June 18th, 2007
|08:52 am - Art on the T|
Last week when I uncovered THE MYSTERY OF THE GIANT HONKIN' SKULL at the Kendall Square station, I noted that two out of the three pieces of the Kendall Band aren't working. The Kendall Band is an interactive set of music-making apparatus (apparati?) strung up between the two train tracks and crank-operated by people on both platforms. It was installed in the 1980s after the Red Line was expanded and Kendall Station renovated.
One piece is a series of tubular bells with mallets in between. The cranks start the mallets swinging, and if you cooperate with the person on the other platform cranking at the same time, you can get the mallets going pretty fast and the bells chiming all over the place.
Similarly, there's a giant metal ring with a Mallet of Damocles poised over it; your cranking ratchets the mallet up, further and further, until it's released and gives the metal ring a mighty wallop. If two people are cranking, the mallet rises faster. There may also be two mallets involved. I can't remember.
The third piece, which is the only piece left working, involves a large piece of flat sheet metal. Each crank flexes one side of the sheet, so again, if you and that Whoever on the other side work together, you can shake the sheet and get the thunder sound effects from it.
So why aren't the first two working? The Glob helpfully helps us with an answering answer: Because the artist who created them can no longer keep them running by himself. This artist, by the way, is Paul Matisse, grandson of Henri Matisse, so our Kendall Band has one mighty fine pedigree. But Paul Matisse is in his 70s and cannot keep the schedule that the maintenance demands (especially since it means fixing the things late at night after the T closes.)
Oh, yeah, and there's a lack of funding to maintain the project. It is officially MBTA property and although they coughed up some cash for repairs recently, it's pretty clear they can't budget anything more. So, in the best MBTA tradition of dealing with things they just don't feel like maintaining anymore, the T has pulled an Arborway  and quietly removed the controls for the two non-working pieces. And unless Paul Matisse can find a benefactor not only financially but mechanically, the Kendall Band may just be forgotten into oblivion.
Well, actually, I'll bet you dollars to donuts that since they have just removed the controls, the T won't bother to remove the rest of the apparatus if new upkeep providers can't be found. Removal costs money. Ruins can stay up for free. That way for years to come folks will stare at a giant metal ring and wonder what statement the artist, whoever he or she is, was trying to make. Of course, they won't even be getting half the intended effect. It'll just engage one sense instead of three.
It does worry me about the state of the MBTA's mechanical aptitude when people in the Glob article are quoted as doubting the T could perform adequate maintenance, but frankly, I'd rather see people with money and mechanical expertise take over and fix up the installation so it's all out of the MBTA's hands. The Authority(TM) is cash-strapped as it is, and I'd rather see them spending more money on overall improvements and repair, as idealistic as I realize that sounds (hey, Graubaskas needs gas money so he can drive to work. Budget that in.) And I'd rather see people who care about the piece, people who would care as much as Paul Matisse has for twenty years now, get the chance to do their thing for it as opposed to some guy who just knows his jerk of a boss told him to go string that wire up around that ratcheting pulley thing what the hell is this and where does he get off tellin me to string wires around ratcheting pulleys anyway?
Boston's was the first program in the country to install works of art in public transit systems. And how many of those pieces captivate or confound us on a daily basis? There's the fun ones, like the Kendall Band, the thought-provoking ones such as the bronzed workmen's gloves on the Porter Square escalator and platform, the poignant pieces of verse carved into the Davis platform bricks, the David Lynch-Meets-Tim-Burton crazy jumble of floating objects above the Broadway station staircase, the neon rods over the Alewife berth (the ones that glow are the ones which haven't been covered in dust or soot yet), the Park Street Station frieze/mosaic/mural/whatever constructed entirely out of found railroad objects...
Art's everywhere on the T.
Over twenty-five years ago a bunch of people thought it'd be a great idea to put accessible works of art in a place where they'd be seen, for free, by thousands of people on a daily basis. These works of art are seen, discussed, enjoyed, even laughed at -- but they're noticed. Most importantly, they make each station unique and provide something special, something to help you enjoy what might otherwise be another dull, boring, soulless commute.
Unfortunately, the planners made one crucial mistake: in granting MBTA ownership of the artwork, they presumed the T would always be a system that would have the funds and the workforce to maintain them. Our current bloated, monolithic transit entity can't afford to accomplish much these days.
Who can step up to help the Kendall Band?
1. The MBTA likes to just close or discontinue things and then pretend like they never happened. Ask Watertown -- or, better yet, ask Jamaica Plain. In 1985 the MBTA announced a "temporary 11-week closure" of a section of the Green Line's E branch running from Heath Street to Arborway. Today, twenty-two years later, the E branch still terminates at Heath Street, making this closure the longest 11 weeks in recorded history.
That was my most favorite spot in my commute over to the Navy Yard. I hope they fix the broken bells...its such a nice little installation
|Date:||June 18th, 2007 02:00 pm (UTC)|| |
That's so sad! I sent a note off to our Marketing dept and our founders, all three of whom came from MIT. Maybe it will strike a chord..
|Date:||June 18th, 2007 02:52 pm (UTC)|| |
I wonder if Boston Properties would be willing to help sponsor it, as well? After all, the station was named "Cambridge Center/MIT" for a short period, and they still get the name-check action from the 01800 series car announcements.
|Date:||June 18th, 2007 02:13 pm (UTC)|| |
(To nitpick, there are 2 sets of the vertical pipes, and each handle controls a distinct set. So, counter swinging against the guy on the other platform does nothing. You can follow the wires if you look up at the platform.)
