At the end of every academic year, MIT celebrates the immense talent of its student artists. Whether they study art or computer science, architecture or engineering, these students bring together technical expertise and creative vision to embody the spirit of experimentation, risk-taking, and imaginative problem-solving that defines the arts at MIT.
To that end, MIT each year awards the Schnitzer Prize to several MIT undergraduates and graduates for outstanding work in the visual arts. The prize was established in 1996 through an endowment from Harold and Arlene Schnitzer of Portland, Ore. Harold, a real estate investor, graduated from MIT in 1944 with a degree in metallurgy.
This year, the first-place prize of $5,000 went to Anne Macmillan, a graduate student in the Art, Culture and Technology (ACT) program. Macmillan’s work focuses on the complexities of measuring and representing the natural world — such as lakes, rocks, and trees. In her winning piece, "Boxes for Rocks," Macmillan 3-D scanned rocks to create custom cardboard boxes for them, leaving gaps in the cardboard that represented inherent limitations in depicting nature. “I’m interested in problems of description,” Macmillan says, “the more that we look, the more that there is to see, and you can become lost in that.”
“Anne’s work was a very sensitive exploration and reframing of the world that surrounds us,” says Schnitzer Prize jury member Matthew Mazzotta SM '09, a lecturer in the ACT program.
Sophia Brueckner, a graduate student in the MIT Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces group, took home the second-place prize of $3,000 with her computation-influenced painting. With interests in interaction design, generative art, algorithmic writing, and painting, Brueckner as an artist explores the relationship between digital and manual modes of creating. Of her piece, “Eye of the Beholder,” Brueckner says, "I took a wall texture from the 1991 DOS RPG game, Eye of the Beholder II: Legend of Darkmoon, and I used a script to map its pixel values to depth resulting in a 3-D object. I milled the form from wood on a CNC milling machine, and I painted by hand the original image back onto the object."
Winner of the third prize of $2,000 was Floor van de Velde, a graduate student in the ACT program. Her artistic experiments in the perceptual phenomena of light, sound, and space aim to be immersive and visceral. In her most recent show, “Score for a Color Field,” seven sheets of fluorescent acrylic were suspended from the ceiling and lit by black lights, creating an intense ultraviolet light that aimed to skewed the viewer’s sense of perception.
Alison Malouf, an undergraduate studying architecture, won honorable mention for her work in architecture, photography, and film. For her series "Chance," Malouf generated abstract art by using “random” input to generate sets of constraints within a single algorithm. Malouf says, “MIT has shaped my process, which is characterized by inquisitiveness and experimentation. A question is posed, and I make art as I work through understanding the question and developing a response.”
“It was so good to see so many thoughtful and relevant artworks,” Mazzotta says. “As we move towards more interdisciplinary, cross-disciplinary, and trans-disciplinary approaches towards education, thought, and action, it is refreshing to see how these students and their artistic sensibilities dovetail so well with the other fields of knowledge at MIT.”
The works of the Schnitzer Prize winners are on display in the Wiesner student art gallery in the MIT Student Center until the end of July.