Polykhroma’s latest show ‘Intervals,’ a recession into thoughtfulness

An artwork from the exhibit "Intervals" which features the 21 works of Tufts artists is pictured on display at 48 Winthrop Street. (Courtesy Antonio Eran)

According to the Chinese proverb “the spectator sees the game better than the players,” one may only critically reflect on certain situations from a distance. Therefore, people’s constant, voluntary disassociations from and re-evaluations of their natural states of being are crucial catalysts for dissidence and change. To put it in the language of “Intervals,” the sixth Polykhroma exhibition since the organization’s establishment, “Gaps in space, time, events, and objects … help us navigate the world and age we live in.”

According to Eliza Ball, one of the nine current members of Polykhroma, the organization is a non-Tufts-affiliated student group focused on curating art exhibitions featuring artwork from the Tufts community and the Greater Boston area. In the past, the organization has accepted submissions from Harvard, Northeastern and the Somerville area. That being said, all nine members of the organization are Tufts students, and the majority of works displayed at Polykhroma exhibitions come from Tufts artists based on both the Medford/Somerville and Fenway campuses.

“Intervals” opened at 48 Winthrop St. on Dec. 1. The exhibition featured 21 Tufts artists and 21 works, although some artists collaborated on one piece, while others submitted more than one. The works on display employed various media including painting, drawing, performance, photography, video, audio, mixed media and installation.

Two artists featured in “Intervals,” Aidan Huntington and Jake Zaslav, shared insights regarding their inspiration and creative processes in interviews with the Daily.

Huntington is a third-year student enrolled in the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts combined-degree program majoring in fine arts and anthropology. Huntington’s “help me understand this place i inhabit/ this family i embody/ the people i am and am not” (2017) was the only performance exhibited at “Intervals.” 

During their two-hour-and-40-minute performance, Huntington traced the pages from a children’s book written and illustrated by their grandparents. Every time they finished tracing one page, they stood up and nailed it to the wall behind their seat. By the end of the performance, Huntington had finished tracing the whole book.

Huntington regarded their work as an exploration of the queer identity and its presence as an “interval” within “patrilineal nuclear family trees.”

“There is that ever-present aspect of my identity that is tied to this family history, and I have been trying to understand my place in that as both a continuity of it and also this kind of break in it,” Huntington said.

Before “Intervals,” Huntington had created many time-based pieces of art in the form of videos and theatrical performances. The artist discussed the significance of conducting their artwork at “Intervals” through the media of performance and time.

“It was important that people saw the process and saw the time that went into it and understood that it was something that was taking me time to do, and that I was really being intentional about.”

Performance and time not only illustrated the onerousness of Huntington’s journey of seeking family connections, but also furthered the journey itself. 

“That performance is both a performance to convey this exploration but also very much in itself me trying to explore it. It was this very personal meditation,” Huntington explained. 

Regarding the reason behind their lack of direct interaction with the audience throughout their performance, Huntington explained, “I wanted the audience to engage with the piece of work I was creating, instead of with me as the person… I wanted them to be able to watch me as the piece.”

When asked about their post-“Intervals” plans regarding this artistic theme of finding connections with their family history, Huntington said that first they were still conceiving a way to preserve their traced sketches; they might bind them into a book. The artist might also restage “help me understand this place i inhabit/ this family i embody/ the people i am and am not,” but at a slower pace within a duration of four to five hours.

Jake Zaslav, a sophomore who studies music at Tufts, had two works on display at “Intervals,” including “PostModern Nasal Drip” (2017). The installation featured an iPad connected to two headphones playing an audio file, accompanied by a table and two chairs. The installation was designed to be simultaneously experienced by, likely and preferably, two strangers. The two individuals would listen to the same piece of music while facing each other across the table. The music featured a trumpet, a piano, a bass attached by hanging bells, human humming and human coughing.   

According to Zaslav, the music in “PostModern Nasal Drip” was a collectively improvised piece that gained its meaning only after its production.

“When I listened to it afterwards, that’s when I came up with this idea that … that weird time, when you are still awake, and you are in bed, you don’t want to get up yet, but you are still not falling asleep. That’s one of my favorite times. It’s just a weird in between moment,” Zaslav said. 

The title of the installation is a witty wordplay on post-nasal drip, an accumulation of mucus in the nose that causes the most discomfort in the morning. The insertion of “Modern” into the title has both a literal and a figurative layer of meaning. On one hand, it speaks to the style of the music being postmodern, on the other hand, it constitutes a satirical critique of the limiting and exclusive aspects of the nature of genres.

Zaslav explained, “I think genre is a very weird thing. There is a natural human tendency to group things into titles and areas, but also they are just very limiting. Genres are also traditionally assigned by these corporations as a marketing thing. And when you go into the history of genre, there’s also other issues when it comes to race and how genres are essentially made to create white people’s music and black people’s music.”

“PostModern Nasal Drip” is not only an interval in time, but also an intermediary between comfort and discomfort. The audience was pressured with the anxiety of having to share an intimate experience with a complete stranger, but they could also sit in a very comfortable setting that Zaslav had designed. The artist elaborated on his fascination with observing people’s reactions in situations of discomfort.

“You get interesting emotional responses to discomfort. What do people do, how does that affect how they listen to the music? But simultaneously the installation is also evocative of comfortable scenes, with the tissue box and chairs.”

Collaboration was key to the creation of “PostModern Nasal Drip,” as well as the majority of Zaslav’s other improvisational music pieces.

“Every single part has been a collaboration: the making of the music, the recording, the mixing, getting the materials, the curation… It’s weird for me to say that I compose works, I rely a lot on the other musicians.”

The artist attributes his predilection for communal projects to his background in jazz.

“Jazz education is really drilled into this idea of influence. Everything you do has influence by other musicians. We quote other musicians, and we are constantly taught about the history of jazz as well.”

Disrupting us from our mundane progression in life and prompting us to question our past, current and future states of existence, the Polykhroma exhibition is in itself an installation providing an interval from our daily preoccupations.