Summer snow

The Antarctic Sublime & Elements of Nature: Water at DAI

By Joyell Nevins

Photo: Daniel Rozin uses 450 stuffed penguins with motors, control electronics, and Xbox Kinect to create “Penguins Mirror” at Dayton Art Institutephoto: John Berens

This summer, you can see penguins, glaciers, and a 13-foot waterfall—all without leaving the heart of Dayton.

The Dayton Art Institute (DAI) incorporates the coolness and grace of water in its second installment of the Year of Classical Elements special exhibition series. The Antarctic Sublime & Elements of Nature: Water is a suite of exhibitions that were individually handpicked and originally conceived by the DAI team.

A cascading waterfall

Digital technology meets modern art in teamLab’s “The Universe of Water Particles,” an almost 13-foot video projection of a waterfall. The projecting is rendered in five times that of high definition and is on a continuous loop.

TeamLab is a group of Japanese artists and technicians that believes “digital technology releases expression from substance and creates an existence with the possibility for transformation,” according to its
concept statement.

“It’s not just on a wall—you get to experience it. It communicates vitality in a flat space,” says DAI’s Chief Curator and Curator of European Art Dr. Aimee Marcereau DeGalan, who curated the exhibit suite.

She and associate Katherine Ryckman Siegwarth discovered teamLab online and were intrigued by the group’s approach to water. Although teamLab’s works are highly sought after and can be hard to procure, the Japanese team was intrigued by DAI’s collection of Japanese Edo-period woodblock prints. This is because the ancient ukiyo-e woodblock style along with contemporary forms of anime helped shape teamLab’s creation of the
digital waterfall.

For the Elements of Nature: Water exhibition, an assortment of those DAI prints and Japanese screen paintings will be mounted in tandem with The Universe of Water Particles in a companion exhibit called Water in Japanese Art. The collection was selected by teamLab and DAI’s curatorial department and includes such masters as Ando Hiroshige and Katsushika Hokusai.

A powerful glacier

Another immersive work in the summer exhibition suite is a large-scale photograph by Frank Thiel, a Berlin-based photographer who was first introduced to the art world by his photographs of architectural spaces in Berlin.

The photograph on display at DAI is a contemporary picture of the Perito Moreno glacier, located in the Los Glaciares National Park in Patagonia, Argentina. This glacier is part of the third-largest ice cap in the world, and one of only a few glaciers that is
still growing.

Thiel used large-format images to capture the immense scale of the 18-mile-long by 3-mile-wide ice formation. DAI accompanies the photograph with a sound element of the Arctic: a recording of sounds such as wind blowing around the ice and icebergs breaking from their
parent glaciers.

“We wanted you to experience the awe, the grandeur, and on the flip side, the terror,” DeGalan says of this
work of nature.

The photograph is also joined by a rendering of a 19th century painting of this same glacier—the style and time period may have changed, but the grandeur has not.

Playful penguins

Go from awe and terror to delight with the interactive mechanical installation “Penguins Mirror” by Daniel Rozin. Four hundred and fifty small stuffed penguins are programmed through custom software to react to the movements of the viewer.

“It’s a pretty lovable piece, but a bit outrageous,” Rozin laughs.

The stuffed penguins, not too cute and not too realistic, were a perfect fit for Rozin’s first goal to create eye-catching images.

“The penguins were prime suspects for elements of this picture,” Rozin says.

He was drawn to the black and white contrast of their bodies and the playfulness of their movements.

“My penguins dance,” Rozin says. “It’s a very joyful experience.”

The penguins’ dance adapts and changes depending on the movement of the person standing in front of it. This fits in with Rozin’s other goal, or element of exploration, to develop pieces that require participation.

“The viewer becomes as important as I am in the piece,” he says.

Rozin was first introduced to the DAI crowd with his works “Snow Mirror” and “Brushed Metal Mirror” in the previous element exhibition, Into the Ether. Those pieces used digital pixels and brushed-steel disks to create pictures based on the people moving in front of them.

DeGalan discovered the penguin piece while scouting for Into the Ether and visiting another exhibition of Rozin’s.

“These exhibitions are like coat hangers,” DeGalan explains, describing how other pieces and events hang off of the special exhibits. “We want to build connections and create resonance around them.”

The Antarctic Sublime & Elements of Nature: Water runs through Oct. 16. For more information about the exhibition or related special programs taking place through the fall, please visit or call 937.223.4ART (4278). Tickets for most Dayton Art Institute events, exhibitions and programs may also be purchased online at For more information on TeamLab, please visit

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 or reach her at

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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 or reach her at

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