The entrance to MASS MoCA was presented to me after I passed dripping eaves and pock-marked black top and an icicle edged overhang and a small slush heap. The entrance is at the end of a short, clean path and at the end of the path I saw a friend. Tanja Hollander was talking with her friends just outside the main doors of the museum that houses her show (which I mentioned in the last Atlas). The friends were lovely familiar people that had traveled far to be with Tanja and I was meeting them for the first time, but had seen one of them before, in Tanja’s pictures on Instagram.
The project, a collection of 430 portraits of friends entitled “Are you really my friend?”, is the main focus of the show, as is Tanja’s journey, relayed on film in the documentary (by Robin Greenspun) and expressed in scans of ephemera and in post -its. The Post-its represent a collaboration that began in a museum show as a way for the artist to connect with her viewers by asking them to complete the statement “A real friend is…”. Tanja’s portraits are serialized, all presented together in a large wall, but several are offered in large format. Each portrait and the sitter’s they contain are lovingly constructed and full of detail. Tanja is a friend and it is difficult to lend an unbiased eye, but maybe that says much about the project as it does about me. found the work engaging in a way that exceeds the novel idea of the project. Through the documentary storytelling and viewer engagement, Tanja’s story becomes a larger narrative. It is about friendship to be sure, but also about the way we live in the world, act in the world and build bonds.
My moments after seeing Tanja were spent chatting with her friends and then finding my way into the museum and towards the exhibitions. I spent time with the 100 or so Sol LeWitt Wall Drawings. The glut of LeWitt’s drawings defines MASS MoCA now, though I imagine that will change as the museum partners with collections, estates and living artists to house work that can only exist in massive environments. Moving on, Nick Cave’s show was broadly disappointing because it felt stationary and inactive. Cave is at his best when performance leads or bleeds into the process. Stationary soundsuits still carry the potential of performance.
After getting a note from a friend, I went hunting for Hope Ginsburg’s “Land Team Dive: Bay of Fundy, 2016” (an excerpt can be seen here) in the Explode Every Day exhibition. Hiding in a glassed in area and beyond a second door was the black box for this seven minute video. The four people performing sit cross legged in a blank meditative trance in complete diving suits and await the coming tide. Seven minutes allows the score to drift over you. I entered the same type of trance in anticipation of the quartet submerging. My passive viewership mirrored the passive action (oxymoronic to be sure, but choosing to stay put as the tide comes in seems to clearly be an active role) on screen.
My immersion in Tanja’s people, in LeWitt’s Wall Drawings, in Nick Cave’s not-so-fun house and then finally in Ginsburg’s Bay of Fundy was how I experienced MASS MoCA.