Review: LAL’s Luminosity

Review: LAL’s Luminosity

by Zoé Strecker

Valerie Fuchs’ three video-based projects are, for me, the most affecting works in the Lexington Art League’s Luminosity exhibition, running now through April 6 at Loudoun House. In order to experience the piece titled on the one hand . . . and the other you have to plunge both of your hands into beams of light flickering from below a curious photograph printed on a metal plate. On the left hand side of the photo is a “normal” view of a woodland scene with trees mirrored horizontally by the reflective surface of a still pond; when you put your outstretched palm under that side, a video projection plays the same image on your hand though it is blurred and stretched beyond legibility. On the right half of the photo, the same scene is mirrored in nine directions, like a trippy snowflake and in the corresponding video that plays in your right palm, the image spins and mutates frenetically as it would through a rotating kaleidoscope. I was startled to experience physical sensations like changes in pressure and temperature flickering across my skin as the video played.

In another Fuchs work, Futura Falls City: The Infinite Loop the familiar is made unfamiliar in a captivating and provocative way. A flat-screen monitor plays a six-minute video that loops through a set of Louisville, Kentucky landscapes–a bridge, a traffic cloverleaf, a skyline. All of the images have been mirrored horizontally, vertically and sometimes both ways. A slight camera wobble makes images pulse, even when they’re almost still. And looping audio of traffic and water sounds adds to the general throbbing sensation. Traffic flows into itself, steel bridge supports are transformed into geometric lace, and truncated buildings float behind a line of mirrored tree silhouettes to create a futuristic city of airborne, symmetrical pods. The third artwork by Fuchs is a dye sublimation print of a video still called Radical Bridge, of an oddly ominous piece of architecture floating among clouds that, again, suggests the structure of a future world of disembodied connections and engineered beauty. The future is, after all, an imaginary projection built from what we already know.

In an adjacent, darkened room is Caitlind R. C. Brown and Wayne Garrett’s installation, Bellwether. Hundred of glass bottles, cut open to resemble bells, are suspended near the ceiling. As viewers walk through and disrupt the dense forest of chains that dangle from the bells almost to the floor, electronic clappers strike the glass and briefly produce tones and flickers of light. The work has the potential to be gorgeous but is profoundly flawed in this iteration. Although there was a firefly-like character to the effect, the “path of light and sound” was not convincingly created because the tone and the corresponding light were not sustained long enough. The mirroring on the windows meant to block exterior light and, possibly, to make the space feel infinite, was some kind of reflective sheet material that buckled, warped and generally looked cheap. The fact that the bottles are “discarded” materials is only mildly interesting and does not add anything new to a cultural conversation about sustainability.

The same critique can be leveled at Brown and Garrett’s other commissioned sculpture New Moon, installed downtown in Triangle Park; it merely re-uses defunct light bulbs to make the skin of the sphere. Blue and gray bulbs are clustered in small circles across an otherwise white field to suggest the shaded depths of the “real” moon’s craters. The fact that residents of Lexington donated the bulbs points to the best feature of this project– local community involvement. Welding students from Bluegrass Community Technical College (BCTC) constructed the steel frame and worked with Art League volunteers to fill the chicken wire surface with the bulbs.

The thin, black, support frame diminishes the already not-very-impressive scale of the sculpture, however. During the day, the piece looks like a dandelion puffball caught in a birdcage. During the night, the structure disappears somewhat and allows for more magic. There was some fun to be had by the public on the night of the Triangle Park unveiling when people could interact with the sculpture by rotating a hand wheel directly underneath the orb that changed the phases of the moon by tilting the internal light source. Unfortunately, the wheel broke almost immediately and, after being repaired a couple of times, was removed entirely. Every time I drive by, there are new guy wires added, presumably, for stabilization. Fabrication and transportation mishaps, reported on the project blog in a humble and honest way, speak to the artists’ limited experience but also to the sponsors’ willingness to be nimble.

The Art League has been working to expand their exhibition zone into public space by doing projects like this one and the OFFsite projects last summer. The spirit is admirable, but because New Moon is amateurish and not visually intriguing, it is not clear why LAL continues to promote it in local radio spots and in the pages of an internationally respected periodical, Art in America, where they bought a half-page ad.

Inside the Loudon house are works by two more artists. Chandelier Harp by Jen Lewin is the most truly playful and interactive piece in the exhibition. Appropriately named, the piece actually is a large musical instrument with “strings” made of red laser beams that are oriented in a vertical column. To trigger the reverberating tones you have break the beams with a hand or foot or head; in other words, it insists that you dance. It would be exciting to have a composer create a work for a dancer / musician to perform or to place the piece within an orchestra. It wants a crowd. Alone in an empty gallery space, the open black framework is a bit ominous, like a medical scanner. The form, however, is practical; flaring legs accommodate movement around the ring of light and gramophone-shaped feet add stability and, simultaneously, provide subtle suggestions of music. One technical disappointment is that the machine seems to become overwhelmed and plays a grumble of dissonant sound if one stands in the center for very long.

Finally, Rune Guneriussen’s large photos of domestic light fixtures placed in natural environments in Norway were the least interesting works in the show, despite their polish. Arrays of lamps hanging from a tree, emerging from foliage by a waterfall, or trailing across the beach at sunset, make romantic, charming, images, but one is enough. By exhibiting these prints in a group, the idea becomes a gimmick. The work certainly did not provoke “unsettling questions about human impact on the natural world,” as the curatorial statement suggests. Instead it left me with nothing much to think about except where the extension cords were hidden and how much noise the generator was making off-screen.

Most exhibitions are mixed in terms of the quality and sophistication of the artworks, and Luminosity is no exception. Despite its flaws, the interactivity and playfulness make the show worth exploring. Go, at least, to allow the elegant and truly luminous work by Valerie Fuchs catalyze your visual imagination of the future and surprise your skin.

Luminosity – Loudon House, through April 6th. See The Lexington Art League’s website for a schedule of associated projects and events.

– By Zoe Strecker, contributing writer/reviewer