A New Element

Into the Ether: Contemporary Light Artists at DAI

By Joyell Nevins

The Dayton Art Institute (DAI) is kicking off a “Year of the Elements,” and in so doing stretches out of their own element. The new Into the Ether: Contemporary Light Artists exhibition is all 21st century art, and none of it is static.

“We wanted to break the barrier between object and viewer,” said Kettering Exhibition Coordinator and Curatorial Associate Katherine Ryckman Siegwarth. “It’s experiential and immersive.”

Siegwarth co-curated the exhibit with DAI’s Chief Curator and Curator of European Art Aimee Marcereau DeGalan. Into the Ether brings together six modern artists in an exploration of light, space and sound, using elements of fire, air and ether.

Ether is the fifth classical element, along with earth, air, fire and water. It represents the space that separates, yet connects us. The California College of Ayurveda calls it “the space the other elements fill.”

The idea came from the Light Show at the Hayward Gallery in London, England. Several of the artists featured there are included in DAI’s exhibit as well, including James Turrell and Leo Villareal. Robert Irwin, another featured artist, has been at the forefront of perceptual and light installation art for six decades (see his latest architectural project shaping light, shadow and space at the Chinati Foundation in Texas, chianti.org).

“These artists are some of the founders of the light and space movement,” DeGalan said. “They use light in a conceptual way and bring you into the space.”

Most of the artists installed their own works, many with the help of a full crew. Each of the works or installations creates an immersive environment through the manipulation of light. Many are interactive, like Diane Willow’s, which allows the viewer to change the colors of the internal and external LEDs with a 3D printed device called a tuner (it’s such a different sensation to be encouraged to touch the artwork!) Her hanging installation is entitled the “Chromasphere” alluding to the chromosphere, a layer of gas around the sun that hovers above the photosphere.

Another interactive piece is from Daniel Rozin. Like a life-size version of the classic pin art toy, his 25-foot-wide “Snow Mirror” creates pixelated pictures based on the people standing in front of it. A camera picks up reflected light from visitors’ bodies, translates and then projects the image onto a silk screen.

“The piece doesn’t exist without a viewer,” Siegwarth said.

Visitors are even allowed to go around the screen to get a completely different perspective looking from the back.

Another work by Rozin uses 721 brushed steel discs with individual motors that act as mirrors, moving with the viewer. The museum describes it this way: “In a world where analog has been replaced by digital, ‘Brushed Metal Mirror’ works in reverse: digital input is converted to analog, as the mirrors become the pixels.”

Several of the pieces in Into the Ether have sound elements as well (with viewers often wondering if the light and sound are synchronized), and only a few are actually attached to a wall. Erwin Redl’s “Twists and Turns” fills a whole rom. Two blue and red lasers project light patterns around the room through suspended acrylic plates. Due to the air currents caused by the movement of viewers, the patterns never go the exact same way twice.

Redl originally began his art using computers to control sound and visual elements in compositions. But in 1997, an exhibition by Fred Sandback changed his method and got him out of the “computer corner.”

“His minimal installations of simple geometric shapes delineated by acrylic yarn directly influenced that change from computer driven work to light installations on an architectural scale,” Redl said.

Redl also has a piece featuring red LED lights that pulse subtly due to fluctuations of intensity within the lights. He held a talk at DAI to kick off the exhibition that had a “very engaged” question and answer session. People wanted to know everything from aesthetic ideals to production logistics.

The interest sparked by Into the Ether has also ushered in a different demographic than the DAI often serves. The show has been a source of pleasure for college students and pre-family adults along with young children (who often come back with their grandparents or parents). It has even been the location of a couple of first dates. The lively movement and manipulation of such deceptively simple elements can still fascinate those who feel they lack an art frame of reference.

“Just come as you are—experience and enjoy it,” DeGalan said.

And if you feel like playing with light yourself, at the end of the exhibit are large Light Stax, like effervescent Legos, that anyone can build with and post their creation. Use the hashtag #EtherDAI to see some of these designs, along with several “snow mirror” picture designs as well.

Into the Ether is presented with support from benefactor sponsor Premier Health; patron sponsors DP&L Foundation, Wanda & Bill Lukens, Macy’s and PNC; and supporting sponsors Abbott Nutrition, Miller-Valentine Group, and Synchrony Financial; with additional support from Bricker & Eckler LLP, Jessup Wealth Management, Renee & Alan Thurman, and the University of Dayton. The Jefferson Patterson Society Reception sponsor is Woodard Development.

Into the Ether is on view through June 26. For more information about the exhibition or related programs, please visit daytonartinstitute.org/ether or call 937-223-4ART (4278). Tickets for most Dayton Art Institute events, exhibitions and programs may also be purchased online at etix.com.

Joyell believes in the power of the written word, a good cup of coffee, and sometimes, the need for a hug (please, no Tommy Boy references). Follow her on her blog “Small World, Big God” at swbgblog.wordpress.com or reach her at joyellnevins@daytoncitypaper.com.

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Joyell Nevins
Joyell believes in the power of the written word, a good cup of coffee, and sometimes, the need for a hug (please, no Tommy Boy references). Follow her on her blog “Small World, Big God” at swbgblog.wordpress.com or reach her at joyellnevins@daytoncitypaper.com

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