From office space to artist's place: Williams College visiting faculty transform Town Hall for exhibit


WILLIAMSTOWN — Town Hall has taken on a completely different role recently.

It has become an inspiration for five visiting art faculty members at Williams College, and it has become an exhibition hall to display the results of that inspiration.

While the artists are faculty, the curator, Alex Jen, is a junior at Williams College. After seeing the building, touring the interior and learning of its history, Jen saw the potential.

"It's not a neutral space like a museum," Jen noted. "And there are more questions raised than there are answers, but the questions make you think a lot."

The eclectic nature of the various spaces inside the building, the fact that it first served as a fraternity house and now serves as a town hall and police station, all led him to the conclusion that an artist could find a space that inspired interpretation, conversation or generated questions.

But these elements all helped to spark a fascinating collection of artwork with a variety of media in the nooks and crannies of town hall. The exhibition is called "No Agenda," and opened on Nov. 3. It will close Friday.

This was not a class project. It was something that Jen thought of and wanted to accomplish, just to see what the result would be.

So he approached Jason Hoch, town manager in Williamstown.

When Jen approached him with the concept, Hoch found it interesting — using a government building for a purpose that is wildly ungovernmental: inspiring art and social reflection.

Hoch was intrigued enough to give his blessing to the project.

"I thought, why not challenge a few conventions? Especially where we have the sort of resources we have in this community," Hoch said. "This is a community building and we can offer things more exciting than paying your taxes and buying trash bags."

When Jen learned that there are five new visiting art faculty members this semester, he checked in with them. Although he is a student, he was surprised to find out they were all interested in participating in the project which Jen would curate.

While touring the building, the artists were drawn to different spaces, Jenn recalled.

"Each artist started to pursue their vision, but sometimes the space pushed back and forced a change in their approach," he said. "But they were excited by the unusual nature of the space, and once we started, we never looked back."

Over the years, the changes to the building have left it with short corridors, unused spaces and relics of obsolete office technology.

There is not much left inside of the old fraternity house, other than the old party room in the basement of the police station.

One of the artists, Zak Arctander, has an exhibit in the original fraternity party room, which now serves as locker facility and evidence storage for the Police Department. He uses videography and photography to examine the mindset of youth, peer pressure, fear and life on the edge of fun and danger.

Allana Clarke used light gray, vinyl letters to install phrases on the walls in unlikely places in a back stairwell. Among the thought-provoking phrases was this one: "Who would you be if others didn't hurt?" Her theme examines the experience of oppression and self-perception of the oppressed and the oppressor. The letters are not much darker than the walls, and the phrases become more or less visible as one moves up and down the staircase, appearing and disappearing almost like thoughts in a daydream.

Kim Faler, in a work she titled "Give me your anxiety," uses discarded hand-written, insignificant notes or lists discarded by family and friends to create a stencil on a slab of metal, they are scrawled and rusted on a flat, white finish, mounted on a Day-Glo green wall.

Ilana Harris-Babou's video offering, "Reparation Hardware" juxtaposes the marketing of upscale furniture made from old barn wood with the period after the Civil War when newly freed slaves were given 40 acres and a mule during the Reconstruction period, only to lose them when President Andrew Johnson reversed the order and returned the land to plantation owners.

It looks at first like a commercial, but becomes something very different.

She also created ceramic replicas of obsolete technology like a computer mouse, a USB cable, or an old monitor. They are spread around the offices, adjacent to actual office devices. But some of ceramic pieces are slightly distorted - although some look the same at first glance. Others are wildly distorted, but still recognizable.

Nicole Maloof took excerpts from Williamstown historical documents and printed them out on the white board in the third floor conference room. The effect is to question historical records and the gaps in that record, as well as its importance to the community, or lack thereof.

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