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Somatic Paradigms

A Conversation with Yukio Lippit, Helen Mirra, and Alise Upitis

Yukio Lippit, director of the arts program, Academic Ventures at the Radcliffe Institute, and professor of the history of art and architecture at Harvard University

Helen Mirra

Alise Upitis, assistant curator at MIT's List Visual Arts Center

This panel features a discussion about the theme of walkings that has been explored by the Radcliffe Institute's arts program through the work of Helen Mirra. The conversation will be immediately followed by a reception for Helen Mirra, Hourly Directional.


Statement from Yukio Lippit, director of the arts program, Academic Ventures at the Radcliffe Institute, and professor of history of art and architecture, Harvard University: 

This fall the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study features acclaimed artist Helen Mirra in Hourly Directional, the second part of a two-part exhibition, the first of which was installed last spring.

Hourly Directional exemplifies the ongoing commitment to the arts on the part of the Radcliffe Institute and its Academic Ventures program. A primary component of Radcliffe's arts initiative includes showcasing practices that are at the vanguard of thinking and experimentation in the art world and inspire meaningful connections with the interdisciplinary research being supported at Radcliffe, Harvard, and beyond.

Representing the latest in a remarkable sequence of exhibitions dating back to 2010, Hourly Directional consists of artworks generated from daily walkings undertaken around the world, in this case in the Italian Dolomites, Ecuador's southern Sierra, and Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. In each location, Mirra—or in the case of Ecuador, a proxy—walks for seven hours every day, and every hour stops to render a condition of her locale through an artwork. In Hourly Directional, these consist of field notations and photographs, which are displayed in Radcliffe's Byerly Hall Gallery and also in the halls and stairwells of the Institute's Knafel Center and Schlesinger Library.

One of the notable qualities of Mirra's artistic practice is its sheer ongoingness. Each exhibition is closely related to the next set of walkings, either providing a rationale for its location or supporting its next enactment.

Over the years, Mirra's project has brought an international matrix of galleries, curators, and institutions into a complex, multi-nodal relationship through their shared participation in this unusually poetic, rigorous, and long-enduring practice, one that is inexorably forward-moving and fragile at the same time.

Mirra's art making emerges out of conceptual art and her own longstanding interests in the environment, Buddhism, ethics, principles of nature, and personal systems of order. Her artworks have been described as laconic, poetically minimalist, and regardful. In every instance, they are formed according to the highest standards of craft and rigor. They are at once highly intimate and impersonal, both orderly and idiosyncratic, participatory and self-contained, pointing on one hand to a specificity of place and on the other to the vast spatial and temporal scale of what one commentator has called its "grand inquiry."