When students walk in and out of the new residence hall set to open next fall at The Massachusetts College of Art, they will pass by Kairos, a permanent glass installation by artist — and MassArt alum — Nicole Chesney. Her innovative proposal for a large reflective wall was selected following multiple rounds of submissions, proposals, and interviews over the past 10 months. It is one of four major pieces from MassArt alumni commissioned for a building whose overall design was inspired by Gustav Klimt’s The Tree of Life.
Kairos will be composed of laminated glass panels set in front of a mirror-like wall. By angling them along the three-inch sill, Chesney will create a piece evocative of creased book spines, a fitting allusion on a college campus. It will measure 11 by 99 feet and span the length of the main wall of the lobby. According to Chesney, the architect often described the residence hall as a “tree house” in reference to Klimt’s work. “With that as a point of departure, I sought to convey a sense of space and lightness around the ‘tree house’ that would be passed through especially at the beginning and end of one’s day,” Chesney told the Hot Sheet.
The passage of time is a crucial theme in Kairos, one of two words the ancient Greeks used for “time.” A precursor to Henri Cartier-Bresson’s notion of “the decisive moment,” kairos refers to a specific, unmeasured moment in which something special occurs. Compared to chronos, a quantitative view of time, kairos is quantitative, drawing its meaning from the context within which it was used. The interplay of natural light and the piece will create a number of precise moments for tuned-in passersby. For Chesney, it is the use of glass in Kairos that allows for the creation of a piece that “captures fleeting moments of light over time and embodies the qualitative nature of one’s experience at MassArt.”
In an interview with the Hot Sheet, MassArt Foundation Executive Director Hunter O’Hanian praised the piece as a “transcendent, beautiful, and very relaxing work” and an important example of public art.“It’s important to invest in public art. Kairos is a gift not only to the people living in the building, but also to the people walking and driving by on Huntington Avenue, which is a major thoroughfare in Boston.”
Kairos is the artist’s third public commission, and her largest and most visible to date. In 2009 she installed four glass panels on a wall in the Nulman Lewis Student Center at Wheeler School. Entitled Welkin, the piece plays with the same themes of space, time, and light within a collegiate setting dealt with in Kairos. “It is important that [Kairos] evoke the precious and fleeting nature of the time spent as part of the community residing within the building, while being a different throughout the day and night and from season to season, depending on the light available to the piece,” Chesney said.
— Grace Duggan