A World of Details

The School’s first Tuesday morning Assembly in the transformed, newly named Kaye Theater was the perfect time and place to explore novel ways of thinking about the smallest details of ordinary objects that surround people every day. Creatively reimagining commonplace materials is central to the work of this year’s visiting artist, Rachel Perry ’80, who was introduced to the community on January 29 by Visual Arts Department Head Stacey McCarthy. Rachel’s unique installations, photographs, sculptures, drawings, and paintings have appeared in venues from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum to The New York Times Magazine and Vogue. In addition to working with the Middlesex community over the next few months, she will open the School’s new Ishibashi Gallery in the Bass Arts Pavilion this spring.

“Twist ties, fruit stickers, computer spam, and wrong-number voicemail messages are the stuff of my art,” Rachel explained while showing images of some of her work. In reorganizing these disparate things in unexpected ways, she prompts questions about language and meaning, the sorting and processing of information, and the “endless nature” of consumerism in everyday life.

One wall installation, for example, consists of crushed tinfoil letters spelling out “You may already be a winner.” In other pieces, innumerable twist ties are woven into tapestries and columns, or complex, colorful mosaics are fashioned from fruit stickers. In a short film, cereal boxes and snack packages are revealed to be miniature reproductions when an ant – giant by comparison – crawls into the picture. “Once you start paying attention to the little things,” Rachel reflected, “the world becomes immense.”

Her visual focus, she recalled, began in her student days at Middlesex, when Rachel and a roommate – Head Athletic Trainer Laura Darby McNally ’80 – collected the small tags from teabags and fastened them in a wallpaper-like pattern on the walls of their room in Robert Winsor House. Years later, she discovered the creative potential of “humble twist ties” and has steadily expanded her materials and meditations since then.

Not long ago, Rachel oversaw the creation of a wall that was collaboratively made of twist ties during “twisting bees” in a Cambridge coffee shop. “I like to think that my wall is bringing people together, not keeping them apart,” she said. “I want us to build a wall for the Ishibashi Gallery. Let’s start now.”

And with that, she asked everyone in the Kaye Theater to look beneath their seats and retrieve the two silver twist ties placed under each. Following Rachel’s directions, students, faculty, and staff formed their twist ties into circular links and joined them into short chains that were collected from every row. In the coming weeks, the chains will grow during campus twisting bees, and in May, the finished wall installation will be unveiled in the new gallery – a work of art made by every member of the Middlesex community.