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A Golden Balm: How Art can Surprise, Delight and Heal


This is the story of how one student's year long effort brought solace and joy to a community when it was most needed. In spite of the crystalline air and brilliant sunshine, Tuesday morning was dark for Bostonians near and far. Following the marathon bombings, the entire city echoed with sobriety, anger, and sadness. Yet, serendipitously, it was on this day that Leah Medin poured a sheet of gold, soft as a caress and reaffirming as a cheer, onto many wounded hearts. Her gesture was simple, but took months of planning and painstaking work. While carefully conceived, her sculpture unintentionally came to represent the soaring expression of spirit many of us so desperately needed to find that very day.

Video by Ryan Dight

I met with Medin to talk about the timely unfurling of her piece, The Gold Divide, in MassArt's central courtyard. For those who witnessed it, the hushed voices spoke of awe and wonder and hope. I was curious to hear how the sculpture had come about, and how its transformation into a symbol affected her.

"What happened Tuesday was everything I wasn't expecting," she said about the overwhelming public response. After all, Medin had been planning this piece for over a year. It all started during her junior year abroad in Amsterdam, where she would ride her bike all around the city. As she biked, she took in the sun and the air. The fabric—440 yards of gold crystal nylon organza stitched in 57 foot long panels—was inspired by these outings, by the sense of freedom and exhilaration they contained, by the light. While in the Netherlands, Medin also came to admire the work of Dutch artist Petra Blaisse, who has perfected the idea of a sculptural curtain. Later, during a residency at Haystack, she worked with the student community on pieces combining fabric and natural settings.

Wind at Haystack, October 2012

As a senior student in the Fibers and 3D department, Medin spent months sketching, sampling fabrics, walking them around spaces to see how they would move, and building a prototype to gain approval from the College's Facilities office to run a cable across the courtyard from roof to roof. The enthusiasm shown by Facilities took her by surprise. In fact, they helped her with logistics and installation: "Jamieson Wicks and Howie Larosee were so supportive. They believed in me. There were so many steps and tons of uncertainty—I was really learning as I went." The Gold Divide is Medin's senior thesis. She received assistance in setting up the piece from a class led by artist Judith Leemann, titled "Performance and Cloth." Along the way, she was guided by her advisor, Ann Wessmann, and received much support from her peers, in particular Kelsey Trottier, who found the vast space needed to lay out the cloth and helped her cut it down. It took Medin a full month, 5 hours a day, to stitch the yards of fabric together, creating an 80x57 foot sheet that, stretched through space, came cascading down from the height of the roof to the grass below.

On the day of the Boston Marathon, Leah Medin was still hard at work in an empty school, putting the finishing touches on the cloth, reinforcing its seams. When she heard what had happened off campus, while she was quietly and solitarily working to meet her deadline, she had a moment of doubt. "I called my mom. I wasn't sure I should stick with it. She told me that now more than ever it was important to bring something beautiful to people."

"I've been waiting for this for a long time. Then, all of a sudden, there were all these eyes on it. On my baby! It was touching the surface and reaching inside the buildings, caressing the people, running along the ground. When the first tear in the cloth came, people asked if I was upset by the rip. The rips became little windows. The piece was transformed."

This creative act tested Leah Medin's endurance, and often caused her to doubt the effort and time she was devoting to it. The Gold Dividedrew an unexpected crowd in celebration of its arrival. "A lot of people have come up to me and said 'thank you'. I don't even know many of them. We give each other hugs." Considering the effect watching it ebb and flow in the wind had on me and my students, I can say that we were thankful for it too. Temporarily at least, to seemed to fill the hollowness we all felt that morning with something effortless, light, and warm.

Leah Medin graduates this May from MassArt's BFA program in Fiber Arts / 3D.
The Gold Divide will be on view until April 25th in the courtyard of Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston. See more of her work at leahmedin.com

About Author

Stephanie Cardon is a cross-disciplinary artist from France and the United States and is the former executive editor at Big Red & Shiny. She works as a Visiting Lecturer at Massachusetts College of Art & Design and is a 2013 recipient of the Art Writing Workshop from the AICA-USA and Creative Capital/Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant Program.

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