Do you suffer from a touch of SAD-ness (Seasonal Affective Disorder)? Then take a trip downtown and bask in the unearthly glow of Light Escape-Tacoma Array, an installation by the Portland-based design team of RSVR (Ian Campbell and Benjamin Gray) in the Woolworth Building. RSVR’s mission is “to provide the City of Tacoma with an extended summer” via a dynamic installation of streaming filaments of green-and-violet light. The effect is ghostly, sci-fi – and best viewed at night.
Campbell founded RSVR (“shorthand for reservoir”) in 2008 as a platform for creative cross-disciplinary collaborations. He describes himself and Gray first “as architects producing art, and not [as] artists. I feel this is an important distinction to make as our training as architectural designers often informs our approach, and on a whole, I would describe our collaborations as an attempt to explore the intersection of art, architecture, and industrial design.”
In the Woolworth installation, the duo creates an elegant, room-size spatial arrangement “that appear(s) to be made of almost no material while maintaining an intense visual presence.” In Light Escape, RSVR sculpts with light, stretching thin rubber membranes over a suspended wooden frame to create an undulating, translucent surface that reacts over time to ultraviolet light emitted from UV dispensers (“light escapes”). As the UV rays gradually break down the rubber membrane, its translucency is altered in a controlled manner.
“As the light of summer begins to fade (every day after June 22 – December 22), the lighting elements will slowly remove entire sections of rubber allowing completely unfiltered light to spill onto the sidewalk, providing any passerby an extended summer,” RSVR explains. “Essentially, we are using light to organically ‘cut’ our way out from behind the stretched rubber membranes.”
In solo projects, Campbell has ventured beyond architecturally-scaled pieces using light as a medium. Second Nature, a monumental, light-centric project he started as an artist-in-residence in the North Cascades National Park, in 2009, was designed with mountain-topping laser projections that could be seen in the night sky “with a visible range of around 40 miles depending on atmospheric conditions.” The eerie light projections blended topographical features with imaginary or personal landscapes. He is currently preparing for a second round of laser projections that will essentially work backwards, transplanting “the light paths recorded while in the national park onto a series of other environments.”
Back to Tacoma, and the huge window with the incorporeal art work that seeps saturated rays into the night, hypnotizing nightowls. “Ben and I enjoy using light in our work because light has an incredible capacity to both impact and inform viewers of any age, education level or economic background. Everyone of us has a unique, highly personal, daily experience with light from our first day on earth to our last,” says Campbell. RSVR’s own response to downtown Tacoma was sensitized by “the unfortunate density of commercial space vacancies” to be found there.
But the idea of an artificially prolonged summer has a playful, psychologically rejuvenating aspect; and as the rubber in Light Escape disintegrates, it will continually affect the viewer’s experience of the installation. “By providing the city of Tacoma with an ever-changing narrative we hope to promote multiple visits to the piece. RSVR also hopes that our work could be a small gesture of the greater revival happening all around Tacoma.” Light Escape – Tacoma Array, the Woolworth Building, 11th & Commerce, Nov. 15, 2011 – Feb. 28, 2012. www.rs-vr.com
Correction: RSVR has substituted fabric threads for rubber membranes in this installation.