Exposure Symbolic sites

DATE:  2014

TEAM:  Myrna Ayoub, Hannah Cohen, Mike Johnson, and Jana Masset

PROJECT LOCATION: Cambridge, Massachusetts

PROGRAM:  art sculpture, camera obscura


Exposure is a tactile viewing device fabricated out of acrylic to reveal the secrets of Memorial Hall. The viewer explores the spaces and history of the building through the images etched and printed on the sliders. A Harvard landmark since its dedication to the College in 1878, Memorial Hall’s grand exterior masks the implacable spatial faction within. Memorial Hall contains four key spaces: (1) Sanders Theater, (2) The Memorial Transept, (3) Annenberg Cafeteria and (4) the building’s basement. The incongruity of these spaces problematizes Memorial Hall’s integrity as a holistic monument. These four spaces - conceived, constructed, reconstructed and renovated independently, even asynchronously, of each other over the Hall’s standing history – disallow free movement amidst themselves. This not only disjoints the visitor’s experience of the Hall, but also thoroughly obstructs their understanding, if any, of what the Hall symbolizes.

Riegl writes that “a monument is a work of man erected for the specific purpose of keeping particular human deeds or destinies (or a complex accumulation thereof) alive and present in the consciousness of future generations.” Memorial Hall aspires to do just this, but is regrettably so inaccessible to the average passerby that it fails to communicate these very “deeds and destinies” so entrenched in its disparate spatial fabrics. Sanders Theater, for one, bears silent witness to a long history of illustrious speakers. Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Bill Gates and Hilary Clinton (among many others) have all addressed the Harvard community from its stage. The Transept, by contrast, commemorates the men from Harvard who gave their lives for the Union cause during the Civil War. Here, Latin inscriptions throughout offer a silent voice to the legacy these men bestow upon the College: A short life has been given to us by nature, but the memory of a life well given up is eternal. Annenberg Cafeteria fills with freshmen passing through year-by-year, and the basement supplements these three contiguous histories with its legacy of clandestine psychoacoustic experiments that took place there during the Second World War.

But behind these hallowed memories lies a darker past, a past whose lurking presence haunts the history that would – given an agency unto itself - have it erased. In commanding the Sanders stage, little did Churchill know that he shared his podium with Harvard administrators who, twenty years prior, had convened a secret tribunal to condemn “homosexual activity” on campus, ultimately expelling eight students. The Transept erases by omission the memory of Confederate soldiers who, like those against whom they fought, also gave their lives for a polity larger than themselves. And the mythologized steam tunnels that run underneath the campus, for all their irrefutable intrigue as Harvard lore, have enabled as many political escapes (of world figures seeking to avoid riotous protestors) as they have reckless adolescent dares.