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Interactive MIT exhibit asks students what they leave behind

Celina Colby | 9/15/2017, 6 a.m.
Hamilton has set up stations in the lobby of the List Center with pieces of colored vellum and transparent boxes. ...
Artist Elisa Hamilton’s “Community Legacy” project is on view at MIT’s List Visual Arts Center. Celina Colby

Every year the MIT List Visual Arts Center hosts a lottery for students at the university. Any student can enter to win a piece of art from the center’s collection, which they are allowed to hang in their dorm for the remainder of the school year. Artist Elisa Hamilton says, “I was impressed with the generosity of letting the students live with the art instead of hoarding it.” From there, her interactive installation “Community Legacy” was born.

Artist Elisa Hamilton’s “Community Legacy” project is on view at MIT’s List Visual Arts Center.

Artist Elisa Hamilton’s “Community Legacy” project is on view at MIT’s List Visual Arts Center.

“Community Legacy” provides an opportunity for students and the public to consider what they’re leaving behind. Hamilton has set up stations in the lobby of the List Center with pieces of colored vellum and transparent boxes. Guests are encouraged to write what they leave behind at MIT on the paper, put it in a box and place it on a bookshelf-like structure. At the end of the project Hamilton will read the contributions and preserve them online.

The work is especially poignant as our political and environmental future becomes increasingly uncertain. It invites the question of not only what are we leaving behind, but what kind of world are we leaving it to? “It’s a physical, growing, flowering exhibition reflecting the voices of the MIT community,” says Hamilton. With each contribution the aesthetic of the installation will change, and so will its meaning.

MIT’s unique tradition of art lending dates back to 1969; the collection has been exhibited annually every September for student perusal since 1977. Though only students are eligible for the lending program, the exhibition is open to the public and offers a powerful look at the university’s extensive collection.

Hamilton chose bright orange, green and purple vellum for “Community Legacy” to create a visual that grabs the passerby. “One of the reasons I chose the transparent boxes and the vellum is because you can see the hint of handwriting but not specifically what it says,” she says. Similarly, one’s contribution to his or her community may not be fully apparent until they’ve left it. Hamilton’s exhibition allows viewers not only to consider their own contributions, but those of the people around them.

Hamilton is a New England native and graduate of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, where she now serves on the Board of Trustees. Her work focuses on community engagement.

She hopes people come away from the project more attuned to the impact they’re having on their communities, and the one they’d like to have. She says, “As an artist that’s something we think about in every choice we make: ‘How can I have an impact?’”