Still, if both of you are swingin like mad, those tubes ring out loud and clear.
|Date:||June 18th, 2007 02:40 pm (UTC)|| |
There's also Blue Sky on the Red Line
in the Harvard bus tunnel, which hasn't been illuminated in years - no idea why.
Didn't the neon tubes at Alewife get some work done on them recently? I thought there was at least that little ray of hope for the various T art.
My God, I look at that thing every day (I take the #77 bus to my house in Arlington) and I've never even known it was SUPPOSED to be illuminated.
Sad. I like the piece now, it'd be amazing with light...
One more by Paul Matisse: The Musical Fence
, commissioned by the Cambridge Arts Council but now in exile to the DeCordova Sculpture Park in Lincoln.
This one was a little too popular, as people played it at all hours of the day and night. I recall seeing it on Main Street in Cambridge, just beyond the Kendall Square BayBank, in front of MIT's Eastgate graduate dorm tower. A Google search finds many pages saying it was in front of Cambridge City Hall. In either location, it probably disturbed some people's sleep.
"The Musical Fence came out of my enthusiasm for being able to make music without having to know exactly how to do it."
That's fucking awesome.
I'd love to see MIT take this over, and occasionally add new student creations.
It'll probably never happen, as this would require giving MIT students late night access to the MBTA tunnels (and oh, the hacks that could facilitate!).
You used to be able to schedule late-night tours of the old Harvard Square platforms if you knew the right person and asked nicely enough. However in OUR POST NINE ELEVEN WORLD they don't do that no more.
I have always wanted to use those abandoned platforms for some kind of nifty set piece. Underground themed. Ruins, of course. Some kind of Mayan-esque stone temple. Lit up only when a train runs by to save electricity.
Oh, and a giant stone head what shoots fireballs out of its eye sockets.
Ok, maybe not the giant stone head part. But it'd be neat to just see this strange setting in the darkness while slowly going around the Squealing Curve.
Jaysus - I think I missed all of this when I lived in Boston - who knew?
|Date:||June 18th, 2007 07:16 pm (UTC)|| |
A wonderful guidebook to public art in Boston was written by Marty Carlock in the early 90's. Obviously, it is somewhat outdated - unless there has been an update published which I am unaware of - but well worth a read if you can find it.
Ms. Carlock was kind enough to track down info for me on a piece she had not included in her book, a bronze of a mountain lion catching a bird, erected in the middle of a small fountain in the Public Gardens near the Swan Boats. I just throw that tidbit in to let you know the type of nice person who wrote this book.
|Date:||June 22nd, 2007 02:03 pm (UTC)|| |
Hey, just wanted to say thanks for posting this. On this week's marketing report, there's now the line item;
"Discussion started with Paul Matisse regarding sponsorship of the "Kendall Band" artwork in the T station"
We were apparently the first responders :)
|Date:||June 27th, 2007 07:41 pm (UTC)|| |
The Charlestown Bells
I work in the Navy Yard and cross the locks twice a day. I love the bells and have wanted to hear the entire song since I started working here. Unfortunately there are several notes that have fallen into disrepair.
I'm not an engineer but I do custom build and repair all kinds of things from a/v and server racks to decks and roofs to furniture to electronics as a hobby. I wanted to contact the artist on the plaque and see if he wanted help repairing them when I stumbled across this blog. I don't have the means to help monetarily, at least not on the scale that appears necessary, but I do have some time and effort I can lend. I just want to hear them as they were intended.
I looked into a few of them a few weeks ago and it was tough to ascertain because of limited visibility, but I think that there are some kind of bearings with gear teeth that swing the hammers into the bells. In a few it feels like all that might be wrong with it is the bearings are sprung loose from the shaft. Others might just have a broken arm for the hammer. I could be totally wrong but it felt like that was what it was supposed to do.
If any of you have been in touch with the artist I would like to offer my assistance in getting these repaired. I know many industrial vendors and, if the parts needed were available through them, could try to get them donated. I don’t really know much about non-profit-type stuff but I would imagine that if I could get the ball rolling someone with a little better understanding of these matters could guide the process?
Anyway, like I said I’m just offering any assistance I can lend. Please pass this on to the artist, the Boston Commission for the Arts, the Urban Renewal Commission, bored wealthy housewives, the staties, or whoever else is in charge of this stuff.
|Date:||August 4th, 2007 08:40 pm (UTC)|| |
Re: The Charlestown Bells
A friend sent me the link for this blog due to remarks made in it about my bells at Kendall & Charlestown. I had no idea anyone was interested so it was great to read all those positive statements, and particularly fine to have your thoughts on offering to help with the Charlestown Bells. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 978-448-6302 so that I can get back to you when I'm rallying help on that piece later this fall.
Meanwhile we did remove, repair, and return the handles at Kendall recently, and so Pythagoras (the 16 bells) should be working now. We have also just removed the cranking mechanism for Kepler, (the big ring) and it will go back up in several weeks. the Ring will then ring again.
The T, for the first time since the beginning has found a way to pay for this work. Very gratifying and a great advance over the old days, and there are even a good number of people at the T that really like the piece. Then the article in the Globe by Mac Daniels also triggered a number of preliminary leads on companies that would like to consider making contributions to the maintenance of the Kendall Band. All of that is very good news to me and to those who have enjoyed the piece over the years. And it seems there's more to come.
Best wishes, and thanks again to everyone. Paul Matisse