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HUBweek: A Balance Between the Absurd and the Practical

Individuals often look for patterns and meaning in places where they may or may not exist—the brain has been hardwired that way. Human nature causes people to interpret the world in their own terms, relating it back to previous experience to make sense of a particular situation.

Artist Ethan Hayes-Chute, speaking during HUBweek’s “Striking a Tenuous Balance Between the Absurd and the Practical” forum hosted at the MIT List Visual Arts Center, told the audience that he has relied on this inherent human characteristic throughout his career. To quote the old cliche, things are not always as they appear.

HUBweek, after a successful first year, returned this week with the intention of further diving into the interconnectivity of innovation and science, highlighting the role both play in the city and the world. The participants, referred to as “change makers” by the event’s organizers, are a host of individuals from all over the world that have brought their own perspectives about how to live in a constantly changing world and how to make the most of it.

Hayes-Chute, a Maine native and alumnus of the Rhode Island School of Design, has always been interested in building things. He recalls the time when as a schoolboy he was told to go into the woods and build a fort as part of a school assignment. It showed him the extent of individual potential, later basking in the pride that emanates from self-sufficiency, from building things with his own hands. Events such as this serve as a source of his inspiration for many of his projects, including the installations he spoke of at length during his presentation.

These installations, cabin-like structures built from and filled by found objects, especially wood, are designed to replicate the rustic feel of the American pioneers that lived in the wilderness but are set in environments that look out of place, often juxtaposed against the modern backdrop of the world’s most modern cities such as Berlin, New York, Paris, and Copenhagen.

“I wanted to portray potential living situations [in the exhibit],” he said. “I am interested in spaces that evolve over time.”

His installations feature a menagerie of objects most individuals would not stop to notice during their daily routines, with things like old clocks and empty bottles filling the vast spaces within the installations. The ultimate product looks like an antique picker’s dream—such is the array of seemingly random items aligning the custom-built shelves. He prides himself on taking a place and putting it in another place, creating almost a problem-solving exercise for the viewer that breaks through the superficial and delves into the subconscious.

Afterward, Hayes-Chute discussed one of his most recent projects that brought him a high level of satisfaction: “Camp Solong!” During his time in Germany, he got the idea to create a camp for adults that focused on the physical and emotional aspects of a goodbye. He wanted the participants of the camp—seven adults from all over the world—to enter into a state of reflection, unburdened by the distracting stimuli of everyday life.

The physical facilities of the camp were built by Hayes-Chute and several of his collaborators, and were modelled after his habitat exhibits. They purposely only built a roof on the sleeping area of the facilities, he said, in order to maximize the campers’ exposure and connection with the natural world around them.

By entering this secluded realm—both literally and figuratively, as the camp was built in a remote location—he wanted the campers to mentally accept and experience the ramifications of parting. He said that during the activities he emphasized a corollary of saying goodbye to something or someone: it frees up space for more things to fill it, which in turn leads to more goodbyes, leading to more new experiences.

“I want people to know that hellos also mean goodbyes,” he said. “But goodbye is not something we need to be afraid of.”

During the final segment of his presentation, one in which the audience had the chance to interact with him, Hayes-Chute was asked about how he knows when his exhibits are finished. After taking a moment to consider, he joked that time constraints usually play a big factor.

“Sometimes I just know,” he said. “But, most of the time it’s a case of running out of time … [I] can continue to make infinite versions of [a given] piece.”

Featured Image by Juan Olavarria/ Heights Editor

September 29, 2016

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