Train Spotting: Mags Harries at the Porter Square Station

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Porter Square Station contains the MBTA’s deepest escalator descent, and that’s very cool, but an installation by public art specialist and SMFA prof Mags Harries arguably outshines the mighty electronic staircase. The 54 bronze gloves comprising ‘Glove Cycle’ have been most prominently seen tumbling – albeit in a stationary, statue-like way – down the escalator’s divide since 1984. Skyping from Venice (we’re using “at the Porter Square Station” loosely in this edition of Train Spotting), Harries explained why she’s been raising funds to relocate the piece’s bookend — a pile of gloves that appear to have been gathered up with a broom. She also told us that ‘Glove Cycle’ was never intended to be a metaphor for The Holocaust, as some mistakenly guessed in the ‘80s, but a “whimsical” take on life’s journey from birth to the great beyond.

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Why are you trying to move the glove pile?

There used to be one elevator going down to the platforms. They’ve put in another one, so the main piece (the pile) is sandwiched between two elevators. That’s not the way it was originally conceived. It really just becomes a giant pissing place. The MBTA won’t put money up for [the relocation] because it doesn’t have money, so I have to raise the money. I had one estimate of $30,000, which seems high. I’m sure I could get it lower than that.

How’d you go about putting ‘Glove Cycle’ together?

Well, maybe I should go to why I chose gloves in the first place. There was the Blizzard of ‘78, and I was at Harvard at that time. I saw a glove hanging on a pole, and that became the instigator for thinking about the glove as an element in a narrative. It could move. It could change shapes. It could be fun to work with. At that time, I was also collecting all these gloves that had been lost during the snowstorm. They were all incredibly flattened and squashed. When I put them up on the wall, I realized they could, in fact, be almost like an animation. So I collected gloves, people gave me gloves, and I cast them into plaster and then into wax. The whole process was done with lost-wax casting.

It’s crazy that those gloves have been at Porter for as long as this reporter has been alive…

At that time, it was radical. There was a reaction to it in terms of thinking that, you know, it would be a danger to people who could get distracted and get sleeves caught, or not look where they’re going.

Do you know of any gloves-related injuries?

Actually, NPR did a story about how the way to go down escalators is either with one eye open and the other eye closed, or looking sidewards, because escalators can make people dizzy. Having people look sidewards at the gloves was, in fact, a safer way to go down the escalator. By having these gloves roll into each other and get caught on the anti-slide knobs, I sort of dissipated people’s fears with humor.

Have an idea for someone our reporter should talk to for an upcoming edition of Train Spotting MBTA Personality Spotlight? Email us your tip at letters@metro.us! 


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