usually known - lost its prominent location on Massachusetts Avenue, W11, in an MIT planning coup only a couple of years before Piene retired after 20 years at the helm. Following in his footsteps, now located near the MIT Museum, were Directors Steve Benton and Krzysztof Wodiczko. Work and research emphasis expanded with a changing Century towards geopolitics, identity and environmental citizenship. During the most active times of the Piene years, up to 40 artists had received residential or nonresidential appointments, and a total number of 100 projects had been sponsored by the Center and its Fellows in the course of only 10 years.

Finally, CAVS and the Visual Arts Program merged in 2009, when the Program in Art, Culture and Technology (ACT) was installed on East campus in brand new facilities. There have been a number of commemorative events sponsored by ACT since last year and the program will continue to define its own investigations of historical and current applications as the ACT website pronounces in typical academic language: “… creating new spaces for action, recognizing historical echoes of specific sites of knowledge production, and investigating material energies through symposia, exhibits, performances, publications, and radically experimental artistic interventions and practices.”

New online is also a remarkable beginning of The Virtual Museum, where digital documentation of CAVS books and publications, teaching and project documents, as well as works by Fellows are available. MIT appointed more than 200 national and international artists as Research Fellows with short term or multi-year reappointments in the course of its 50 years. The digital archive will continue to be expanded and can be seen and used as research, via the ACT website. It is based on what follows next:

CAVS was evicted, under duress, from its prominent location on Massachusetts Avenue, W 11, so that the building could be transformed into a spiritual center for all denominations. The physical remainder and evidence of nearly 30 years of work and documents were deposited into a very large open space at its new location, W 52/4. Filing cabinets, flat files, many boxes, and other storage containers obstructed ongoing work in that space until Benton asked me to create the first archive. I knew the material best and organized it in a useful archive room. Unfortunately two boxes that contained some of Kepes’ files were moved to a storage facility and later lost during a flood.

Following are the works of participating artists in the exhibition:

First Floor:

Otto Piene, Cereus, Inflatable Sculpture, 2008 – can be seen through the museum’s first floor windows.

Piene coined the expression ‘Sky Art’ in the 1960s and built many inflatable sculptures over 40 years. They have titles such as:  Iowa Star, Black Rose, Icarus, Hexagonal Rooster, Blue Star Linz, Grand Rapids Carousel. Many are multi-stories high and sewn into complex structures. Piene was a leader in the sky art and environmental art movements. He inflated the relatively easy portable sculptures and lifted them with helium into skies during exhibitions and festivals in the USA and Europe. Or, he would fill gallery spaces with inflatables, aided by blowers, as in this exhibition, and so create a new spacial divide in a gallery. Sometimes visitors could actually walk into an inflatable sculpture and encounter altered sounds and colors from within. His most famous Sky Art works are probably the 1972 Olympic Rainbow, flown over the closing ceremonies of the Munich Olympics, and Icarus for the sky opera with the same title, by Paul Earls. The opera with inflatable sculptures was performed for Centerbeam in 1978 on the Washington Mall, Washington, DC. Both were attended by large crowds.

Otto Piene, Four Feet of Light, 2010-11 – can be seen on the second floor.

The original Light Ballets were developed by Piene in the 1960s; light as a medium.   A black drum’s top was covered with a mobile design-perforated metal sheet, continually turning, and lit from within. It’s really a simple invention, created in simpler times. Then and now, the effects in a darkened gallery are magical or as Piene put it, he was able to create: 'a dynamic sensitivity to the space.’

Nam June Paik and Charlotte Moorman, TV Cello, 1971

As Moorman moved her bow, images would appear on the monitors as a direct feed or prerecorded. Here, the museum installed a video projection next to the TV Cello, of a performance at MIT during a Sky Art Conference in 1982.

Moorman, an avant-garde artist since the 1960s, and Paik, a pioneering video artist, collaborated for many years with TV Cello or TV Bra, among other works and performances. Moorman was a classically trained cellist, yet turned to contemporary composers, beginning with Paik and John Cage, already during her student years at Juilliard School in New York City. Paik and Moorman traveled worldwide together or as solo artists. Paik’s TV and video works were exhibited from Korea to North America and in Europe.

Luc Courchesne, Lightproof Suit, 1982

He collaborated with other CAVS Fellows, Robert Rosinsky and Harriet Casdin-Silver, to build the suit, which is made of mylar with black satin lining so that it prevents light from entering the body. He wore it first during a video performance in 1983, attempting to draw attention to ‘our over-illuminated society’ then! The suit in this exhibition has been remade. Courchesne, based in Montreal, is a founding member of the Canadian Society for Art and Technology (SAT) and directed the Meta lab for many years. He is currently curator for SAT’s IX symposium.

