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Schnitzer Prize-winning student art on display

Award-winning student designs in electronic furniture, video installation and wearable architecture will be exhibited at the Wiesner Student Art Gallery through the end of June. The exhibition features first-, second- and third-place winners of the 2006 Harold and Arlene Schnitzer Prize in the Visual Arts, awarded annually since 1996 for excellence in a body of work.

Lira Nikolovska, graduate student in architecture, won the Schnitzer first prize, $1,500, for her innovative furniture designs.

Nikolovska creates objects that portray "small moments and people's interactions with furniture," she said. For example, "Conversation Table" is designed to sense social dynamics and create a corresponding visual display. Light-emitting diodes run between people seated at opposite ends of the table, and microphones pick up the duration and volume of each person's contributions to the conversation. The resulting light animation clearly shows if there is an even exchange or domination at either end.

Another work, "Stealing Table," causes objects placed on the surface of a table to disappear via rotating planks.

Nikolovska wrote in her artist's statement, "I believe that a firm grounding in traditional design skills, methods and fabrication technologies is critical when making art. The process of making art (requires) balancing ideas with execution. Although the head 'manages' the journey, it is the heart that is in charge."

Architecture graduate student Oliver Lutz won second prize, $900, for video, painting and installation art.

In his artist's statement, Lutz said his recent work "focuses on fantasies of power, control and collapse." Lutz's genre-jumping works follow his main theme; titles in the Schnitzer exhibit are "Previously: Implication Traps," "Performative Analytic -- Case Study: Grendel," and "Ascender (Upcoming)," which encompasses the work Lutz is currently developing.

Azra Aksamija, graduate student in architecture, was awarded third prize and $600 for her work in wearable architecture and video.

Aksamija, who identifies herself as a survivor of Bosnian Muslim genocide, seeks to resymbolize contemporary Muslim environments. Her "Nomadic Mosque" combines fashion and religious purpose through the design of a "wearable mosque" -- clothes that can be transformed into prayer rugs. Not only does the wearable mosque accommodate the liturgical necessities, but it also acts as a "prosthetic device of the worshipper communicating his/her prayers: problems, needs and desires," said the designer. Her project includes a catalog of various designs for wearable mosques and a video showing Muslim prayer ritual in public space.

The Schnitzer Prize was established in 1996 by the Student Art Association through an endowment from Harold and Arlene Schnitzer of Portland, Ore. Schnitzer, a real estate investor, graduated from MIT in 1944 with a degree in metallurgy.

The Wiesner Student Art Gallery is located on the second floor of the Stratton Student Center and is open 24 hours a day.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 7, 2006 (download PDF).

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