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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

2-20-24 PDF
February 20, 2024
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February 12, 2024

Harbor Art Gallery Opens With Collaborative Installation

Harbor Art Gallery Opens With Collaborative Installation

When you walk into Refuge and Prospect at UMass Boston’s Harbor Art Gallery you emerge onto a porch-built inside the space by local artists and longtime friends Nico Stone and Alexi Antoniadis. The steeply sloping roof rests on two supporting columns. One column ends in a miniature chair rescued from a landfill. A drain-spout that pours primary colored paint onto a walkway of cracked tiles adorns the other.

Contract builders by day, artists by night, Stone and Antoniadis went into the project without a plan and without having worked together previously. The idea for the installation was born at the wedding of Stone’s brother, which Antoniadis attended. According to the event flyer, Refuge and Prospect is about “working collaboratively… and acting on the possibilities that emerge during the process.”

“Using building materials [in this way] is totally opposite from what we have to do during the day,” says the 28 year old Stone, a Somerville resident. “I sit on a job-site looking all day at pieces of broken sheetrock, timbers, and drywall, and I think they’re beautiful. It was fun to imagine different ways to use them.”

From the porch, visitors can choose to turn left into the back of the gallery, or right into the large area whose windows open onto the campus plaza. The installation began by building a room in the corner by the windows. Stone and Antoniadis built the wall which creates this space first, then the roof for the porch.

While most of the floor-space is a patchwork of drop-cloths and tile, this room is floored in fiberglass insulation. There’s a moment of panic when a woman in high heels steps inside. Antoniadis shrugs, “it’s all part of the collaboration, I guess.” The room’s walls are crowned with old soda bottles from the basement of Stone’s original house. Highlights of the room include a ‘bearskin’ rug and ‘antique’ chair made entirely of insulation. Stone laughs, “the rug was a spontaneous decision.”

Visitors must navigate around beams that emerge from walls, cross the gallery space, and pierce the cage for the drop ceiling where tiles have been temporarily removed. A spiral pseudo-staircase (pieces of plywood cut to resemble a profile of stairs and connected by hinges) arcs upward until it merges with the roofline of the porch. One sculpture explodes from the ceiling like a toppling Erector Set. “We want people to have to navigate around, trying not to bump into things,” comments Stone.

Those who take a left on the porch find themselves moving toward a pyramid of ceiling tiles, and a wall of trash. Of the wall, Antoniadis says “this was the last unresolved area. It’s the abandoned ideas and leftovers from the project. If you look closely at it, the wall relates to all the other pieces.” Appropriately, the idea of what to do with these leftovers came at the end of the process. They were still working on it three hours before the opening.

This is the first opening for the gallery’s new Director, Amy Dunbar (Art History major, Class of 2007) and Assistant Director, Andrea Souza (Art & English double major, Class of 2007) who wanted a fun exhibit that “reflects the excitement of starting a new school year.” They hope to increase engagement between students and the Harbor Art Gallery throughout the year. “It’s frustrating to see what a wonderful arts program the university has, and not have students taking advantage of it,” says Dunbar. In fact, adds Souza, “we get one or two people a day who wander in and say ‘Who are you? Why are you here?'”

Many students aren’t aware that the Art Department doesn’t run the gallery, whose operation actually falls under the purview of the Office of Student Life. “Student Life has been really supportive, has really embraced our artists’ vision. I mean, they even let us cut up the walls and take down part of the ceiling!” Souza notes, smiling.

Dunbar and Souza hope to use the Gallery as a “bridge” between UMass Boston students, the administration, and the Arts (on campus and off.) They also hope that the Gallery can provide a space for sister colleges that may not have access to their own gallery, such as Bunker Hill Community College, UMass Lowell, and UMass Dartmouth.

The Harbor Art Gallery accepts proposals from mostly professional artists living and/or working locally. It also hosts one open student show in the fall semester as well as the Capstone show for seniors in the Art program. Both shows are juried.

Dunbar and Souza are both excited about the opening night turnout, which has exceeded their expectations. Working with Stone and Antoniadis has been “one of the most enthusiastic, exciting, collaborative experiences” either has ever had. They look forward to working with Student Life to inject some of that excitement into the campus community. The Harbor Art Gallery and the Office of Student Life are currently in discussions about moving the space to the Upper Level of the Campus Center, but that decision doesn’t appear to be final. “We love this space, and our window onto the Plaza,” says Dunbar. The gallery is likely to stay where it is “for the remainder of the semester” she adds.

Shea Mullaney is Associate Arts Editor for The Mass Media. E-mail him at [email protected]