The Womb Room

The story of The Womb Room is reprinted from Kirkland Alums web page. More links to Kirkland activities can be found in the links section of the Story Chip Forum.

On the second floor of List Art Center, opposite the curved stairwell, there is a hidden gem of architectural history. It is seriously hidden, behind ominous coded keylocks. Access is restricted.

Behind those locks, I believe, lies an octagonal space originally designed to foster the emerging medium of “multi-media.” There were floor-to-ceiling projections screens on each of its eight walls. Near the ceiling opposite each screen was a projection window intended to accommodate slide or film projectors. Behind the windows were two tech booths wired to accommodate control equipment, including surround-sound (“quad” in the day).

The floor of this Room was carpeted in deep orange. No seating. Dim-able lighting. There was only one possible name for it but, unlike the Red Pit, it has not been enshrined by officialdom.

It’s most likely that this space was the brainchild of Ben Thompson, Kirkland’s architect. In Limited Engagement, Sam Babbitt describes a presentation prepared for the Trustees at a meeting at Ben Thompson Associates in Cambridge, MA, before Kirkland’s design had been approved:

… a large horizontal screen and three automated slide projectors, programmed to flash images in studiedly random order, now left, now right, now middle and every possible combination in between, and all of this was accompanied by a recording of some current ’60s music (the Beatles, Dylan, etc.) at the highest possible decibel setting. (p.91)

As Sam recalls, the Trustees were… nonplussed. Nonetheless,the Room came into being. To this writer’s knowledge, Jesse Zellner was the first to take advantage of the facility, when he presented a multi-image slide show of images captured in Washington D.C. at a major Vietnam War protest rally in the spring of 1970.

That show made a deep impression upon me. I spent the next year in D.C., working and studying at the Corcoran School of Art, and when I returned to Kirkland to complete my degree, I knew I needed to incorporate the Womb Room in my senior thesis exhibition.

These photos are the only record I have of the project (which included an audio track produced in the Electronic Music Studio, and film created in one of Nat Boxer’s classes). They don’t show much architectural detail, but do convey a little bit of the Room’s atmosphere.

A year after graduation, I found myself in Cambridge, MA working for a firm that had emerged from an art collective specializing in new technologies. Within ten years, multi-screen slide shows had become a staple at corporate events, and supported an entire industry.

That industry was overtaken by digital media in the ’90s. But Hamilton College possesses a remarkable piece of its history.

Now, hidden behind digital locks.

Jennifer Morris '72

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