MASS MoCA’s ‘Archaeology’ excavates temporal questions

In the increasingly virtual and dematerialized world, what happens to physical materials and debris? Liz Glynn explores the physical development from mechanical to technological in The Archaeology of Another Possible Future, a five-part installation spread across 30,000 square feet in MASS MoCA’s signature Building 5 gallery. Each of the five parts of the installation is characterized by a different sculpture, inviting viewers to move through the exhibition focusing on touch, sound and scent.

Glynn, a Los Angeles-based artist, studied environmental studies at Harvard before pursuing a master’s degree at the California Institute of the Arts. Her work is focused on multidisciplinary sculptures, installations and performances that illuminate a powerful aura of history. The objects present in her work are symbolic of archaeology and hidden stories.

The installation is a commentary on both time and space; Glynn weaves objects in and out of hiding throughout the exhibit. Each sculpture and structure has a corresponding description beside it, and the pieces draw influence from politics, technology, sciences and economics. Each object serves a special and particular purpose as a marker of time and space.

“Histories only continue to circulate if they are relevant in the present moment,” Glynn commented in an interview. “Historical narratives are constructed; they change shape over time, lose their edges and develop new curves. My underlying interest is not in the past, but in what form the future will take and how the past can serve as an object lesson to consider that question.” This idea that history is constantly writing and rewriting itself was manifested throughout my own experience walking through the installation.

When I first walked into the exhibition, I had the feeling that I was in a huge industrial factory. There were three large piles of forklift pallets that were shaped into “analog caves.” It felt like time and space were simultaneously shifting and caving in. this world of antique and hand-made products was further populated by pottery sculptures and an old vinyl album player.

The next section of the five-part installation, called “The Shape of Progress,”  was more philosophical and conceptual. The abstract sculptural pieces were meant to embody models of human progress from the Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution and present day. As I wandered around the sculptures, I could not find any direct or clear path. In the same light, the progression from the analog to the digital world is not easy to trace from beginning to end.

Glynn’s suggestion of a living history that constantly rewrites itself is reflected in her abstract sculptures as well. She claims to see her sculptures not as archival, but rather “as objects that will continue to circulate long after the details of the performance are forgotten… The sculptures will exist as bodies, bearing the marks of their own making, to be interpreted in future circumstances yet unanticipated.” Not only do the abstract sculptures gain meaning from their contexts, but they are also enlivened and immortalized through Glynn’s interpretation.

The installation was truly an experience to walk through, and talking about its different sections does not do it justice. The five stages of the installation do not simply progress from one to another; they challenge the viewer to search for their own unique journey and experience. As the exhibition’s description explains, the installation constructs “physical movement in time and space by creating a two-tiered labyrinth.” It requires the viewer to be there in the present in order to question both the past and the future.

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