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EJ Hill's participatory exhibit 'Brake Run Helix' fills the Building 5 gallery at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art for the next year.

Roller Coaster at Mass MoCA: EJ Hill Exhibit

By Sabrina DammsiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art's new exhibit "Brake Run Helix" has quickly became a museum favorite. 
"People seem pretty excited about it. It's been really fun. I love that so many people want to ride it. I think the fact that people are excited about roller coasters and this sort of idea of roller coasters resonates with a lot of people, not just with EJ and I. That's been really exciting," Mass MoCA curator Alexandra Foradas said.
"And then we have the fact that we have a community of visitors, whether local or regional or global, who are ready and willing to participate in artwork. That's super exciting. I love that that's something that people have been welcoming with open arms."
Contemporary artist EJ Hill opened his largest exhibit to date by building a rideable sculpture in the museum's 100-yard-long Building 5 gallery. 
Roller coasters have been a source of joy for both riders and onlookers. The exhibition stood out to Foradas in particular because of the degree to which it was able to manufacture so much joy in the space. 
"This space feels very warm and welcoming. And one of the things that EJ and I have been talking about a lot is the fact that when you watch people go down the roller coaster for the first time, both they and the people who have gathered to watch them ride the roller coaster have this really big grin on their faces that you don't see in art museums very often," Foradas said
"I think that it was so exciting and delightful for me as a curator and collaborator with EJ to see that hope for this offering to the public was fulfilled as we've been welcomed in public and to ride the roller coaster."
According to the release, Hill considers roller coasters as a public monument to the possibility of attaining joy which he notes is "a critical component of social equity."
The visitor experiences is unlike viewing other exhibits. Oftentimes people approach art museums in a very serious and intellectual tone that requires a quiet atmosphere, so having this shift where participants are shouting, laughing, and clapping is an exciting shift, Foradas said. 
"It was scary but very safe. And it was cool knowing that it was all gravity taking me up a hill and back down," one rider said. 
"I never expected to ride a roller coaster in an art museum and to be able to scream because I was scared in the middle of an art museum."
For Hill, the riders and the onlookers are just as important to the exhibit as the sculptures and paintings. Through the joy and excitement they feel, they become part of the sculpture.
"Performance is a big part of EJ Hill's artistic practice alongside painting and sculpture and installation. In this case, he is sort of pulling on the visual language of performance," Foradas said 
"So we get a lot of green velvet in the space alluding to the green velvet of a stage curtain and the roller coaster, Brava! is set on center stage of a wooden platform stage that will also host performances throughout the exhibition. For EJ, the roller coaster and people arriving are really all performers."
Foradas and Hill welcome people's interpretations of the space and how it functions. The history of roller coasters also furthers these interpretations. 
The first roller coasters were 18th-century ice slides commissioned by Catherine the Great of Russia and other members of nobility making, them inaccessible to the general public. Roller coasters really arrived when wooden rollers were substituted for ice and cars were attached to a track  in France in the early 1800s.
"Over the next couple centuries, ice slides and then roller coasters became permanent public attractions first throughout Europe and then in America," Foradas said. 
The exhibition shifts the attention toward the 20th century amusement parks which were sites of protest and activism during the Civil Rights Movement. 
During the Jim Crow era Black people were systematically denied access to public accommodations until the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 
When the federal law was passed, amusement parks became privatized and moved away from public transit making them difficult for people without means to access. This privatization continued to prevent many Black people from accessing amusement parks, since they'd been denied resources and generational wealth for so long.
It took only a day for the first six weeks of ride tickets to sell out at Mass MoCA. The museum does one ride an hour because it is powered by gravity rather than being mechanized — the way a typical amusement park is — so a lot of work goes into resetting it. 
New appointments are opened every week. 
"I'm optimistic that it will get easier as time goes on for people to make appointments and so I think the good news is it's up for well over a year. And so hopefully everyone who's really excited about riding or gets a chance to do so," Foradas said 
In addition to the rideable sculpture, visitors can peruse roller coaster-themed paintings and freestanding sculpture. 
More information on the exhibit can be found here

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Adams COA, Town Seek Funds for Memorial Building Bathrooms

By Brian RhodesiBerkshires Staff

ADAMS, Mass. — The Council on Aging is still waiting to transition its programming from the Visitor Center to the Memorial Building and is looking to the Community Development Department for help. 

The COA has been waiting for additional bathroom facilities to be completed for the facility, but the council and the town have so far been unable to obtain grant or other funding for the work.


COA Director Sarah Fontaine said they are working with Community Development to find funds for the bathrooms and other small improvements, including increased entrance accessibility, renovations to the former music room and fixed windows. 


"I had voiced my concern. It's a very extensive list, I don't expect that it will all be done before we transition over. The only need is the bathrooms," Fontaine said. 


At last week's Board of Selectmen meeting, Community Development Director Eammon Coughlin said he looked into using Community Development Block Grant funds for the project. He said, however, that the Memorial Building is ineligible.


"The guidance we received from [the state Department of Housing and Community Development] has basically told us that the building is ineligible for funding because we already received funding in 2018," he said. "There has to be five years between the application for senior-center type projects. So based on that guidance, I don't believe Memorial School is eligible for funding."  


Fontaine also mentioned the auditorium in the building, which the town plans to renovate separately as a future capital project. 


"It would be nice as a senior center to have the auditorium available for guest lectures and other things like that," she said. 


Moving staff to the Memorial Building now while keeping programming at the Visitor Center, Fontaine said, is not an option. She noted that the Hoosac Valley Regional School District had previously expressed interest in using the second floor of the Visitor Center for its office space. 


"I was very firm in saying, logistically, it's hard for us to manage things just being upstairs. It's going to be very difficult if we're off site to try and manage programs downstairs," she said. 


In other business: 


  • The Council on Aging is looking for volunteers to fill vacancies on its advisory board. It filled one of the vacancies on Wednesday, appointing Barbara Ziemba. Ziemba, an active participant in the COA, had already filled out the paperwork needed for her appointment. 


"I have attended many COA activities, volunteer, and am a member of the Friends of the Council on Aging and attend meetings. I have been interested in being a member of the Board of Directors for some time. Please consider my appointment to the board," Ziemba wrote, explaining in her paperwork why she was interested in the position.           


The group also discussed two other vacancies on the board and potential candidates to fill them. Two members have been unable to attend recent meetings for health reasons. 


  • The board voted to approve updated bylaws. The bylaws were revised and written primarily by Board Member Elizabeth Mach. 


"I just wanted to make a comment, or rather an appreciation, for Liz for taking this project on," Fontaine said. 


The new bylaws have a provision to allow honorary members. Fontaine said there are currently no honorary members. 


The board appointed Bruce Shepley as the board's chair to replace Barbara Lagowski, who filled one of the now vacant member seats. 

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