The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study recently opened Saturate the Moment, a new installation in Radcliffe Yard that is a striking and engaging reflection on the relationship between art and the environment. This piece—chosen from more than 20 designs submitted by Harvard students in the spring of 2013—won the inaugural University-wide Radcliffe Institute Public Art Competition.
The students who designed the winning project—Keojin Jin and Juhun Lee—are receiving their master’s degrees in design studies in May 2014 from the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD). Their inspiration for the interlacing, undulating sculpture and its grass surroundings is the shell of a desert beetle, which collects condensation for the beetle’s survival. The artwork is divided into two planes: one “representing the landscape” and another “representing the moisture, air, and the environment,” said Lee. Jin describes the design as an opportunity to “think more deeply about our environment and how a physical, low-tech object can interact with the energy and the vibrant atmosphere around it.”
That sense of space earned top marks for the project from the competition jury of distinguished Harvard faculty, including Anita Berrizbeitia, a professor of landscape architecture at the GSD. “We chose the project because it has an airy, uplifting spirit to it,” she said. “It is very dynamic in the way it interacts with light and shade.” Chris Reed, another juror who is an associate professor in the practice of landscape architecture at the GSD and a principal at Stoss Landscape Urbanism, said, “The design’s interplay between the highly technical and the ambient, or available, was poetically rich and really captured our imagination.”
The competition’s emphasis on innovation was important to Jin and Lee, who wanted to use unconventional materials—specifically fiberglass reinforced polymer, or FRP—to create installation art. They saw the material as a way to explore the boundaries of art, landscape design, and structural architecture. This fabrication required the technology and techniques of boat builders: Saturate the Moment uses FRP created by Lowell Brothers/Even Keel Marine, Inc., in Yarmouth, Maine.
“We launched this student competition hoping to provide an opportunity for students to create public art to be enjoyed by the University and Cambridge communities,” said Radcliffe Institute Dean Lizabeth Cohen. “But we had no idea how strong the response would be.” Cohen was pleased that students throughout the University submitted proposals, and she sees the competition as “a unique way Radcliffe can encourage student art-making, support more dynamic arts at Harvard, and make Radcliffe Yard a more visually exciting place.”
The Radcliffe Institute Public Art Competition is a unique opportunity for Harvard students, who not only receive an honorarium, but also are able to join theory with practice. Jin and Lee worked closely with faculty, consultants—including contributors from Reed’s firm, Stoss—and contractors such as Even Keel and Cambridge Landscape Co. Inc. to bring their design concept to reality.
The garden that now houses Saturate the Moment is itself unique. Created as part of recent renovations to Radcliffe Yard, it occupies a prominent area on Brattle Street across from the American Repertory Theater, and it “initiates a conversation about the role of public art and design at the university and its relationship with the city and the larger public,” said Berrizbeitia.
It is fitting, then, that the space has now been named the Susan S. and Kenneth L. Wallach Garden, in honor of the longtime Radcliffe supporters whose generosity made the competition possible. Susan ’68, JD ’71 and Ken ’68, JD ’72 see the garden as a metaphor: “This open space, like the Radcliffe Institute, is about experimentation and excitement, encouraging the kind of new discoveries an established university needs to move ideas forward.”
Susan Wallach is the chair of the Radcliffe Institute’s Dean’s Advisory Council, and the co-chair—with Sidney R. Knafel ’52, MBA ’54—of The Radcliffe Campaign.
Saturate the Moment will be on view through March 2015, when construction will begin on the next winning installation of the Radcliffe Institute Public Art Competition. Guidelines for student submissions for the second cycle of the competition will be announced mid-November on the Radcliffe Institute’s website, www.radcliffe.harvard.edu.