Distortion: Mather Build


On January 31, in two short afternoon hours, a group of students created a work of art.

The Mather Build arose from the desire to play with Mather’s Three Columns Gallery. It’s a strange space that is frequently ignored: its function as a gallery is overridden by its main function as Mather’s lobby. The space’s weirdness is dulled by the routine of the hundreds of students who walk through it every day.

Recognizing the gallery’s transitory nature, artist Matthew Terry and Harvard senior Kevin Hong decided to employ materials (gauze, paper, wire, rope, wood) that would engage ideas of transience and permanence, transparency and opacity. Collaborating with nine students, and adopting Thomas Hirschhorn’s motto, Energy: Yes! Quality: No!, several works were created that respond to the unique qualities of the gallery itself: its open airspace, its whiteness, its pock-marked columns, its concreteness. One’s experience of the installation will change on a daily basis as atmospheric conditions affect the look and feel of the materials.

photo 1 (12)

The atmosphere was very relaxed and playful, and because all who attended came in at different times, the process simply started and brought people into the mix sequentially as they showed up. Several people had to leave early but made both tangible and important contributions while they were there. The success was in the ability to ‘curate as we go’ … in essence, directing traffic, setting up simple and varied conceptual premises, while still leaving room for accident, and student input in the process.

The execution was driven by a philosophy of direct action and process, as a way to make art happen with speed. With a three hour time limit the installation was brought to a reasonable point of completion, and simply stopped there. It becomes a sort of game, a series of ‘moves’ made in response to the previous ‘move’ or action. The intention, beyond obvious safety concerns, was not to limit this action in any way. This first pass exposed the rich potential of this method.

It may be that this initial installation/ workshop ends up looking a bit self consciously ‘artsy’ yet it is merely the byproduct of a group of individuals at play with materials in an experimentation where nothing was ever, in fact, ‘off limits’. Someone decided to make a “nest”, others, working on the idea of building ‘from the inside out’, made a sort of rib cage and skin, a heart. Other people explored ideas about line or repetitive action as a means to an end. There is a self organizing principle here at work, enhanced by the choices and editing of everyone involved. That is how overall cohesive strength was achieved at the end of the working period.

photo 3 (10)

Consider the space, the architectural features of the 3 Columns gallery at Mather House. It has three tall columns at its center, reaching from floor to ceiling. Two are 48″ wide and at right angles to each other, and the third is set in relation to these at an angle, in a Y formation. The third column is 5 1/2 feet wide, and sits about that far away from the two other columns. The space and solid partition in balance to each other. It seems intentionally designed to respond to human traffic and movement. All three columns are 10″ thick, and a horizontal groove in these, defines the transition between floors, top and bottom.

A set of circular stairs wraps around the space up to the balcony and upper level. The space is large and open in feel, and large plate glass windows invite the outside in. Trees exist in and out of an enclosed space. At different times of day and night, light washes through the space or casts shadows. Over any stretch of time, the space seems alive, in tune with the cycle of day and night, the seasons and the weather, an integral part of a man made urban ecosystem.

All of Mather shares this specific feel, born from the work of architects and builders in the 70s. It is as if the infrastructure and the gallery itself, invite the play of light, space and form. Mather build is an adaptation to this reality, expanding its reach in direct response to its intended function, as an art gallery and entrance into the core of the house.

Things to look for: 

Veiled and hidden from direct view is the germ of an idea, and it’s symbolic Icon as an incandescent light bulb. Red string for it’s filament and the connective circuitry of the brain, copper wire as the threaded end, paper indicating the glass bulb.

photo 4 (6)

Hidden also is a single black line, disguised as a shadow, slicing the architecture. A response to the overt presence of a red line, parachute cord stretched over two pieces of wood.

photo 5 (5)

A rib cage, skin and a disembodied heart, a nest, somehow find their place incorporated into the architecture of a dream.


A ghost wall seems to challenge the materiality of what stands behind it, but also acts as a window opening, a veil on solid reality.

photo 2 (11)

Wood frames echo the woodwork of a Japanese tea house, or the ends of a scroll, a curve of gauze is part dream catcher, part light net. Absorbing and amplifying the natural and artificial light in ways that o solid surface could never achieve.

A soft geometry is born out of the simple act of hanging, fastening, folding a curve into being. The built in curvature of large rolled paper survives the repeated cuts of a razor blade, leaving a vertical wave in answer to the flat static wall behind it.


The play of vertical and horizontal, transparent and opaque, line and contour is everywhere. These “art values” or formal elements of composition, scale, weight, proportion all come into play in a self organizing principle of call and response, a first move, leads to iteration. Repetition drives a point home, and singularity is able to provide a focal point. The power of this transformation is owed to the fact that the installation incorporates the support. If we understand the canvas here is the original architecture, then every accident of concrete casting, perforations, grooves, and the space itself come into play. The changing light and the movement of the viewer, enveloped in this environment and yet able to see it from a distance becomes a matter of participation.


There is opportunity here for a less passive experience. A chance to meet the art and the space where it is displayed with one’s own thoughts and feelings. In a sense, to complete the work by reading into it, and imagining further action and possibility. To spend time in contemplation, to come again and see it with new eyes is our invitation.

The installation will be in place for the remainder of February. It is part of an art process which seeks to fill Harvard spaces and bring Harvard communities together in innovative and evolving ways.

Garrett Allen
Will Holub-Moorman
Lily Hu
Rosa Huang
Daniel Ki
Emily Mistick
Hannah Nunez
Chloe Reichel
Faye Yan Zhang

By Kevin Hong ’15 and  Matthew Terry


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