Arts, Features

Student artists-in-residence at [email protected] to create exhibit encouraging students to slow down

As the Spring semester begins to pick up pace, schedules and deadlines start to dominate student life once again. But do they have to?

BUild Lab, which hosts [email protected] programs. College of Fine Arts students Jay Li and Angela Lian were named [email protected]’s artists-in-residence Friday. CAROLYN MOONEY/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

For College of Fine Arts seniors Angela Lian and Jay Li, the perceived constraints of time don’t have to be a burden, but rather an inspiration for a new exhibit.

“We as students never feel satisfied with our time, being surrounded by language like ‘we don’t have enough time’ or ‘we’re wasting time doing this,’” Lian said at the announcement event Friday. “This installation will encourage students to consider how delicate their balance for time might be, and lead to a careful appreciation for time as something that is precious and needs to be nurtured.”

The two seniors were selected on Friday as artists-in-residence for [email protected]’s 2021 IDEA Conference —the fourth annual, one day conference for Boston-area student entrepreneurs to learn more about innovation through talks, workshops and other activities. This year’s event will be held virtually Feb. 27.

As the selected artists, the pair will work with [email protected] to install a permanent exhibit for the 20-foot wall in the BUild Lab IDG Capital Student Innovation Center on Commonwealth Avenue, which can also be viewed from the street.

The BUild Lab is a section of [email protected] that serves as a space for students to collaborate and programs to encourage innovation on campus.

Lian, who is studying graphic design, and Li, studying advertising and graphic design, submitted a proposal to the [email protected] team in January.

Their design, which was chosen out of four artists’ proposals, will feature a digital projection and preserved moss — a plant which often travels by wind collecting water and, to the artists, symbolizes the BUild Lab’s commitment to “fostering innovative seed ideas” in its students.

“The vertical garden is meant to contrast the stark coldness in our professional and academic pursuits,” Lian said at the event, “and invite onlookers to stop and smell the roses.”

As the artists bring their ideas to fruition, they said they plan to cover the metal wall in the moss while coding animated art to project over the greenery, creating a secondary garden for students in the lab to interact with. Those flowers will also use motion tracking so students can interact with and watch as the animated petals bloom at certain times of the day, Lian said.

Their proposed design won the praise of the selection panel not only for its practical application, but also for its strong conceptual framework, Dana Clancy, director of CFA’s School of Visual Arts and part of the project’s selection committee, said.

“I really liked that they had ‘time possessed and time appreciated,’” Clancy said in an interview in reference to the project’s proposal, “and they spoke very in-depth about their motivations for the piece.”

Lian said the duo’s decision to apply was “spontaneous,” but the concept for the design bloomed over the summer, she said. Li added they applied with a desire to enter the next step in their career post-college.

Mary Yang, CFA assistant professor of graphic design and art and a member of the selection committee, said the BUild Lab wall has gone unused due to its position in the room — in the center of the student and alumni workspace — but the challenge was a chance to change that.

“The wall wasn’t really being utilized by the lab because it was so deep and it was hard to reach,” Yang said in an interview. “Part of the challenge was thinking about how can this be repurposed or utilized in a way that can become functional.”

Selection committee member Ahlea Isabella-Cochran, marketing and communications manager for [email protected], said this challenge was a way to bring engaging visuals back in the conference, especially now that it’s virtual.

“It’s always been this space that we thought is just right for something more creative or innovative,” Isabella-Cochran said in an interview. “Now that this year we are doing IDEA Conference virtually and we still wanted to have an artistic piece and artistic involvement, we thought this would be a great challenge.”

Isabella-Cochran said the wall where the installation will exist is a space students can regularly engage, which she thinks will allow them to look up and take something away from it.

“We really hope it’s something that they can just look over to,” she said. “Take a break from their computer screen and look up and see something that either just sparks a new idea, gives them just a little bit of a break in their mind, helps them relax a little bit.”

Lian said the botanical aspect of their proposal meshed well with the values of [email protected] and the BUild Lab, which are centered around student collaboration and innovation.

“Moss is … a much more friendly and comfortable type of natural environment,” she said. “We wanted to have that reflection of the garden in our execution, but also have it be a stark contrast to fast-paced environments.”

The artists will begin the process of planning, installing and documenting the exhibit throughout February, and complete the rest of the exhibit in the months to come.

If all goes according to plan, passersby of Commonwealth Avenue — as well as those studying and collaborating inside — will gaze at the exhibit for years to come, Isabella-Cochran said, and hopefully remember to slow down.

“This is one we hope is there for a really, really long time,” she said in an interview. “Any piece that we do put in the BUild Lab, we usually hope that it’s there for as long as possible.”

One Comment

  1. What an inspiring piece Caroline! Thank you! Looking forward to seeing how the installation grows.
    For more information on IDEA CON, check out and register at

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