Mark Mendel, Poetronics, 1978 – This neon-poem has been installed in a first floor window at the museum, visible from the sidewalk.

Mendel has promoted environmental poetry since the 1970s, to free words and verse from the page. Poetronics was first seen in the window of Grolier’s Bookshop in Harvard Square in Cambridge, in 1978. He has written poetry on barns and lifted words into the sky. Times Square Electronic Sign BoardPlanting the Hand Made Sky happened in New York City in 1990. Five verses changed electronically, positioned near the top of a building, while drawing attention away from restless and endless advertising. Please view this poem and other works by Mendel in the photo-series.

Second Floor:

Gyorgy Kepes: Gyorgy Kepes Photographs II, MIT Years 1946-1985  

This exhibition has been beautifully and carefully installed in the Kurtz photo gallery. When looking at the works, which included some photograms, I wondered whether there were actually some that I had discovered left behind in the basement of W11 after Prof. Kepes had already retired for several years. Piotr Kowalski, a fellow at the time, delivered the two photo boxes to him and Kepes remarked something like: ‘Great! A gallery on the West Coast has recently inquired about my photograms for an exhibition.’

Lowry Burgess, The Boundless Cubic Lunar Aperture, 1989

The hologram was developed soon after the 1989 payload by the same name, a first official non-scientific project, went into outer Space aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery. The ‘heart’ of the original artwork is the focal point in the holographic image.

Burgess has led MoonArc for nearly ten years as its project director. It is a collaborative effort by 300 artists, scientists, technologists and engineers at the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pensylvania. In addition, people from 18 universities and organizations have contributed to this immense project: Four chambers, held together in one structure, contain information from infinite fields of our complex world. The center of the payload is the Symphony for Andromada, which Burgess and Andrew Kaiser composed of original music and earthly sound-scapes and it will be beamed out on the moon. Burgess wrote: "Moon Arc will physically place all the Arts on the surface of the Moon in the ‘Vallis Moretis Crater’ on a ‘robotic mission’ in 2020.” Here a direct link:

A twin payload is currently on exhibition at Carnegie Mellon and will be shown at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, France, during the lift-off to the moon in 2019-20. Please follow this extraordinary project, which is also in competition for the Lunar X Prize, sponsored by Google.

While Burgess embarked on the MoonArc project, Todd Siler and scientist, Geoffrey Ozin, concluded Art Nano Innovations. From outer-space to nano-scale, the smallest known measure. Again, visuals on the website are breathtaking:

Siler has installed for this exhibition in a Compton Gallery case three works from other projects.

Sculpture: Mind Icon: Hunters & Gatherers, 1992-93 and Monotype Print: Mind Icon: Metaphorming Nature of Mind

Both works were created, while Siler was a visiting artist/scientist at the Computer Aided Design Lab (CAD LAB) in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at MIT. - A third project:

Folio: Metaphorming Minds: Envisioning the Possibilities of Nature, 1991

A limited edition artist’s book with 37 multi-color serigraph and 18 offset reproductions were printed at Old Jaffa Press in Israel. The portfolio was produced during the most intense years in the history of the Middle East, Siler writes, and continues: “….hand-written notes, called Possibilities (on the reverse side of each Mind Icon) are meditations on the state of the world and how we might improve it. They prompt us to wonder where our global tribes of minds are heading in such a hurry, as we dash toward an uncertain destiny…racing to infinity. Here, the history of art mirrors the history of thought. In this mirror reflection, we glimpse the nature of human creativity and the ultimate essential tension: our conflicting passions for love and power. “   

Thought Assemblies, a 1979-82 painting, was center stage at the 2014 exhibit The Brain Theater at the University of Colorado (in photo series). It served as the visual component of Siler's doctorate from MIT and was donated in 2015 to The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory and is now part of The MIT Art Collection.  

Ionnis Michaloudis, DIAPHANousia, 2003-18

Michaloudis' interest is to combine the physical with the ethereal. He worked with MIT scientists and experimented with aerogel, the lightest solid material, until he succeeded in casting the first silica aerogel artwork. Aerogel is made up of 99.8 % gas with a bluish tint. His objective was to ‘cast clouds.’ Here, he is showing a remake of the original work.

Harriet Casdin-Silver, A Woman III, 1979

This white-light transmission hologram belongs to the series Women in Transition. It is a self-portrait; her face and wide curly hair mass fill an elongated frame. Casdin-Silver, an ardent feminist, made often humanistic-political works. She is regarded as one of the most important early holographers in the arts, who innovated and transformed holography from a strictly technological medium into an art form.

