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Wendy Jacob's "Between Spaces" exhibit in Wolk Gallery
Tightrope walker Madeleine Prévost-Lemire.
Tightrope walker Madeleine Prévost-Lemire.
Photo / Donna Coveney
Prof. Wendy Jacob's Squeeze Chairs in use.
Prof. Wendy Jacob's Squeeze Chairs in use.
Photo / Annatina Caprez

For any artist, the opening of a new show is always a high-wire act, but Wendy Jacob, associate professor in visual arts, conveyed that fleeting drama with a literal high-wire act at the Sept. 20 reception to celebrate "Between Spaces," her new exhibit in Wolk Gallery.

Over the course of one long minute (6:45 p.m. to 6:46 p.m.), tightrope walker Madeleine Prévost-Lemire walked between an open window in Wolk Gallery and the fourth floor of Rotch library, making art imitate life.

Jacob's work in "Between Spaces" focuses on emotional states, expansion and contraction, risk and refuge, and on sensations of safety and diffusion.

Squeeze Chair, her best-known work, is featured in the Wolk Exhibit. In it, Jacob has reconfigured the living room chair as a soft foam cube with a keyhole-like space carved out to accommodate a solo sitter. Air pockets embedded in the cube create a muscle around the sitter that tightens and relaxes, replacing anxiety with a cozy sense of safe and neutral containment. A foot pump operates the mechanism.

In developing Squeeze Chair, Jacob collaborated with Temple Grandin, an autistic artist and animal activist.

Jacob's other work includes breathing walls and ceilings, warm rosettes, hugging life vests, and tightropes through living rooms. Her projects involve collaboration with circus performers, homeowners, engineers and scientists.

Jacob has exhibited internationally at the Centre Georges Pompidou, the Whitney Biennial, the MIT List Visual Arts Center, the Chicago Project Room, and Krome (Cologne), among others. She is the recipient of numerous awards and grants including a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Artist Fellowship, Creative Capital Artist Fellowship, New Forms Regional Initiative Grant, and an Illinois Arts Council Artist Fellowship.

Since 1988, she has been a member of HaHa, the Chicago-based art collective that has produced installations, sculpture and video works in the U.S. and Europe. HaHa's ephemeral pieces have been sited in galleries and museums as well as in storefronts, outside the legislative chambers, and on the roof of a taxi.

Before coming to MIT in 2003, Jacob taught in the sculpture department at the College of Fine Arts, Illinois State University, and in the performance department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She received the B.A. degree from Williams College and the M.F.A. from the Art Institute of Chicago.

"Between Spaces" runs through Dec. 21. The Elliott K. Wolk Gallery (Rm. 7-338) is free and open to the public Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 26, 2007 (download PDF).

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