• A still from "Portal Excursion," a short video by former MIT visiting artist Michael Smith, in which middle-aged Mike takes classes from his home computer and wanders MIT's Infinite Corridor lost in thought.

    Photo courtesy / Michael Smith

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Nowhere Man finds love in OCW

In "Portal Excursion," middle-aged Mike takes MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW) classes from his home computer while wandering the Infinite Corridor lost in his thoughts. He looks busy and talks to no one.

The eight-minute video is the latest in Michael Smith's film series, initiated in the late 1970s, about the hapless Mike Smith's eponymous performance persona, a postmodern Everyman who believes everything and understands nothing. "Portal Excursion" will be screened at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) on Wednesday, Nov. 8 at 7 p.m. in Room N52-390. The artist will attend.

Smith is a video and performance artist who uses comedy to criticize the banality and emptiness of mass consumer culture and to portray the isolation of those whose inner lives are defined by it. He was a visiting artist at the CAVS in March 2005 and has since been a fellow at the Center.

In "Portal Excursion," Mike's optimism is renewed after he discovers OpenCourseWare, MIT's free and open educational resource for self-learners around the world. "OCW offered Mike an incredible amount of information, not only to absorb his thoughts but also his energy," said Smith.

"The Infinite Corridor actually got me started on the idea for the project," said Smith. The space, he said, reminded him of "Powers of Ten," Charles and Ray Eames' landmark nine-minute 1977 film that takes viewers from a picnic scene to the edge of the Universe.

In "Portal Excursion," Smith makes allusions to Eames' long tracking shot illustrating a universe of continuity and change and to Fuller's use of the corridor as a site for allegory.

"But," said Smith, "in 'Portal,' I do the opposite of what was happening in the other films. Mike never really gets anywhere--but wherever he is headed, the distance is finite."

The soundtrack to Smith's dreamlike, deadpan meditation on isolation was composed by Mayo Thompson, co-founder of Red Krayola, the long-running underground band that initially made its mark on the 1960s psychedelic scene.

For more information, call x3-4415 or visit cavs.mit.edu.


A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 8, 2006 (download PDF).

Topics: Arts, OpenCourseWare


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