Perspective, focus and balance are admirable qualities in an employee. They also happen to be components of a work of art. The Artists Behind the Desk series celebrates the creative efforts of MIT employees with an exhibition titled Artists by Night, Administrators by Day, showing Jan. 16 to April 13 at the Rotch Library of Architecture and Planning (Rm 7-238).
A reception will be held on Thursday, Jan. 25 from 5:30-7:30pm for the exhibition of more than 40 photographs, works on paper, fabric and sculptures created by 20 members of MIT's support and administrative staff.
Unlike MIT's previous three Artists Behind the Desk exhibitions, this is not a juried show. Initially, an ad in MIT Tech Talk last fall asked staff who are artists to come to a meeting. "Eventually, through exposure and word of mouth, we ended up with the 20 artists who are exhibiting," said Mindy Baugham, administrative assistant in materials science and engineering who served as curator and artist coordinator. "I met with them all individually to discuss their work, and in a few cases, helped select which pieces would be shown."
In curating the show, Ms. Baugham wanted to highlight the two sides of the artists' lives: their connection to MIT as staff members as well as their lives as artists. "The emphasis of the exhibit is on the person behind the art as well as the art," she said. "By including their job descriptions and campus locations, I hoped first to identify the artists to the MIT community in their more recognizable role and then juxtapose that with the artist they may not know."
Ms. Baugham, who recently received an MA in museum studies, acknowledges that challenges are inherent in the duality of these artist's lives. Their day jobs, she says, are often highly structured and guided by rules, regulations and routines. "Art," she said, is "the antithesis to this."
Lois Slavin, an MIT communications director and also a videographer, photographer and writer, welcomed the opportunity to juxtapose her artistic and professional selves in the exhibition. "Inclusiveness and integration of people and of ideas are themes that run throughout my art and my work here at MIT," she said. "To me... [this] means embracing the seeming contradictions within humans that force us to explore more deeply who we truly are and how we perceive and relate to each other," said Ms. Slavin.
Her four photos in the exhibition are part of a 50+ slide series shot in 1976 during a video project exploring the impact of the small-format video camera on the documentary genre. Noting that the slide series shows female impersonators as they transform from male to female, she said that "the images explore the duality of masculine and feminine that exists within us all."
Ms. Slavin said that as communications director for MIT's Engineering Systems Division (ESD) and two programs within it, System Design and Management and Leaders for Manufacturing (LFM), it's her job to "find ways to visually and thematically carry the message about the cutting-edge, integrative work being done in these arenas."
She sees her artistic sideline as "an opportunity to balance my perspective... and find spiritual renewal. I'm fortunate to be able to practice my photography in my work at MIT," she said, noting that last summer she accompanied LFM students on an Outward Bound workshop to take digital photos of their team-building and leadership experience. These photos are displayed in the LFM office and study areas to "build a sense of community among students, faculty and staff, and to give our visitors a sense of how we train our future leaders," she said.
The exhibition also features the paintings of administrative secretary Marilyn Goodrich, who for the past 12 years has worked for Professor Ken Hale in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy, assisting him on projects to preserve and reclaim indigenous languages.
"Professor Hale's dedication to Native American and aboriginal cultures... has been an important influence in my life," she said. "I've always loved languages, and in my artist books I want to create radiant environments for the power of the word."
Ms. Goodrich's paintings of water lilies, which use sumi ink and Japanese brushes, are inspired by the "powerful, rather abstract calligraphy paintings of the Zen masters rather than traditional Asian sumi ink paintings," she said. Ms. Goodrich, who has exhibited locally and in New York City for more than 20 years, differentiated her works from Monet's Impressionistic water lilies, saying hers are "executed with bold, vigorous gestures expressing the dancing movement I see in the flowers and the excitement they arouse in me."
In addition to stimulating her language and cultural interests, Ms. Goodrich said her position at MIT has provided the flexibility of a four-day week, which she says is "crucial in enabling me to be a productive professional artist."
The Artists Behind the Desk series, which began in 1987, is a standing committee of the Working Group on Support Staff Issues, showcasing the creative talent of support staff at MIT in the visual, literary and performing arts.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 10, 2001.