Locomotion commotion

By GREG COOK  |  September 18, 2007

The center of the exhibit, from which all the trains radiate out, is Somervillian Chris Frost’s Municipile, a tower of white wooden models of local landmarks like South Station, Harvard’s Memorial Hall, Cambridge City Hall, and the DeCordova. They look like a bunch of birdhouses spun up by a tornado. One train leaves for Inflatable Respirating Cloudscape, by Providence’s Robin Mandel and Gideon Webster. The engine snakes across a mirrored tabletop, triggering a blower to funnel air through silvery hoses to inflate cloth cartoon clouds. Another train weaves through Here, There and Everywhere, by Joy Wulke of Stony Creek, Connecticut. It’s a twinkling landscape of abstract buildings, trees, and hills in glass and mirrors. Water bubbles in a pair of aquariums at one end. Jagged fields of glass jut upright dangerously. It recalls Superman’s icy hideout, the Fortress of Solitude.

Also included: delicately jiggling pink lilypads by Doug Bosh of Providence, light-up Buddhas by Sandor Bobo of Providence, an illustration of a Wallace Stevens poem by Ralph Helmick of Newton, philosophy puns by Mike Newby of South Chatham, a giant blinking circuit board by Edythe Wright of Roslindale, and a pile of ceramic pots and shards by Ahmed Abdalla of Somerville.

“Trainscape” | DeCordova Museum & Sculpture Park | 51 Sandy Pond Road, Lincoln | through January 13 | Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, “The Center of Cosmic Energy” | Tufts University Art Gallery | Lower Campus Road, Medford | through November 11

“The Center of Cosmic Energy,” which Ilya and Emilia Kabakov have constructed at Tufts University Art Gallery, purports to get you in touch with cosmic energy with the help of giant ancient underground artifacts. (Be warned: spoilers ahead.) The Center is part of the Russian couple’s proposed Utopian City, a model of which is pictured in the first gallery. It looks like a factory combined with electric plant cooling towers and the skeleton of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Signs in the next gallery explain how “throne-shaped” sites channel cosmic energy, particularly when they have a 60-degree tilt. A pair of monitors show cosmic-energy sites: the Egyptian pyramids, Angkor Wat, European cathedrals, Stonehenge, Macchu Picchu, earth-art works like Walter de Maria’s Lightning Field, and the wreckage of the World Trade Center.

Next is a dimly lit mini amphitheater, with wooden benches ringing the walls. What appears to be a giant clay nipple rests in a bin on the floor. Light shines from two concentric circles on the ceiling above, with metal poles hanging down so that it resembles the bottom of a spaceship with speed lines. A recorded voice — one of those official-sounding museum recordings, or maybe someone from an infomercial — tells us that ancient artifacts were found buried on the property and that researchers believe they were designed to collect cosmic energy.

The room gets progressively lighter as the recorded spiel goes on, until it’s sunny bright and the voice concludes, “The Communication with the Cosmos building, in which you are now sitting, has been constructed upon the actual archæological site in Medford where the ‘arched antennae’ and the ‘reservoirs’ were found. Sitting within this structure, your ‘intuition of 60 degrees’ has been activated and you most likely feel a surge of cosmic energy flowing throughout your body.” And I did feel a little tingle.

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