The Joyce Cummings Center welcomes three new art installations across different mediums

Art on the Joyce Cummings Center's fifth floor is pictured on October 2nd. Ian Lau / The Tufts Daily
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The Joyce Cummings Center is now home to three commissioned art installations that celebrate the connections between art, academics and the Tufts and local communities. The three pieces, Fractals Transcending, The Poetry of Reason and The Sum of Ostrom, Common Pots, and Persistence not only span multiple floors of the Cummings Center, but multiple mediums, ranging from sculpture to mural to digital art animation. 

The three installations were commissioned and developed by the Tufts University Art Galleries, the Joyce Cummings Art Working Group and Tufts Public Art Committee.

Dina Deitsch, the director and chief curator of the Tufts University Art Galleries, shared with the Daily that the project has been in the works since before the Cummings Center was even built, and that it was made possible by Alan Henricks and Joan Henricks (J’69), whose donations funded the commission of all three pieces.

Deitsch further explained the planning process behind the three installations. 

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“We decided to take a more kind of committee-style of approach following sort of new protocols that … would … have the artists selection go through the public art committee, which is more university wide, but have a small art working group committee that had representatives [from] all the departments that would be in the building,” Deitsch said. 

Deitsch added that after a number of meetings, they settled on selection criteria for the artists, choosing to prioritize those who were Tufts or SMFA alumni and whose work exemplifies “the ethos of the building, which is around connectivity and collaboration.”

“Once we had a budget, then we went closer into sort of final artists’ elections and ended up with Jamal [Thorne] on floors five and six that would work with the math and economics department. Then Yu-Wen Wu would work with computer science on floors three and four. And then we commissioned the animation by Polymode Studio that’d be on the monitors,” Deitsch said. 

Deitsch noted that the artworks would all reflect the concepts of the building and they were chosen for their different intersections between art and the types of research happening in the building. 

On the first floor, “Fractals Transcending” by Polymode Studios is an animation video installation piece that plays on the monitors. 

“It deals with fractals, but fractals within nature and within sort of African architecture … It looks at math through sort of a more holistic lens, looking at … how research is applied for the betterment of humanity,” Deitsch said. 

Upstairs, on the third and fourth floors of the Joyce Cummings Center is Yu-Wen Wu’s wall sculpture installation, “The Poetry of Reason.” Wu, an SMFA alumni, told the Daily in an interview that she is an interdisciplinary artist who uses drawing, sculpture, video, installation and community engagement in her artistic practice. She went on to explain the planning and proposal process and the meaning behind “The Poetry of Reason.”

“I submitted a [proposed] particular drawing, which is a network … about interconnections, which is about relating to each other, mapping our relationships, and so that’s why you see this kind of web-like structure of information,” Wu said. 

Wu felt it was important to engage faculty and students in the computer science department in her process by having them come up with ideas for the designs of the various discs found in her sculpture. Each disc depicts a mathematical or graphical sign or notation. She wanted both people within and outside the department to be able to relate to it. 

“It was this combination of figuring out what matters to the department and what matters to a normal non-science, non-computer science person. … So that language has to be somewhat readable,” Wu said.

To create her sculpture, Wu worked with a steel fabricator, plexi fabricator and a printer. The entire process took about a year.

“This is about a year long project, between working with the departments and figuring out the design and structure of this,” she explained. “I would say 80% was done before the making, [which included] all the drawings, all the gathering of data, all the decisions about where things would go [and] the scale of this piece, because it’s a huge wall.”

Compared to the lengthy planning process, Wu said that the installation process for “The Poetry of Reason” was quick. After laying everything out and welding all the parts together, installation in the Cummings Center took only two or three days. 

Wu titled her work “The Poetry of Reason” after reflecting on the creative process behind logical thinking.

“I thought about … the process of someone arriving at an equation. … I thought that, like art, it’s a creative process of thinking, I would imagine,” Wu said. “There is problem solving, there is thinking about different ways of approaches to solve a problem. Like the arts, you’re questioning things … so all of these elements are, for me, somewhat very abstract, and I would think [like] the creative process, it’s very poetic.”

Now that “The Poetry of Reason” has been installed, Wu hopes that students and faculty interact with it and that it is shaped by time and interests of the community. 

“There’s a possibility of replacing these [discs] … you can unscrew it, and put new notations on in the future. So if there’s a fantastic new equation that comes up, we can put that in … so it’s not rigid. It’s meant to be shaped with the time, be shaped with interest, [and] to be shaped with the community,” Wu said. 

On the fifth and sixth floors of the Cummings Center is “The Sum of Ostrom, Common Pots, and Persistence,” a black and white hand-drawn mural by Boston-based artist Jamal Thorne. 

Thorne told the Daily that in his studio practice he typically draws and uses acrylic paint, and that “The Sum of Ostrom, Common Pots, and Persistence” was his first public art project. 

Thorne reflected on the extensive planning and research process for the creation of his mural. 

“It took me a few tries to get myself out of … my regular practice and into a space where I recognized the fact that this work was going into this community area, and it needed to be accessible for everybody,” Thorne said. 

Thorne further noted that he researched the history of the Tufts campus and surrounding communities before creating his mural.

“I did a lot of research and a lot of reading and ended up in the archives at Tufts University a few times, and I got to know and understand the chronology associated with the site from when indigenous people inhabited that land to now,” Thorne said. 

Thorne added that there are many “entry points” into the imagery of his mural, from the black walnut trees from the Tufts campus, to the depiction of local abolitionist George L. Stearns’ clock, to the depiction of a lantern which signaled a stop on the Underground Railroad, to the sunchokes, a type of vegetable farmed by the local indigenous communities. 

Thorne elaborated on his intention and thought process behind the title, “The Sum of Ostrom, Common Pots, and Persistence.”

“It’s this intersection between so many disparate threads that you wouldn’t think are related,”  Thorne said. “The title, ‘sum,’ it’s a mathematical term as to [an] addition, and … Ostrom would be a reference to Elinor Ostrom, the first woman to get the Nobel Prize in economics … due to her research on community governance of resources.”

Thorne also worked with four assistants including Luiny Juliao, a third year dual degree student, to create a two-story mural. In an interview with the Daily, Juliao shed light on the level of detail and amount of work that went into this installation. 

“The first challenge was projecting the design to the wall … having the basic map of the design and then building on top of it [and] actually drawing. … But for the big tree we needed scaffolding, … [and] we would pretty much just climb the scaffolding and be on top of it to draw,” Juliao said. 

Juliao estimated that she spent 160 hours over the course of two months this summer drawing and working on the mural.

“Having this opportunity just meant a lot to me, and … it always feels good to know that your work is appreciated, and Jamal always made sure that I knew that,” Juliao said. “It was a project that was really made with love, and we spent a lot of time on it, and we’re really happy with the result, which is even better.” 

Thorne hopes that when people look at “The Sum of Ostrom, Common Pots, and Persistence,” they can feel inspired and a sense of belonging. 

“The main thing that I want people to take away from it is that this is a space where everybody belongs,” Thorne said. “Whether you are [from] this cultural background or that cultural background, or if you are an economics major [or] robotics major, … I just want people to see themselves or relate to something in the piece, so that maybe they’re inspired.” 

From animation to mural to sculpture, the three new diverse installations at the Cummings Center depict the history of the campus and emphasize collaboration and connection.

Correction: A previous version of this article contained an incorrect spelling of Joan Henricks’ name. A previous version also incorrectly stated that the art installations are temporary and will be removed in 2027. The installations are permanent. The Daily regrets these errors. 

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