Dieter Jung, X-centrics, 1988

Also a white-light transmission hologram, on acrylic surface, was created by Jung for the CAVS 20th anniversary. In it Jung memorialized portraits of Gyorgy Kepes, Otto Piene, Lowry Burgess, Elizabeth Goldring, Paul Earls, Charlotte Moorman, Juergen Claus and others. From different viewpoints the visual relationship of people in the hologram changes to each other; there is no static position, it seems.

Jung sent images of his hologram: Hommage to Otto Piene, which is divided into nine sections and can also be seen in the photo series. Casdin-Silver and Jung had appointments in overlapping years. They both belong to the original artist-pioneers in holography. - Unfortunately all three holograms are not well lit in a crowded space.

In a second floor gallery one can view videos by: Aldo Tambellini, Black – Bill Seaman, S.He – Betsy Connors, Selected Works – Ellen Sebring, Deesse – Elizabeth Goldring/Vin Grabill, The Inner Eye: From The Inside Out  and EYESIGHT – Stan VanDerBeek, After Laughter – Antoni Muntadas, Media Ecology Ads (excerpt) - Bernd Kracke, Media Games.


Wen-Ying Tsai, Large Tuning Fork, 1972

Tsai was one of the original Fellows, invited by Kepes. He built cybernetic and kinetic sculptures, which were often participatory as well. Other works were titled: Square Tops, 1969, Harmonic Sculpture, 1968 and Double Diffraction, 1973.

Christopher Janney, Soundstair: MIT’18

It is based on the original 1978 Soundstair. Janney uses sound to ‘alter the perception of space.’ He overlaid the museum’s stairway with an interactive light and sound installation to transform the stairs and the surrounding space.

Janney has traveled extensively with Soundstair in the USA and Europe, including installations at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Piazza di Spagna, Rome, Italy. He has created temporary and permanent works in sound, light or color at airports, parking garages, and on plazas.

Alejandro Sina, Air Lines, 2017

The single-electrode neon piece is based on an original artwork of 1975, which was first suspended from MIT’s main lobby during that year. Sina innovated his abstract neon light sculptures over a number of years at CAVS, and developed pieces with titles, such as Spinning Shaft, Coronal, Dragon Fly. Also, Piene and Sina successfully lifted the Neon Rainbow into a sky by attaching a neon line below polyethylene tubing.

Compton Gallery, Documentary Videos:

Paul Earls: Laser-Music Work, by V. Grabill, 1984 – Desert Sun/Desert Moon, by V. Grabill, 1986/2018 – Otto Piene’s Sky Art, by V. Grabill, 2010 – Centerdisk, by Rus Gant & Vin Grabill, 1984 – Elizabeth Goldring, Rob Webb: A Visual Language for the Blind, by Ellen Sebring, 1991

Compton Gallery Cases:

Panos Kouros, Performative poetry actions at CAVS, 1989-1993

One of the actions during those years resulted in the book, Center Poems, by several CAVS poets. Various materials are displayed here relating to investigations and discussions of ‘performative poetry’ and the relationships between active text and physical space.

Eric Begleiter, The Power of Seductive Beauty, 1987-97

Begleiter developed edible holograms and specifically, he invented ‘holographic chocolate.’ In later years he worked on edible holographic tablets and capsules with pharmaceutical companies. He stated: “…a goal to combining physical and psychological effects to the end of creating a consumer experience that integrated art, science and medicine. “

Michio Ihara, Light Tower models and installation photographs, 1974

Ihara wrote: “ Light, shadow and reflections are all extensions of the sculpture.” He constructed and placed elegant and imposing architectural metal sculptures in America, Europe and Asia, often with corporate clients. Here, he is showing one of his beautiful models.

Dan Dailey, Light Bulb Prototype, 1976 sketches – 2018 modified prototypes

Glass has always been Dailey’s medium, as a glass artist and using industrial processes. While collaborating with the Research Lab for Electronics at MIT, he focused on developing the technical knowledge and recently prototypes for his thick light bulb sculptures. He defines them as ‘glowing elements inside a curved lens-like mass.’

Rus Gant, Vin Grabill, Ben Davis, CAVS/MIT Centerdisk/Skydisk, 1983

This team of artists, under Gant’s direction, managed to document works by more than 60 CAVS Fellows as of 1968. It was probably the first interactive video disk of its kind and a technical accomplishment at the time.

Jennifer Hall, Computer Controlled Marionette for Out of the Body Theater, 1986-88

Starting with Kepes, all like minded artists hold firm in their artistic/creative vision while collaborating with scientists and technologists. Hall added : “… the voice of contemporary artists in the development of new technologies, believing that art should be included in the discourse about emerging interdisciplinary practices.”

We estimate that circa 20 reports/projects about CAVS and the arts at MIT can be found on BFA in its archives of more than six-thousand articles by: Charles Giuliano, Zeren Earls, Mark Favermann and Astrid Hiemer. Please peruse.