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MIT Students Design Special Athens Exhibit - 2004-08-20

In celebration of the Olympics, the government in Athens commissioned a number of interactive art exhibits in the city's historic center. VOA News' Brian Padden follows the construction of three projects that range from the historic, to the inexplicable to the surreal.

One week before the scheduled opening of the Olympics, a group of students from the Massachusetts Insitute of Technology and their Professor Mee Jin Yoon are hard at work.

"The project is called white noise - white light, and it engages the pedestrians as they move through this plaza," the professor explains.

They are one of nine winners of an international competition conducted by the city of Athens to build modern art exhibits near the city's historical sites. Most of the other works are being created by more experienced artists like Costis Tsoklis of Greece.

"Visual Art cannot be expressed with words," he says.

And Demitrius Alithinos also of Greece, who is building a 5 meter tall modern rendition of the Greek god Zeus.

"The inspiration is the same god changing through time," he explains.

The MIT exhibit, called White Light, White Noise, is a fiber optic field which will emit light and sound when touched.

"If you get really close you can see it lighting up, but it's hard to tell right now," says professor Mee Jin Yoon of Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

For these first-time artists and full-time architecture students, the intensive labor needed to make their designs a reality is a lesson not likely learned in the classroom.

"I've got three layers of dirt and it is day three," one student says.

On the day the exhibits are officially unveiled, crowds of Olympic visitors arrive. The metal snake sculpture instantly becomes a fixture for children to climb. People stop to contemplate Demitrius Alithinos' statue of Zeus.

As night falls White Light, White Noise becomes a strange, surreal environment. For many visitors it is part science project, part amusement park ride.

"We loved it. We thought it was great, different," one visitor comments.

"It sounded like whales. The sound of the whales," says another.

"Really unusual," adds another tourist.

For Professor Mee Jin Yoon, this is a moment of great satisfaction.

"I wanted to create an artwork that really engages the public at all ages and all kinds of different backgrounds. I think it appeals to the general public... so that makes me happy," she says.

This is also a triumph for the city of Athens which is drawing thousands of Olympic visitors to its historic district.