Written by: Jackie Torres
Edited by: Amanda Damaren
LIGHT: Illuminating Science & Art Exhibition @ Telus World of Science. October 11, 2014 – January 4, 2015
LIGHT: Illuminating Science & Art is Science World’s current exhibition, taking place from now until Sunday, January 4, 2015. The exhibit features works from different artists that explore the many forms and functions of light in artistic ways. I decided to attend this exhibition because the premise of the exhibit interested me. I was curious to see how different works would come together to form a cohesive theme of merging the science of light with art. What I found was a successful interpretation of the many phenomena of light through an artistic lens. Some were simple, like Max Zorn’s New York Eve, which consisted of varying layers of packing tape on acrylic glass, and when illuminated by a light source, revealed an intricately shaded portrait of a New York City skyline. Others were more complex, like Ning Ning by Karen Garrett de Luna and Cadin Batrack, which was, in my opinion, the highlight of the exhibit. The interactive installation was the most memorable and compelling one that went beyond the science of light and created a space for deeper reflection.
All of the installations tied into the theme well, and most were kid-friendly and interactive, because of the location of the exhibit. The layout and presentation of the exhibit itself was very open and played with different light forms. Each of the installations were accompanied by a projection of its title and artist(s) in white light on completely black walls. There were also several quotes related to the theme of light that were projected in white text on the walls. Captions or statements to accompany some works were found in small black boxes along the walls that had openings lit with black lights that you could peak in to for a read. The stark black walls and intentional placement of lighting and projections was the ideal aesthetic for the exhibition.
Ning Ning by Karen Garrett de Luna and Cadin Batrack is one of several interactive installations of the exhibit. De Luna is a multi-disciplinary artist and photographer residing in Seattle and Batrack is a motion graphics and interactive designer. Both of the artists have pooled their talents together and worked on various interactive pieces. This most recent installation of theirs is placed at the outskirts, and appropriately so, of the LIGHT exhibition space. When you first enter the space, it is complete darkness, but there are faint sounds of crickets and frogs, almost how it would sound if you were in some field in the country at night. There is a black bench in the middle, and when you sit to face the display, there are small green illuminating lights at the bottom of it. At first, you don’t really see anything else, but if you’re like me and this lack of events interests you enough to stick around for a bit longer, you start to see a few green lights flicker here and there amongst the full display. If you stay put long enough, the amount of green flickering lights grows exponentially, and suddenly you’re facing an electronic imitation of numerous fireflies in the night sky. After about a minute of this, all of the lights are illuminated and what seems like a wall of lights flicker on and off all at once, which was my indication that the interaction was over, and was going to start all over again.
I was drawn to this particular installation initially because of the name and description of the piece. “Ning ning” in my Filipino background translates to “twinkling” or “sparkling” of objects, or in some cases refers to brilliant things or to want or desire something. Reading the description reaffirmed my speculation that this title was drawing from the meaning I knew. Later in the description, readers are told that by staying still, they will see more and more of the fireflies, and that the purpose of the installation is to “encourage us to slow down and let beauty unfold.” And taking part in the work did just that for me.
Ning Ning prompted the most thought and self-reflection of the rest of the works in the exhibition. There was something resonant about the appearance of the simulated fireflies when you stayed still for long enough. Interacting with this work by slowing down, staying still, and just being in the space, really brought the installation to life. There is so much technology involved, from the lights, to the sounds, to the motion sensors, just to create a sense of stillness and space for self-reflection. This juxtaposition of the complicated process of creating the art to the simple process of experiencing it is what gives meaning to the work. When you’re sitting in front of the LED fireflies and patiently waiting still to see more, you are aware it is a simulated display. Yet, you are still taken to a place of self-reflection that you would if you were physically in an open field with crickets, frogs, and fireflies. A few seconds into the piece, I was taken to a place where I thought about my ancestors back home in the countryside of the Philippines that probably experienced this first-hand. There is such a bombardment of technology and constantly trying to do things faster and more efficiently in the cities of any region that there is hardly any room to slow down and take in the beauty of what is right in front of us, and is none of our doing, but nature’s. In the installation’s description on Karen Garrett de Luna’s website, it is noted that the work aims to inspire viewers to “embrace slowness and sparkle.” It’s a simple thought, but rarely does it occur in most societies today.
This exhibition brings together artistry, science, and technical design in the form of interactive installations and multi-disciplinary pieces. What comes through in the works, like Ning Ning, are unique interpretations and experiences for all audiences. Yes, there is something fascinating about the science of light and its different forms, but there is also something to be said for the thoughts and experiences evoked by them when presented in an artistic way.