The Power of the Allusive Symbol

The MIT FAST Light exhibition/festival this past weekend, part of the school’s 150 anniversary celebration, included more than a dozen glowing installations that flirted with the boundary between abstraction and figuration. The cumulative aesthetic effect reminded us of the opening ceremonies of the Athens Olympics (not Beijing) and/or a summer arts festival in Montreal.  The large crowd and spooky sky made it seem like Halloween in May.

The installations came in two general flavors: busy origami-like forms made up many-many smaller-scale parts (Joel Lamere and Cynthia Gunadi’s unfolding petal-like piece – Overliner – was the smartest and most beautifully fabricated) and soft pneumatic shapes that played coy semiotic games. Otto Piene’s ritualistic Sky Event included the frustrating/dramatic raising of the giant stalk-like structures, complete with the relentless beat of bongo drums. They were interpreted as palm trees, asparagus stalks, or giant phalluses – depending on the mood of the viewer. Nader Tehrani’s blobby letterforms spelled “MIT” but also looked like a flabby rhinoceros or throbbing molars, depending on the changing lighting effect (Liquid Archive).

The large audience seemed to be having fun creating their own personal interpretations of the pieces – proving the visual power of allusive (Tehrani’s Liquid Archive) and latent symbols (Piene’s Sky Event). Tehrani’s piece suggested a possible pedigree for all of this near-figurative fun: Cobi, the official mascot of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

-Tim  

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